The field for the NBA’s Most Improved Player has narrowed down due to injuries and regression.
Jimmy Butler, a leading candidate earlier in the 2014-15 season, first regressed then got injured. Shabazz Muhammad got injured. Some candidates predicted prior to the season, such as Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond, haven’t improved enough to warrant serious consideration.
On the other hand, several players have continued making strong cases for the MIP award, with strong showings since the All-Star break bolstering their breakout seasons.
Check out the leading candidates below.
Green has burst out so much this season that Most Improved Player is not the only award he could win. Green’s versatility enables the switching scheme the Warriors utilize, with Green guarding a point guard one minute and a center the next.
Green has notched 87 blocks this season at the tune of 1.4 a game, good enough for top 20 in the league. He’s also held the guy he’s guarding to 47.1 percent at the rim, among the better marks in the league.
On the other end of the floor, Green has brought up his 3-point percentage to 34.5 percent after shooting 33 percent last season. But he’s now firing over 4 attempts a game, compared to just 2 last season. Thus, his true shooting percentage has increased from 49.8 to 53.8 percent.
He’s shooting better despite shooting more, a feat hard to accomplish.
Green has started every game this season and is playing about 10 more minutes a game compared to last season. He could easily get many more minutes in the playoffs, when his skills will be needed if Golden State is to advance even one round.
Green’s improvement on offense and defense has forced coach Steve Kerr to continue starting him over former All-Star David Lee, with Lee even staying on the bench for entire games. It’s also lined the 25-year-old up for max offers once he becomes a restricted free agent this offseason.
The Utah Jazz center was certainly not at the top of this list even a month ago, but things have changed a lot since then.
Besides some of his competition for the award getting injured, Gobert has found a bigger role after Enes Kanter was traded away. Gobert’s minutes have jumped from 21.9 to 33.5, and he’s responded well. And in the 10 games with the new lineup, the Jazz have gone 8-2.
Gobert has quickly become known for his defensive prowess. He only averages 7.3 points a game, though he converts a highly respectable 61 percent of his shots.
His real duties are on the defensive end, where he patrols the paint and radically alters opponents’ shots. Opponents shoot only 39.1 percent at the rim against Gobert, the top mark in the NBA. He’s also third in the league in total blocks with 145, behind luminaries Anthony Davis and Serge Ibaka.
The improvements for the 22-year-old become particularly impressive when remembering that he only got off the bench 45 times last season–his rookie year–and played only 434 minutes in total.
Gobert is also averaging 8.3 rebounds this season, including 13.3 in the games since the All-Star break.
You’re doing something right when you earn the nickname “The Greek Freak.” And in his second season in the league, Giannis, still just 20 years old, has shown himself to be the Bucks star of the future.
Antetokounmpo was a bit of a mystery coming out of the draft, and he had plenty of uneven stretches during his rookie year. But he’s made some key improvements this season to place himself in MIP running.
On the offensive side, Antetokounmpo has become skilled at isolation plays at the top of the key, able to take defenders to either side and execute one of the best spin moves in the league. His insane handles, coupled with the fact that he’s 6’11”, makes him a nightly mismatch for opponents.
The young player’s smooth dribbling and pretty good jump shoot also hide the fact that he’s a horrible 3-point shooter who has only taken 35 through 63 games, making just six of them.
Giannis also helps anchor the Bucks now-vaunted defense, filled with lengthy and quick players that can switch to guard different positions. He’s notching just over one steal and one block a game, but his defensive impact goes far beyond that.
The Bucks have a nice core with Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, and Khris Middleton, and will be interesting to watch in the playoffs.