The Most Improved Player award is one of the NBA’s most intriguing because you’ll never see the same face twice, unlike the others.
Claiming the award bodes well for the future of the winner as many of the league’s brightest stars took a big leap into stardom and the MIP is a sign of things to come.
Past winners include Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antentokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George.
The questions surrounding the eligibility for this award creates endless debate and makes it possibly the most subjective of the bunch.
Should the rookie-to-sophomore year jump count? What about players who were once great, seemed to fall off, but are back on top? The precedent has been set but exceptions are always possible.
1. Pascal Siakam:
Season stats: 15 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 57% field goal
Siakam is running away with this year’s Most Improved Player award.
After starting just five of 81 played games last season, Siakam found himself in the starting lineup at the start of this season and hasn’t looked back since.
P-Skills is playing 30 minutes a night just a couple years after spending tons of time in the then D-League as a rookie and has improved dramatically since entering the league.
Zach Lowe interviewed the award’s frontrunner on his podcast, and Siakam told Lowe that he wanted to be more than just a bench player coming into this season:
At the beginning of the year I kind of was telling people I was kind of tired with the bench mob thing. It was cool for a year, and it was fun. That’s how I was known as, and we came in and we made life hard for the other team. But for me coming in the next year, I didn’t want to have the stigma of like being a bench player. I thought about it a little bit and I think I said in one of the interviews before, “I just wanna play,” and no matter where that is, but I don’t wanna be “Oh I’m a bench guy.”
After averaging just seven points and four rebounds on 51/22/62 shooting splits a season ago, the 6’9 forward is now averaging 15 points, six boards, three assists, and a steal on 57/34/78 shooting, showcasing drastic improvement across the board.
Something tells me we won’t be seeing Siakam coming off the bench anytime soon.
From bench role player to receiving All-Star votes in under a year, there’s no predicting what Siakam’s ceiling is at this point.
If the Raptors are able to retain Kawhi after this season, Toronto might just be the league’s team to beat very soon.
2. Spencer Dinwiddie
Season stats: 17.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 45.9% field goal
Spencer Dinwiddie was a candidate for Most Improved last season but did not win the award despite his belief that he should’ve been the one to receive the hardware.
Some speculate that the candidate’s chances of winning these awards have a lot to do with their team’s records. Last season, the Brooklyn Nets won only 25 games.
While Dinwiddie certainly improved last season, winning only 25 games certainly did not help his case.
This season, however, is a different story. The NBA season is about halfway completed, and the Nets already have 21 wins. With his team on pace to eclipse 40 wins, Dinwiddie certainly deserves to be in the MIP conversation.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) December 13, 2018
The 6’6” point guard has three performances of 30 points or more, a feat he was only able to accomplish once last season.
Dinwiddie is averaging 17 points, five assists and over two rebounds per game so far this year. He has also upped his shooting percentages across the board.
With half of the season left to go, Dinwiddie will have to keep his foot on the throttle if he wants to steal MIP from Siakam.
3. Buddy Hield
Season stats: 20.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 47% field goal
Buddy Hield, alongside De’Aaron Fox, has revolutionized the Kings’ backcourt. After winning only 27 games last season, the Kings are on pace to win close to 40 games this year.
Hield has gone from sixth man with the Kings to becoming a permanent fixture in their starting lineup and has matured as a player.
“We’re trying to change the culture around here… The culture is try to get us to the playoffs and we’re just trying to take it one game at a time,” Hield said.
Hield is shooting over 45% from the field, and over 44% from beyond the arc this season, which are both career highs.
Hield is also averaging over 20 points per game this season, a whopping 60% increase from the previous year.
The Kings were expected to reside in the basement of the NBA standings this year, as the Sacramento rebuild continues, however, Hield has played a big part in putting the Kings in playoff contention in the 2018-2019 season.
It has been a pleasure to watch Hield shine with new opportunities being granted to him and he will have to continue to embrace a larger role if he wants to win the Most Improved Player this year.
4. Derrick Rose
Season stats: 18.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.8 rebounds, 48% field goal
Derrick Rose being in the conversation for Most Improved seems off.
After all, Rose won MVP in his 2010-2011 campaign and was the youngest player ever to do so at 22-years-old.
We are all aware of Rose’s fall from grace, and many considered Rose to be “the greatest that never was.”
After playing only 25 games last season, and averaging eight points, it felt like Rose was wilting away. Well, Rose has risen again.
He may not be the league’s MVP, but it is hard not to be inspired by Rose’s comeback story.
It has been an emotional year for Rose and his supporters, as he has given so many a reason to believe. Most notably, was Rose’s historic night against the Jazz. Rose dropped 50 points, including clutch bucket after clutch bucket, and a game-sealing block.
Derrick Rose hits 50 points and makes the game saving block to get the Timberwolves the win tonight!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 1, 2018
Rose, who is now 30, has averaged just under 19 points for the Timberwolves, playing mostly off the bench.
He may not get serious consideration for the award considering he’s an NBA MVP, but there is no doubt Rose has shocked the world with his comeback season in 2018-2019.
5. Domantas Sabonis
Season stats: 15 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3 assists, 62% field goal
The Pacers were once laughed at for trading their superstar forward Paul George for Victor Oladipo and “some guy” named Domantas Sabonis, but Sabonis has proved to be much more than a throw-in.
Despite not seeing an increase in minutes, Sabonis has increased his averages and shooting splits in his third year.
In 24.5 minutes last year, he averaged 11 points, seven boards, and two assists, shooting 51% from the field.
In his 25 minutes this season, he’s now up to 15 minutes, 10 boards, and 3 assists, as well as improving to 62% from the field.
SABONIS JUST PUT EMBIID ON A POSTER!!!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 8, 2018
His double-double average off the bench not only has him in the Sixth Man of the Year race but he has also played a huge role in Indiana currently holding onto the third spot in the Eastern Conference over Philly and Boston.
The precedent has been set for second year players not winning the MIP award, but it must be known that De’Aaron Fox would be the favorite by far if this wasn’t the case.
Fox has jumped from averaging 11.6 points and four assists last season to 18 points and seven assists in just four-minute increase this year and has the Kings looking like a force to be reckoned with in coming years.
Fox’s biggest knock coming into the league was his shooting and him shooting 38% on threes is something almost no one saw coming.
LaVine has had a huge jump in scoring production, up to 23.5 points a game after a slow return from the torn left ACL that ended his 2016 season early and delayed the start of his 2017 season by four months.
However, when comparing his numbers to the season he was having before the injury, there isn’t a whole lot of improvement. LaVine is likely more qualified for a Comeback Player of the Year award (if there was one) than a Most Improved Player one.
If Forbes improved anywhere else besides scoring, he may have found a place in the top five.
Forbes is shooting a ridiculous 43% on five attempts per game from beyond the arc, but that’s about where his improvement ends.
Despite being the Spurs’ starting point guard in every game this year, Forbes is contributing just two assists a game in 28 minutes, turning a once assist-happy Popovich offense into a little better than average.
Forbes’ game may fit a little better at the two-guard but there’s no question that we’ve seen him improve into a piece for the Spurs regardless of where he starts.
Check back in a few weeks for an update on our Most Improved Player ladder.