NBA Most Improved Player Race Heating Up
Traditionally, the NBA’s Most Improved Player award is overlooked. Typically, a clear-cut favorite emerges, and the award garners little dialogue throughout the year.
Yet three months into the 2021-22 season, the MIP race has experienced a competitive renaissance stemming from the sheer amount of candidates vying for the honor.
It has invited plenty of intrigue about who deserves the distinction most, and the case can be made for quite a few players.
Should already established stars like Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan or Memphis’ Ja Morant win the trophy? Thus far, each has helped their teams reach largely unforeseen heights in the standings, and that’s partially due to their individual improvements.
DeRozan has shifted into playing forward full-time, emerging as a devastating fourth-quarter option. Morant has also been remarkable, averaging a career-high 24 points per game while improving his shooting efficiency.
Despite their success, some may argue against DeRozan and Morant due to their established status as franchise cornerstones.
This could turn the tide toward players who have been more surprising in their success, and Morant’s teammate Desmond Bane fits that description.
The second-year shooting guard has been the perfect complement to Morant’s imposing playstyle. Where Morant sometimes struggles behind the arc, Bane makes up for with his impressive 3-point shooting.
Bane is knocking down 42% of his triples, and his scoring average has jumped from nine points in his rookie season to nearly 18 per game in 2022.
Bane has made a persuading case for this award, but he isn’t the only sophomore player with a valid argument.
Philadelphia point guard Tyrese Maxey has been crucial for his team amid Ben Simmons’ absence.
Maxey brings what the Sixers have lacked for some time at guard — unbridled confidence.
He’s captured Philly fans’ hearts with his willingness to fearlessly drive to the basket.
Maxey has also improved tremendously as an outside shooter, increasing from 30% as a rookie to nearly 40% in Year 2. He’s also shouldering a large burden, playing a staggering 35 minutes per game, an unordinary total for a 21-year-old.
Maxey and Bane have left great impressions this season, but some detractors may argue against their candidacy because, compared to some other contenders, they just don’t carry the same responsibilities.
So what makes someone the Most Improved Player?
If stars like DeRozan and Morant aren’t locks, but young, developing players aren’t either, prime contenders could possibly embody both of these characters.
San Antonio’s DeJounte Murray and Cleveland’s Darius Garland potentially have the strongest resumes in this debate.
Both are younger players who haven’t reached an All-Star game but are still the engines that drive their teams, unlike Maxey or Bane.
Murray has been a bright spot amid a rough Spurs season, averaging nearly a triple double per contest while posting career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
Murray already had the reputation of being a defensive pest, and now he’s truly rounded out his game as a two-way threat.
Garland’s stats aren’t as eye-popping, but he plays for a superior team in the Cavaliers. That, coupled with his career-best totals in points and assists, could allow him to claim Most Improved honors at season’s end.
All six of these candidates have a unique argument in their favor, and it won’t be easy for voters to determine the winner.
This competition has proven both unpredictable, as well as exciting.
However, that is the best part about this race — this award has a newfound prestige around it, and this year’s recipient could be regarded as one of the most well-earned MIP winners in recent memory.
Joe Tuman is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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