To continue our journey through the awards, we now delve into the Most Improved Player and who is at the top of that leaderboard today.
5. JaVale McGee, Center, Los Angeles Lakers
12.1 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.0 apg 0.9 spg 2.7 bpg shooting 62.5/25/68.3
McGee has seemed to reinvent himself in LA and I give a lot of this credit to LeBron James. He’s been able to bring out the best in McGee on offense and has made his (LeBron’s) life a whole lot easier in terms a target on offense. Among starting centers, McGee is 4th in the NBA in field goal percentage (62.5%) which is also his second best mark of his career. He’s been incredibly efficient and seems to be a safety blanket for LeBron when the offense is lagging. His ability to rim run effectively and catch lobs has propelled him to 12.1 ppg, a career high. He’s also logging the second most minutes of his career (24.1) and most for him since the 2011-12 season. To be clear, it has been a LONG time since JaVale logged heavy minutes and he’s found his niche in Los Angeles. On the defensive end, he’s been even more impressive as he stands at second in the NBA in blocks per game at 2.7 (another career high) behind last year’s DPOY Rudy Gobert. To go a step further, in regards to block percentage he sits at 3rd (64.9%) and is ahead of the likes of Gobert, Drummond, AD, and Capela. He’s been one of the best rim protectors in the game as he is playing the best basketball of his career and figures into the mix for MIP.
4. Nikola Mirotic, Forward, New Orleans Pelicans
18.9 ppg 10.0 rpg 1.1 apg 0.9 spg 0.7 bpg shooting 46.5/36.4/83.8
Mirotic has always been a sharpshooter and known as automatic offense wherever you decide to plug him in the lineup. This year, however, he’s taken his game to another level in his first full season in New Orleans. He’s averaging a career high in rebounds (10.0) which is good for 19th in the NBA. While 19th doesn’t seem like an amazing position, it looks a lot better when you see he ranked 39th in the league in rebounding last year at 7.4 per night. He’s clearly put in the effort to get better in that department and it’s aided the Pelicans in grabbing the 4th most rebounds per game in the league. He also looks way more comfortable than he did last year and has been better at finding the holes in the defense. He takes the most open shots (closest defender is 6+ feet away) on the Pelicans at 3.3 per night and it’s clear he’s found his sweet spot in the offense. Couple that with a career high mark in shooting percentage and you have your story with Mirotic.
3. Josh Richardson, Guard, Miami Heat
19.7 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.3 apg 1.3 spg 0.6 bpg shooting 41.1/39.9/84.6
Richardson has established himself as the best offensive player on the Heat and he could end up being the best all around player on this roster by the end of the year (if he isn’t already). Ballooning his points per game mark from 12.9 last year to 19.7 this season he’s became a real threat on offense. He’s taking more shots but he’s also been getting to the line 4 times per game. The best players in the league get to the line A TON and this ability to improve his regularity of attempts is notable. He passes the eye test as he looks like a player ready to break out into his prime.
While he has had a great year, I feel like his stats are based more on volume. He’s shooting 6 more shots per game this year, but his field goal percentage is down from 45.1% last season. He’s certainly been improved, but I think he needs to be more efficient if he wants to take home this award.
2. Montrezl Harrell, Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
16.5 ppg 7.2 rpg 1.5 apg 1.0 spg 1.7 bpg shooting 65.1/0/62.9
A catalyst in the Clipper’s hot start, it’s clear that Harrell is a top candidate to take this award home at the moment. I’d list all of the career highs that he is averaging but the list is kind of lengthy, so I’ll just show you.
Yes, you read that correctly. Every single stat basically is at a career high level for Harrell this season. I know after seeing this you’re thinking “if Harrell improved in every single category how is he not #1 on this list?”. Just wait for who we have number 1 and you’ll see why. Also, to take into account that he’s playing more minutes this year (his numbers could be inflated by that factor) , here are his per 36s.
Harrell has been no slouch and he’s been a machine off of Doc Rivers’ bench. He’s a big part of the league leading 53.5 points per game this bench scores. He provides automatic energy and has molded himself into the player he was coming out of Louisville. Tough, plays great defense, and hustles with the best of them. He’s taken his style of play that he thrived off of in college/high school and brought it to the next level.
- Pascal Siakam, F, Toronto Raptors
14.8 ppg 6.4 rpg 2.6 apg 1.1 spg 0.6 bpg shooting 63.6/33.3/78.2
Our frontrunner for MIP is none other than Pascal Siakam. Another player who has blown his former career highs out of the water this season, Siakam has been on a torrid pace to start the year. Couple that with his per 36 numbers and you’ll see the kind of season he’s put together so far.
He’s arguably been the Raptors third best player this season and his contributions can’t be overstated. His 63.6 field goal percentage is unbelievable considering that he not only operates down low, but on the outside as well. He’s shooting 37.5% of his shots from outside of 8 feet and he is hitting 39.6% of them. While that isn’t a great mark, when you take into account that he’s hitting 72.6% of his shots within 8 feet, you can see how valuable it is. He’s dominant down low but he isn’t a bad enough shooter from the outside where the opposition doesn’t have to cover him. He has an array of moves around the basket, including his patented spin move.
He holds the 4th highest offensive rating on the team (116.7) and the 3rd highest defensive rating among rotation players (102.2). He’s making a difference every single night and has been a problem for so many teams early on in the season. He’s shown that his ceiling is much higher than anticipated and it’ll be fun to watch him continue to develop. Just watch his highlights from their game against the Warriors. He has been a FORCE
Check back the rest of the week for the other award races!
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