Community Shootaround: Most Improved Player

There’s one clear frontrunner for most of the NBA’s end-of-season awards in 2023/24, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for Most Improved Player, an honor that multiple players have strong cases to earn.

Sports betting site has two candidates in a neck-and-neck race for the Most Improved Player award, listing Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey and Bulls guard Coby White as the co-favorites for the hardware.

Maxey is the kind of candidate voters often gravitate toward, a player who has made the leap from above-average starter to All-Star. After averaging 20.3 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.9 rebounds in 33.6 minutes per game a year ago, Maxey has boosted those averages to 25.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 3.7 RPG in 37.2 MPG this season as his usage rate has risen from 24.1% to 27.9%.

There are arguments to be made against Maxey though. His 44.8% field goal percentage is the worst mark of his career and his 37.9% three-point mark is well below his career rate, so his efficiency has taken a hit as his responsibilities have increased. Still, if the 76ers can hang onto a playoff spot despite Joel Embiid being healthy for less than half the season, Maxey will deservedly get much of the credit for that, bolstering his case for Most Improved honors.

White’s 19.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game pale in comparison to Maxey’s numbers, but expectations for the Bulls guard were far lower entering this year after he put up just 9.7 PPG, 2.8 APG, and 2.9 RPG in his fourth NBA season in 2022/23. While White’s improved numbers can be attributed partially to an increased role (he’s averaging 36.7 MPG after playing just 23.4 MPG a year ago), his .454 FG% and .388 3PT% are career highs, and his per-minute production is way up too.

The knocks against White are the Bulls’ record (still three games below .500) and the fact that he hasn’t been asked to carry as significant a load as Maxey in Philadelphia. White’s usage rate (22.7%) ranks behind that of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, and also trailed Zach LaVine‘s when LaVine was healthy.

Although BetOnline views Maxey and White as the huge favorites, there are other players with legitimate cases for Most Improved consideration. Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga are the other two given odds on BetOnline’s board.

It’s rare for a second-year player to earn the award, but there’s no doubt Williams has taken a huge step forward in his second NBA season, boosting his scoring average to 19.0 PPG and his shooting line to .539/.447/.817 after averaging 14.1 PPG on .521/.356/.812 shooting as a rookie. The Thunder are the No. 1 team in the West and Williams is one of their top three players, which works in his favor.

Kuminga has increased his scoring average by more than six points per game and is shooting a career-high 53.0%, having finally established himself as a regular, reliable rotation player in Golden State. He has played the best basketball of his career over the last two months, averaging 20.2 PPG on .554/.370/.784 shooting since January 12. If he continues to play like that for another month, he’d strengthen his case.

Rockets big man Alperen Sengun is another player who has taken a major step forward this year, increasing his averages across the board to 21.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 5.0 APG in his third NBA season.

It remains to be seen whether Sengun will be eligible for the award, however, since he’ll likely fall short of the 65-game minimum. A player who suits up for at least 62 games can be deemed eligible if he suffers a season-ending injury considered likely to sideline him through May 31. Sengun, who played 63 games, may fall into that category after sustaining a severe ankle sprain and bone bruise in his knee.

We want to know what you think. Do you expect one of the players discussed above to be named Most Improved Player this spring? Is there another candidate you believe deserves serious consideration? What would your ballot look like?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

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