A lot of talk this season has gone toward the tight MVP race, and deservingly so. It has been a long time since the NBA has seen a three man race this close. However, one of the most underrated storylines of this years’ NBA season has been the race for the most improved player award. The most improved player award often predicts who will become the future stars of the league. Past winners include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, and Jimmy Butler. This season alone you could hand the award to five separate players. Below are my top 5 contenders for the most improved player award right now.
1. Pascal Siakam: Pascal Siakam is the current favorite to win the most improved player award right now for several reasons. In just his third season with the Raptors he has transformed from an average role player who gets 20 minutes a game and averages 7 points to an indispensable piece of this Raptors team. This year alone Siakam is averaging career highs in minutes, FG%, 3P%, FT%, points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Most years he would be the runaway favorite for this award. He is averaging just over 16 ppg while shooting 55% from the floor and 37% (up from just 22% last year) from three. The emergence of Pascal Siakam is a big reason why the Raptors are not only contenders to win the east, but contenders to win the NBA Finals come June.
2. D’Angelo Russell: After just two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, D’Angelo Russell was deemed a bust in LA. In the summer of 2017, Magic Johnson traded Russell to the Brooklyn Nets for center Brook Lopez. After an average first year in Brooklyn, Russell has taken off this season. He is averaging a career high 20.5 points, and was a first time all-star this year. He also has Brooklyn in the mix for their first playoff birth in four seasons. Russell has increased his efficiency, shooting career highs from the field, from three, and from the free throw line. What is impressive about this is he has managed to do all this while averaging his highest assist to turnover ratio. If the Nets can hold on to their playoff spot, D’Angelo Russell has as good a chance as anyone to win this award.
3. De’Aaron Fox: In the beginning of the season everyone, including myself, had the Sacramento Kings far from reaching the playoffs. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, it is March and the Kings are currently ninth in the west. A large amount of credit for that can be handed to the improvement De’Aaron Fox. Fox’s rookie year was not bad per say, his sophomore emergence has just been that impressive. As a rookie Fox averaged 11.6 points, and 4.4 assists while shooting 41% from the field and 30% from three. This season; however, Fox is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 assists while shooting almost 46% from the field and 37% from three. Fox walked into the league as one of the most athletic players in the NBA, but his more polished game has really been put on display this year, and has him right in the middle of the most improved player discussion.
4. Montrezl Harrell: Montrezl Harrell is one of the most underrated players in the league today, and he is proving it this season. Even after the Clippers traded away their best player in Tobias Harris, they are still in the mix for a playoff spot. They are currently 8th in the West, and a lot of that credit can go to Montrezl Harrell. Harrell has quietly been averaging 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks for a Clippers team no one is talking about. He is simply a hustle player that comes off the bench, and never stops working. Harrell was certainly an underrated acquisition when he was acquired form the Houston Rockets.
5. Paul George: It is crazy to think that someone in the discussion for both the MVP, and DPOY can also be talked about for the most improved player, yet here we are. Paul George has been an all-star in this league for a long time now, but this year he has risen his game to a completely new level. George is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals while shooting the ball at nearly 45% from the field and 40% from three. The season he is having is absolutely insane. Although he probably will not win this award due to his already high status in the NBA, he should definitely get some consideration for the award.