Candidates for Most Improved Player
*Photo via USA Today
This NBA season has been entertaining, and full of surprises. Some of those surprises have come do to the play of certain guys, who have exceeded expectation, and improved their game immensely to help their teams win. The players who come to mind when talking about making that jump from mediocrity to a solid contributor are, Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat, and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, these players have earned the right to be candidates for Most Improved Player of the Year.
Let’s first talk about Whiteside, where did he come from? The seven footer, who was drafted back in 2010 had not played in an NBA game since 2011-12, and was cut by the Los Angeles Lakers and twice by the Memphis Grizzles this season, according to Marc Stein. Just stepping out on the court is an improvement for this guy, but what he has done since Miami picked him up is remarkable.
He has been very productive when he is on the court, in the 46 games he has played this year, he is averaging 11.4 points per game, shooting 62 percent, picking up nearly 10 rebounds and blocking close to two and a half shots per game, and this is all in just 23 minutes a night. Whiteside has flourished when given the opportunity to play. While there is still questions about his attitude, there is no doubt Miami has gotten the most out of the troubled journey man.
The Jazz thought Gobert had improved so much from his rookie year last season, they traded their starting center Enes Kanter so Gobert could start, and boy has it paid off. Before the All-Star break he was playing 22 minutes and averaging under seven points, seven rebounds, and two blocks. Since the All-Star break he is playing 34 minutes, averaging 11 points, 13.5 rebounds, and two and a half blocks per game.
He is averaging six more points and rebounds than his rookie year, while increasing his shooting percentage by 13 points. He has managed to be a top 15 rebounder, and rank fourth in the NBA in blocks per game, while starting less than half of the Jazz’s games. It is safe to say he will be a solid rim protector for many years to come.
Draymond Green is not only a candidate for MIP but also Defensive Player of the Year, he is the anchor of the topped ranked Warriors’ defense. Green has improved every year since being the 35th overall pick in 2012, but this season has really been a coming out party. He was given the opportunity to be the full time starting forward, over former All-Star David Lee, and has ran with the opportunity.
His increased role is a major contributor to the Warriors success this year. He has been the heart and soul of the team, giving maximum effort each night. He has made the Warriors’ defense better, and it shows, he is ranked in the top 25 in rebounds, blocks and steals, doing it all for Golden State.
Jimmy Butler is the only candidate who was a consistent starter in the league before this season. Butler started 67 games last season, averaging 13 points, shooting 39 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. Not great numbers, but the effort he gave playing 38 minutes, and guarding the other team’s best player each night was tremendous.
He is still playing 38 minutes, and locking down the opponent’s best player, ranking 10th in the league in steals, but now he is giving the Bulls something they haven’t had since a healthy Derrick Rose, a scorer. Butler has increased his scoring by seven points from last season, while playing the same amount of minutes. He is a top 15 scorer averaging 20 points a night, and is doing it more efficiently than last season, shooting 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from three.
While only one of these player can win the award they have all stepped their game up this year. It will be interesting to see how their careers develop, but these guys are looking to build on their success, and become even better in the 2015-16 season.