This season has already become extremely competitive in regard to the Most Improved Player candidates. Usually, there is a standout player that undeniably deserves the award. Take last year for example. Spencer Dinwiddie and Clint Capela had great seasons, but there was no denying Victor Oladipo deserved the award. Although it isn’t as highly praised as any other award, many recipients of the most improved player award become all-stars. The only player to win the Most Improved Player award and not have an all-star selection in the past 8 years is Ryan Anderson. (View the list of previous winners for yourself here). This award has been a pass into stardom for many young players, and it may do the same for one of these candidates this year.
Buddy Hield – Sacramento Kings
2017-18 Averages: 13.5 PPG (45/43/88), 3.8 RPG, 1.9 APG
2018-19 Averages: 19.7 PPG (47/43/86), 5.2 RPG, 2.3 APG
Despite a shaky first two seasons, Buddy Hield has proven his worth as a top prospect. The former number six overall pick has finally increased his scoring to the point the Kings had always hoped. After being acquired in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Hield showed an ability to be an efficient scorer but lacked scoring volume. He averaged 15 points a game in 25 games after the trade but just 13.5 points the season after. This season Hield has been a near 20 point per game scorer without sacrificing his efficiency.
In addition to his improved averages, Hield has had more big scoring games. He had a breakout 37-point game against the Thunder as well as four other 28-point performances this season. Similar to Oladipo, Hield has been crucial to his team’s success. In Oladipo’s case, he led the Pacers to their best regular season record since the 2013-2014 season. This season, Hield has a chance to lead the Kings to their best record in 12 years. The only problem for Hield is the incredible play of sophomore De’Aaron Fox slightly devalues his importance to the team’s success. Still, Hield has been putting up the best numbers of his life and is a deserving Most Improved Player candidate.
Spencer Dinwiddie – Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Averages: 10.5 PPG (39/33/81), 3.2 RPG, 6.6 APG
2018-19 Averages: 17.5 PPG (47/37/78), 2.6 RPG, 5.3 APG
After being nominated for the award last season, Spencer Dinwiddie has improved his play once again. This year Dinwiddie seems to know he can take any defender to the rim with ease to score or get fouled. He is attempting more shots at the rim and hitting them at a much better rate. After shooting just 58% around the rim last season, Dinwiddie is making 70% of his shots around the basket. This 12% increase has been a primary reason for his overall improved efficiency. Additionally, Dinwiddie has become a better 3-point shooter this season. He is shooting 37.3% this season, a 4% increase, and is relying on the catch-and-shoot less. The number of threes Dinwiddie has been assisted on dropped from 60% to 49% this year. Dinwiddie’s massive improvements as a scorer who can create his own shot efficiently make him a Most Improved Player candidate once again.
Josh Richardson – Miami Heat
2017-18 Averages: 12.9 ppg (45/38/85), 3.5 RPG, 2.9 APG
2018-19 Averages: 18.5 ppg (41/38/85), 4.0 RPG, 3.7 APG
With no other star to turn to the Miami Heat have relied on Josh Richardson to carry their offense. While critics will point out his low field goal percentage, Richardson has no teammates to create shots for him, forcing him to take more difficult shots than the average player. With Goran Dragic injured, the second best scorer on the team is the 37-year-old Dwayne Wade. That’s not a lot of help offensively. Despite not having as talented of a supporting cast as other players, Richardson has become worthy of all-star consideration.
This season Richardson has become the best player on the Heat and kept them in the playoff race. He has gone from role player to number one option in just one season, similarly to Oladipo, and has performed well. His usage rate has increased and the percentage of assisted baskets has decreased, meaning he has more responsibility in the offense than ever before. His increased scoring has been impressive, but his overall effect on the team has been even more significant. Last season, Richardson’s on/off was an insignificant +0.3 while this season it’s a +11.0, reflecting just how important he is to the team. Becoming the best player on the Heat should put Richardson in the running for the Most Improved Player award this year.
Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors
2017-18 Averages: 7.3 PPG (51/22/62), 4.5 RPG, 2.0 APG
2018-19 Averages: 14.4 PPG (58/32/78), 6.3 RPG, 2.7 APG
The late first round pick that had few expectations has blossomed into the perfect modern power forward. Pascal Siakam has shown an ability to do it all on the court. He can score, rebound, guard multiple positions, and handle the ball. Also, while he may not be an elite 3-point shooter, he’s improved enough so he can’t be left open either. His versatility is hard to show in stats alone, but advanced stats provide a picture of how much better he’s been this season. Siakam is second on the Raptors in Offensive Win Shares, Defensive Win Shares, Total Win Shares, BPM, and VORP. In every category, the only player he trails is Kawhi Leonard who is a top 5 player in the NBA. Out of every candidate mentioned Siakam had the smallest role last year, so going by improvement alone he should be at the top. Unfortunately, he plays with two all-stars stars in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, so he receives fewer opportunities and less spotlight. Still, Siakam has made huge developments in his game and should be a Most Improved Player candidate at the end of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Rose, Domantas Sabonis, Montrezl Harrell
Who do you think deserves to win MIP? Comment Below!