ROUNDTABLE: Most Improved Player
Nine of OTG's greatest give you their pick for 2017-2018's Most Improved Player.
The Milwaukee Bucks are primed to make a jump in the Eastern Conference standings after finishing 6th last season. If fully healthy, a Bucks team could snag the #3 spot behind Cleveland and Boston while gobbling up regular season opponents, putting Giannis Antetokounmpo in MVP consideration, and Most Improved Player sleeper — Khris Middleton — in heavy consideration for the award. A 24-year-old Middleton made his presence known in 2015-16 with 18 points a game on 44% from the field, 40% from three, and 89% from the line. The 6’8” gunner and maintainer of Milwaukee’s #22 legacy of buckets (long live Michael Redd) missed most of 2016-17 with a hamstring injury, but is healthy and primed to resume his progress this year. With fellow Milwaukee standout Jabari Parker set to return sometime in February, a talented Bucks team should be able to eke out a decent record behind the progress of Middleton, Giannis, Thon Maker, and Malcolm Brogdon before hitting their stride and rolling into the playoffs once Jabari returns. The Bucks have the depth to win games without Jabari, but Giannis and Middleton should see inflated stats as principal scorers. With Middleton’s scoring on the map, a Jabari return could mean Milwaukee dominance and once the box score buckets are matched with the team’s success and Middleton’s sense for spacing, defensive tenacity, and ratchet under the limelight — he could easily win MIP. My other dark horse: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The first time I can be “bias” and not truly care, because the INDIANA PACERS HAVE YOUR WINNER! Sorry for yelling, but how can I not get hyped up for Myles Turner? He bursted onto the scene looking like the perfect center for the new era of small ball lineups. He can rim protect, shoot and run the floor. With Paul George gone, the Pacers are trying to rebuild around Turner and Victor Oladipo (Someone else to keep an eye on). Turner has the stage set to lead the mediocre Pacers and turn heads in the process. In 81 games last year he averaged 14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg with 2.1 blocks. Not bad for a 21 year old, keep your eyes on the big fella.
Brandon Ingram was the second overall draft pick in the 2016 draft and entered last season with a lot of hype. For the most part, he underwhelmed. On the season, he averaged 9.4 PPG in 28.8 MPG. Not what you expect from a second overall pick. However, if you break down his splits, those numbers tell a very different story. Compared to his pre All-Star game numbers, Ingram improved upon many of his stats. He shot 36.3% (2.8 FGM, 7.7 FGA) from the field and averaged 8 PPG in 27.7 MPG pre All-Star break. Compare that to post All-Star break where he shot 47.5% (5.4 FGM, 11.4 FGA) from the field, good for 13.2 PPG in 32.2 MPG. In the second half of the season, Ingram was also able to get to the basket more, indicated by the fact that his frequency of shots inside 10 feet increased from 38.3% to 44.6%. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the closer to the basket you are, the higher the percentage you should shot. And with Lonzo Ball running point now, Ingram may be in store for even more easy buckets and continue on the upward swing he ended on last season.
It’s gonna be ‘all good in the hood’ for Jazz guard Rodney Hood next season. My opinion probably matters even less after that joke but despite what you think Hood has all the tools and opportunity to make a big jump next season. The main factor going for him is the departure of their best offensive player, Gordon Hayward; leaving Hood as the team’s best player on that side of the floor. The award for Most Improved Player generally goes to the guy who makes a big leap in numbers in his box score, and Hood is a prime candidate to do that. Last year he averaged 12.7 points per game to go along with 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists; expect a big jump in those numbers (especially the points and assists). I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to average close to 20 points a game while increasing all other facets of his offensive game. Such a jump would likely be enough to see him secure the league’s Most Improved Player.
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After a dream start to his tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic looks primed to jump into a new role alongside the Blazers elite backcourt. After a mid-season trade from the Denver Nuggets, Nurkic looked born again in Portland, averaging 15 PTS and 10 REB over the 20 game stretch that came before a season-ending leg fracture. The Blazers won 14 of those 20 games, and had they won at that rate for a full season, they would have finished 3rd in the Western Conference.
If Nurkic can give Portland that kind of stat-line over a 20 game stretch after a mid-season trade, just imagine what he will be able to do after an entire off-season and training camp with his new squad. A fully integrated Jusuf Nurkic will be a lock as the Trail Blazers third option on offense and with little competition at the center position, he should see plenty of playing time to rack up the statistical production to win Most Improved Player of the Year.
Jusuf Nurkic played the best 20 games of his career with the Trail Blazers. He is starting this season having shed a lot of weight in the offseason and he looks poised for a big year. He is going to be a huge part of the Trail Blazers offense. He is a legitimate post-up threat and showed some flashes of being able to run the offense. He is a surprisingly good passer and can be another much needed offensive weapon for Portland. There is some worry that he might not have the fire that he had last season, but I disagree. His career average are 8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds and those averages were raised after 20 games with Portland averaging 15 and 10. Most Improved Player is usually about upping averages and Nurkic is going to do that this season. He is going to average career highs in many statistical categories and should be able to walk away with the award.
The most improved player of the year will be Derrick Rose. Rose had a solid year with the Knicks last season, but was held back by injuries. That is a very common theme with the former MVP. In Cleveland, Rose will have a chance to blossom into a top tier point guard again. There will be no pressure for the former first round pick to succeed because he will be in the shadow of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and now Dwyane Wade. Rose is really an afterthought on the roster. For this exact reason, he will probably be the X-factor going into 2017.
Even Rose himself said “Next time you've got to pay me, you've got to pay me double, so it's fine with me," according to Joseph Zucker of Bleacher Report. Those comments show how focused Rose is to succeed. He will definitely have a resurgence in Cleveland like many others have in the past. Just look at what Richard Jefferson and JR Smith have accomplished in their time with the Cavaliers. LeBron James makes his teammates better. That will happen with Derrick Rose too.
Like our previous discussion about Rookie of the Year, much of being the most improved player in the NBA comes with opportunity. These players have shown flashes in past seasons, now they have to put it all together, but the question is can they do so? Give me Myles Turner for this year's Most Improved Player. Turner is going into his third season with the Indiana Pacers and already is a skilled big man. Now with Paul George gone, Turner is the best player on the team. He needs to act like it. Guys who average two blocks per game and can also hit threes don’t grow on trees. Last season Turner averaged 14.5 points, with 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks on 51% shooting from the field. Even more impressive was his 58.5 true shooting percentage and 18.5 player efficiency. These are incredible numbers for a second-year player. This year expect the Pacers to run more offense through Turner, and he will deliver. He shot 34% from deep last season, and that should go up this season. Opposing bigs will have trouble defending him all the way out to the three-point line. His quickness is a nightmare for opposing bigs. Turner will be more aggressive this season, and his attempts from the field and the line will go up and so should his production. With Turner, you have a player who is capable of averaging 20 points, ten rebounds, two blocks while shooting 35% from deep. He is a dark horse all-star candidate. Indiana will be bad and likely miss the playoffs, and that will hurt his chances, but Turner will put up huge numbers. He has the skills, now he has the opportunity, and when you combine those, you get the most improved player in the NBA.
Myles Turner: With the dealing of Paul George to the Thunder, the Indiana Pacers will start the rebuilding process this season. It seems they already have a potentially great center piece in 21-year-old Myles Turner. With George gone, Turner will shoulder more of the responsibility on offense and in a weaker Eastern Conference, he could even make the All-Star team. He has a decent jumper, can play in the pick-and-roll, and can rebound well. There’s certainly room for improvement, but at such a young age Turner still has plenty of time to develop. Pacer’s management will hope he takes steps to becoming a dominant center in this league as they add pieces over the next few years to try to return to contenders in the East.