The NBA is officially back, and the new season was tipped off Tuesday night. An eventful offseason set into motion plenty of new looks for players around the league, helping even the playing the field for many teams. Along with a fresh season, as always, comes fresh storylines.
While there has been ample discussion on which team will win it all this season, or who will be the favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award, many players will be competing for the season award of Most Improved Player.
Pascal Siakam claimed honors last season after becoming the clear number two guy for the championship Toronto Raptors. Siakam followed the traditional formula for winning the award: increase in role and counting stats while also having an impact on a successful team. A winning team record may not always be an influence in who takes home the award, but a significant leap in production is a surefire way to get your name in the mix.
With multiple players in new roles, on new teams, or both, there is no shortage of contenders to win NBA MIP this season.
Jaylen Brown may be one of the most likely to lock up all criteria in impact, stats, and team success. The fourth year Boston Celtic is looking to have a bounce back season after seeing a diminished role through most of the 2018-19 campaign.
Although they didn’t drop drastically, his numbers across the board took a slight dip last season compared to the one prior. He averaged 13 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and just under 1 steal for the Celtics in 74 games played last season. The biggest change he could see working in his favor this season, though? Brown only started 25 of those games last season compared to starting all 70 of his games played in 2017-18, as well as averaging about five less minutes per game.
With some of the team’s depth thinned out and a new contract extension showing a commitment from the front office, Brown could be due for a bigger role this season. If he ends up starting at least most of the games he plays and can score closer to 20 a game, there’s no reason to doubt his ability to take an early lead in the NBA Most Improved leaderboard.
It’s been a bumpy ride in the NBA so far for Ball. After two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, the former second overall pick is now a member of the young New Orleans Pelicans. Playing in a fast paced full court system coached by Alvin Gentry and partnering with a roster boasting plenty of athleticism should put Ball in a prime spot to be an impactful player on this team.
The biggest concern will be health for Lonzo. Through his first two seasons, the 22-year-old has only played 99 games. With 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals his rookie year, the potential to produce numbers is absolutely there, despite a regression last season. If Ball is able to put up numbers like his first season in the league with some additional scoring, he could make some serious headway in being considered for MIP.
Rozier may be one of the few players with a shot at the Most Improved Player award this season despite being on a team headed for the top of the lottery. Rozier joined the Charlotte Hornets this past offseason with a three year, $58m dollar deal. This is quite a large sum of money for a player who has only started 30 games in four seasons but shows some serious belief in Terry on behalf of the Hornets.
The good news for Rozier’s chances at MIP is that he will likely be the go to guy for this team most of the season. There is just no way to justify the notion that Charlotte will be any good, so it is safe to count on his development as a young leader being a top priority for the Hornets. Along with this will come plenty of opportunity to put up the counting stats required to be considered for this award.
In the 2018 playoffs, Rozier averaged 16.5 points, 5.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 36.6 minutes per game. If he can put up numbers like this down the stretch of a whole season, Rozier could be an early favorite for the Most Improved title.
Fultz may be a dark horse candidate for this award, but he has something that should never be understated: the narrative. Heading into the season he may not have a prominent role outside of regular rotation minutes, and his numbers may not be the most impressive, but after seeing the former number one overall pick struggle to find a consistent role in the league, it wouldn’t require a lot for him to generate some MIP buzz.
In just a brief 33 games played over two seasons, his injury woes are appearing to be something of the past as Fultz gets a fresh start on the Orlando Magic. It works to his advantage as well that he will be playing for a team in desperate need of a reliable starting point guard. If Markelle can prove he is worthy of that role night in and night out and puts up even just fairly impressive numbers compared to his past two seasons, He could have a real shot at taking claim to Most Improved this season.