Who will be named this season's Most Improved Player?
Ahead of the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff reveals their picks for the end-of-season award.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): As I wrote this week, I think Deandre Ayton has a strong case to win this award, but I'm going with a different big man: Christian Wood.
Anyone who watched what Wood did in Detroit's final 15 games of the 2019-20 season probably won't be surprised by this selection. With Andre Drummond being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wood got a bump in minutes and made the most of his new opportunity, posting averages of 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 blocks per game on .562/.410/.759 shooting splits.
That's obviously a relatively small sample size, but, as I wrote before free agency began, there's reason to believe what Wood showed in those games is sustainable. He's the rare big man who can play above the rim and space the floor at a high level, and he has the potential to be a difference-maker on defence with his long arms and mobility.
Now in Houston, Wood should have the green light to build off of what he did at the end of last season, setting him up perfectly to be named this season's Most Improved Player. It would make for an incredible story after he went undrafted in 2015 and was cut by four different teams before getting a shot with the Pistons.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Prior to reading Scott's piece on how he could have a breakout season playing alongside Chris Paul, I had Deandre Ayton as my Most Improved Player of the Year. After reading it, I was even more convinced.
I understand it doesn't make a ton of sense that a former No. 1 overall pick can win Most Improved because that just means he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, but that didn't stop No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram from getting the award last season.
Ayton had a unique 2019-20 campaign where he was suspended for 25 games following the first game of the season and then suffered an ankle injury in his first game back from that suspension. It's tough to get into any sort of a rhythm in a situation like that, but when Ayton was on the floor, he was awesome. Averaging 18.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, he showcased exactly why he was selected as the first overall pick.
With higher expectations around his team following their perfect 8-0 run in the bubble and the addition of CP3, I expect Ayton to raise his level of play again. If he can continue to average double figures in rebounds while bumping his scoring up over 20 points per game to help the Suns end their decade-long postseason drought, he'll have this award on lock.
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): The Toronto Raptors are an intriguing team heading into the 2020-21 season and not just for the fact they have relocated to Tampa. With the loss of both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, the 2019 NBA championship rotation continues to dwindle as head coach Nick Nurse attempts to work his magic and keep the franchise near the top of the Eastern Conference.
OG Anunoby figures to be a key part of Toronto's success, and with that, he's my selection for Most Improved Player.
Still just 23 years old, Anunoby's scoring average has steadily risen from 5.9 points as a rookie to 10.6 in his third season. He should see a spike in both usage and production this season, with his shooting splits of 50.5 percent from the field and 39.0 percent from three indicating an underutilized offensive resource. The reason the offensive production will be critical to his candidacy for this award is that he is already an elite defender, with his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame allowing him to guard across multiple positions.
Thus far, Anunoby has continued to make strides with each season in the league, and while his value is absolutely known within Raptors circles, this year looms as the campaign he stamps his name as a rising star of the league.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): According to BetOnline's odds, Jamal Murray is 16/1 to win Most Improved this season.
I'm not a betting man, but it seems like a long shot on the surface. However, digging deeper into it, there is a path where Murray claims the award. All we need to see is playoff Murray in the regular season.
Murray was spectacular in the bubble with virtuoso performances throughout the playoffs, announcing himself as a prime-time player. If we were to see the same type of performances on a nightly basis in the regular season, it would be hard to keep Murray off a talent-laden All-Star team.
Nikola Jokic is already there as a bonafide All-Star in Denver and the Nuggets are waiting for Murray to arrive at that level as well. This may be the season he puts an end to all the questions and silences all the doubters.
The confidence is there. If the consistency follows, we may be looking at the Most Improved Player in the league this season.
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