In the lead-up to the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will be rolling out predictions for each end of season award.
Today, we're focusing on the Most Improved Player of the Year.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): This is by far and away the hardest award to predict, but I keep going back to Miami Heat centre Bam Adebayo.
The tricky thing about Adebayo's MIP case is that he's not someone to put up big numbers - he averaged 11.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game as a starter last season - but I think this is the season that he proves himself to be an indispensable part of the Heat. He's already an incredibly versatile defender who can protect the rim and switch onto guards, and he's made encouraging strides on offence through his two seasons with the Heat, mostly as a rim-runner and passer.
If Adebayo can continue to expand his offensive game, particularly as a midrange shooter, it would do wonders for the new-look Heat's offence. And with more team success - the Heat should make the playoffs this season and could potentially fight for homecourt advantage - Adebayo should get more recognition for the value he provides on both ends of the court.
His role isn't a question anymore either. Whereas he used to split minutes with Hassan Whiteside, he's now the locked-in as the Heat's starting centre, with Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard serving as his backups.
With opportunity being a big factor in winning the award, Adebayo is set up well to take home MIP this season.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Most Improved Player is often tricky to predict, but I'm going with Trail Blazers forward Zach Collins for a few reasons:
- Collins is entering his third season in the league
I'm largely against second-year players earning the award because players should naturally be expected to make the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 given the lessons you learn as well as the bumps and bruises you take as a rookie.
- Collins is set to take on a bigger role than ever before
The 21-year-old is projected to start for Portland this season - he enters the year having started in just one of the first 143 games of his career. Last season, he showed promise as a stretch big man that has the capability to protect the rim as well; Collins had 17 games with at least two blocks, including a six-block performance against the Lakers and 10 games with two or more made 3-pointers.
With the changes made this offseason, the Blazers will lean on Collins' offensive production more than we realize.
- History sometimes repeats itself
CJ McCollum, who was taken 10th overall in 2013, was named the league's Most Improved Player in his third season after he became a full-time starter. McCollum averaged just 6.3 points in the first 100 games of his career (three starts) and erupted to average 20.8 points per game in Year 3.
Collins, who was taken 10th overall in 2017, enters his third season with the expectations of becoming a full starter after averaging 5.6 points per game in his first two seasons. Given the offensive production from McCollum and Damian Lillard, Collins won't have as great of a jump in production but I fully expect him to double his scoring at the very least and open some eyes with his ability to spread the floor and protect the rim.
He's a major X-Factor to the Blazers' success and, if he makes a leap this year, should get the nod for Most Improved.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): There's going to be plenty of moments this season when Ben Simmons to Joel Embiid is going to look unstoppable...
... as long as Jonathan Isaac isn't waiting.
Welcome back to the @JJudahIsaac block party! pic.twitter.com/eiWQZwKp6S- Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) October 13, 2019
It would be ludicrous to make any pick for any award based off of one play in the preseason. And that's not what this is. In fact, those are plays that Isaac has already been making through two seasons in the NBA.
But he's ready for a bigger role on both ends and instead of carrying on as an NBA junkie's 'next big thing', Isaac is about to be accepted by the general public as a game-changing force. And when he does that, those types of plays where he meets Embiid at the rim will be all that anyone wants to talk about.
There are two main issues at hand with declaring Isaac a potential MIP:
- Magic teammate Markelle Fultz might be the better candidate and most definitely has the more compelling narrative.
- Isaac's place on Orlando's pecking order
He's not going to be Orlando's best player (that would be Nikola Vucevic). On most nights he's probably not going to be Orlando's second-best player (sup, Aaron Gordon). While there's a chance he makes a Pascal Siakam type of run to winning it, recent history seems to suggest that a true star turn is needed in order to win it.
Prior to Siakam, the most recent recipients were Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, CJ McCollum, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Paul George. For Isaac to join that type of company, his offence needs to take more than merely a marginal step forward. Here's betting that Isaac, even in a crowded frontcourt with Vucevic, Gordon and Mo Bamba, gets it done.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm going with Lonzo Ball on this one.
Ball is going to play with a chip on his shoulder this season after the Los Angeles Lakers decided he was no longer in their plans in the pursuit of a championship. Though his per-game numbers took a dip last year compared to his rookie year, Ball was beginning to flash the potential of one of the league's top on-ball defenders before his season-ending injury.
Returning to starting point guard duties in New Orleans with a number of quality assets around him like Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and J.J. Redick, Lonzo should have no trouble getting his assist numbers back closer to the 7.2 assists per game he averaged in his rookie season.
As we've already seen from the Pelicans preseason games, this team is going to play fast, and that's when Ball is at his best. He'll be flying up and down the court with viable options all around him, returning to the highlight playmaker he was projected to be from Day 1 in this league.
Among all, his new jump shot form looks a lot smoother. If he can start knocking down perimeter shots consistently, it adds another element to his game as a scorer and will force defenders to play him closer, opening up more opportunities to drive to the rack or feed cutting teammates inside the arc.
I'm predicting Lonzo to get back to averaging double figures in scoring - around 14 points per game - while shooting career-high percentages from the field and from 3-point land. His assist numbers will surely be up from last season and he'll return to being an elite defender.
If the Pelicans are a playoff team and Ball can accomplish all of the above, he'll be this season's Most Improved Player.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I'm going with Tomas Satoransky.
He's coming off one of the most impressive runs at the FIBA Basketball World Cup leading the Czech Republic to a sixth-place finish. While that finish may not be all that impressive to some, it was the first time the Czech Republic had ever appeared at a FIBA World Cup. A lot of pressure was on Satoransky to perform night in and night out, especially when Jan Vesely was announced to be missing the tournament.
Satoransky showed he can lead a team. Now he has the opportunity to do it at the NBA level with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls needed a point guard in the worst way and now that Satoransky is in place, they, in my opinion, have a legit shot at making the playoffs.
If Satoransky can perform half as well as he did in China, he'll be adding some hardware to his trophy case.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Terry Rozier gets my vote.
This award usually goes to the player with the biggest spike in his season averages, and that usually comes with a spike in said player's playing time. Going by that, Rozier is perfectly placed to win this award.
Now, whether he performs and wins it is on him, but as the starting point guard of the Charlotte Hornets, he is certainly expected to play more than 22.7 minutes per game, his average last season.
In his three bold predictions for the upcoming season, Kyle detailed how Rozier has a chance to make the All-Star team this season. If Rozier does indeed have an All-Star case and leads the Hornets to a respectable win total, he might just be named the 2019-20 Most Improved Player.
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