NBA Most Improved Player Award: Early Preseason Favorites
The NBA’s Most Improved Player award isn’t always a straightforward measure of who improved the most in a single season. Instead, it often goes to players who make specific types of improvements, often tied to their first-time All-Star performance. It’s worth noting that many past winners of this award became first-time All-Stars shortly after receiving it. With that in mind, let’s delve into some trends to consider when looking at the odds for this season’s Most Improved Player award:
Second-year players have rarely won this award in the 21st century, with only one exception in Monta Ellis in 2007. Third-year players have won it six times in the past 13 years, and fourth-year players have claimed it three times in the remaining seven years.
In the recent past, players like Victor Oladipo, Brandon Ingram, and Lauri Markkanen won the award in their first year with a new team, while Julius Randle earned it in his second year with a new team. Joining a team better suited to a player’s skills can lead to significant improvement.
Over the last 11 seasons, eight winners were part of playoff teams. While it’s not impossible to win on a struggling team, keep in mind that this award often goes to first-time All-Stars, which is less likely on teams with poor records.
Considering these trends, here are some early preseason favorites for the Most Improved Player award, according to Sam Quinn and Ameer Tyree:
The Favorites (Odds no longer than +1500):
Sam Quinn: One of the favorites in this year’s field is Mikal Bridges (+700). Despite his age compared to most winners, Bridges has shown significant growth in his game. His strong performance after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets last season, coupled with a productive stint with Team USA at the World Cup, makes him a contender. If he maintains his level of play, he could earn his first All-Star selection.
Cade Cunningham (+750) is another top contender. Although he’s entering his third season, missing most of his second season due to injury might work in his favor, considering the usual bias against typical sophomores. Cunningham received praise during his time with Team USA’s Select Team, and his impressive improvement during his rookie season is promising. With added shooting around him and a coaching upgrade, he could lead the Detroit Pistons to a play-in spot, bolstering his candidacy.
Ameer Tyree: Tyrese Maxey (+700) has long been seen as a player ready for a major breakout season. His scoring average has steadily risen through his three NBA seasons, even with the addition of James Harden. Maxey showcased his abilities during a stretch without Harden, averaging nearly 25 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. If Harden’s situation in Philadelphia remains uncertain, Maxey could benefit significantly.
Cade Cunningham, despite his injury-shortened second season, has garnered attention after a strong showing against Team USA in scrimmages leading up to the FIBA World Cup. His impressive stats from his sophomore season make him a viable contender.
The Middle of the Pack (Odds between +1501 and +3000):
Sam Quinn: Alperen Sengun (+1600) is an intriguing candidate. The Houston Rockets had a better offensive rating with Sengun on the floor last season, and with improved coaching and the presence of Fred VanVleet, there’s potential for him to become a key offensive contributor. Historically, it takes teams a few years to realize the potential of big men like Sengun, and his per-minute numbers compare favorably to established stars like Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis.
These are just a few early favorites for the Most Improved Player award, and as the season progresses, more players will undoubtedly enter the conversation. Keep an eye on those who demonstrate significant improvements in their game and contribute to their team’s success.