With the NBA season just about one quarter over, it seems as good a time as any to look at the most improved player candidates. The Most Improved Player award is pretty self-explanatory- it goes to who improved the most from the previous season. However, there are a couple of exceptions. If the player was injured in the year prior, they are unlikely to win the award. If the player is a second-year player they are also unlikely to win the award. The winner is also rarely a veteran, as, in the last ten years, only one player over the age of 25 years old has won. The average age of winners in the last ten years is 24 years old. The winner is usually going to be a player in his 4th or 5th year.
Analyzing the Most Improved Player Award Race
Looking at the Candidates
Some players just will not win the Most Improved Player award because they were injured in the year prior. This year, there are five players that fit that description. Each of them is improved from last season but played less than 30 games each.
This category includes Zach LaVine, Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Conley, Terrence Ross and Juan Hernangomez. LaVine only played 24 games last year. He is averaging nearly 25 points per game this season. He has increased his points per game by 7.8. Rose only played 25 games last year. He has increased his three-point percentage by 0.242, and his points per game by 9.9. Gallinari only played 21 games last season. He is averaging nearly 20 points per game on great efficiencies. Conley only played 12 games last year. Conley has led the Memphis Grizzlies back to relevancy while averaging 21 points per game and seven assists per game. Ross only played 24 last year. He is averaging 14.4 points per game on great efficiencies. Hernangomez only played 14 games last year. He has become a significant part of the Denver Nuggets rotation, starting the last 13 games for them.
The Too Young
There are also three people that are just too young to win the award. Each of these three has improved, but they are all in their second season. Historically, it’s unlikely for a second-year player to win. It has happened seven times, but only twice in this century, and zero times in the last decade.
This category includes De’Aaron Fox, Zach Collins and Jarrett Allen. Fox is 21 years old and in his second season. Fox has improved his points per game by 6.2. He is leading the Sacramento Kings to a 13-11 record despite the Kings being seen as one of the worst teams in the preseason. Collins is also 21 years old and in his second season. He is not as notable of a player, but he is playing 6.7 minutes per game in the fourth quarter for the Portland Trail Blazers. It is clear that the Blazers trust him when they need him the most. Allen is just 20 years old and in his second season. He improved by four points and three rebounds.
The Goldilox Players
This group of players is the cream of the crop when it comes to the Most Improved Player award. Every one of these players has between three and six years of experience and is between 22 to 27 years old. They are not too old or have played for too long, nor are they too young or in their second season. They are the Goldilocks of the most improved player candidates.
This category includes Pascal Siakam, Montrezl Harrell, Domantas Sabonis, Josh Richardson, Tim Hardaway, Nikola Mirotic, Buddy Hield, Malcolm Brogdon, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel and Caris LeVert. Siakam is one of the more underrated players in the NBA. He has increased his points per game by 7.2 and he has improved his efficiencies greatly. Harrell is another underrated player, and he is also a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He has improved his points per game by 5.1 this season. Sabonis has been good, especially with Oladipo out. Without Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers are 5-4 and Sabonis has been leading the charge. The knock on Sabonis is that he is just 22 years old and only in his third season.
While everyone mentioned in this article is in consideration for the most improved player award, there are only a few frontrunners. There are a couple of factors when determining the frontrunner. Most importantly, the player has to have improved the most from the previous season. Next, the player should be on a winning team. In the last five years, the winner has been on a team with at least 42 wins (Ryan Anderson in 2012 only won 37 games because of the lockout season, but it would have been 46 in a normal season). There are some people that are exempt, though. If a player was injured the year prior, they likely will not win. A player also should not be too young or too old. He should be in anywhere between his third or sixth season.
*Stats are changes in mpg, ppg, rpg, apg, fg%, 3pt%, ft%*
+9.5, +7.2, +1.9, +0.7, +0.106, +0.113, +0.161
Siakam is just having too good of a season to not be a frontrunner. He may not get the glamour as other candidates, but make no mistake- he is having just as good of a season. His impact, both defensively and offensively, is unmatched by anyone on this list. He has also nearly doubled his points per game from last season and is currently leading the league in two-point percentage.
+1.4, +4.5, +2.1, +0.3, +0.076, +0.091, +0.021
In the previous offseason, the Orlando Magic made little moves. They lost Shelvin Mack, Bismack Biyombo and Mario Hezonja. They acquired Mohamed Bamba and Jerian Grant. On paper, this team is nearly identical to last year’s. With the same team, many expected another 25 win season. Instead, Nikola Vucevic is having a career year and leading the Magic to a near .500 record. This is also all coming during a contract year, so the Magic may have some troubles re-signing him.
+8.8, +5.1, +3.0, +0.5, +0.011, -0.143*, +0.003
Harrell is one of the most efficient players in the NBA this season. He is third in field goal percentage, fifth in two-point percentage, sixth in effective field goal percentage (which takes into account three-pointers), and eighth in true shooting percentage (which takes into account three-pointers and free throws). Amongst the top ten in effective field goal percentage, Harrell ranks third in points per game, with only Clint Capela and Stephen Curry ranked higher.
*He was 1-7 last season and 0-1 so far this season
+1.6, +2.4, +3.0, -0.1, +0.048, +0.005, +0.023
On paper, Harris’s stats actually look somewhat similar to last year. But it’s really his impact that has been greatly improved. Last year, the Los Angeles Clippers were 4.7 points per 100 possessions better with Harris off the floor than with him off. This year, the Clippers are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better with Harris on the floor than with him off. This has all contributed to the red-hot start by the Clippers. In a division featuring the Golden State Warriors and the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers are somehow in first place.
So Many Candidates
This year’s Most Improved Player award race is going to be a fun one. There are legitimately 20 candidates for this award, but only one can win. Even players like LaVine and Rose, despite being in a bad situation, have a decent shot at winning the award. During the season, there will likely be candidates that enter this list, and there also may be some that regress and will leave this list. At this point, the award is really a toss-up between multiple people. One thing is for certain though: this will be a very competitive race and something to watch for throughout the entire season.