The Memphis Grizzlies are currently the hottest team in the NBA with nine straight wins. They have also gone 19-4 since starting the season with a 9-10 mark. The emergence of these young and confident Grizzlies have been one of the best stories of the season so far. Much of the spotlight—and deservingly so—is going to Ja Morant. Likewise, Jaren Jackson Jr. is emerging as a high-upside two-way stud. However, one other player has quietly become a huge part of their success this season: sophomore guard Desmond Bane.

The 30th pick of the 2020 NBA draft has definitely turned some heads this season with his play in Year 2. With an increased role, Bane has taken advantage of the opportunity and is running away with it. Bane has suited up in all but one game this season and is putting up stellar numbers in his sophomore campaign. In 41 starts, he is averaging 17.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 42.8 percent from three.

If Bane maintains his strong production and continues helping lead the Grizzlies to wins, he should be a frontrunner for the 2021-22 Most Improved Player award.

Ja Morant recently vouched for Desmond Bane as this season’s MIP.

However, Bane has some strong competition for the award. These include the likes of Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyler Herro of the Miami Heat, Jordan Poole of the Golden State Warriors and Miles Bridges of Charlotte Hornets. Heck, Morant probably has as good of a case as the guy he is endorsing. But Bane definitely deserves to be in the same breathe as those we just mentioned.

Nonetheless, this isn’t just a case of Morant being a good teammate. Bane should be an MIP favorite this season because of how much he has grown and developed from his debut campaign in 2020-21. His numbers alone tell that.

As a rookie, Bane was mostly a steady bench contributor, averaging 9.2 points and 3.1 rebounds, while logging in over 22 minutes a night. His solid rookie season earned him a spot on the All-Rookie 2nd Team. Compare his rookie stats to his sophomore production above and the jump is quite remarkable.

But aside from his numbers, Bane has also made massive strides with his game. The 6-foot-5 guard initially started out as a spot-up shooter for Memphis. And he played that role well, shooting an elite 43.2 percent from long distance as a rookie.

In Year 2, Bane is already cementing himself as one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA. On the season, his 42.8 3-point shooting clip ranks 10th in the NBA. Likewise, he is no. 4 in terms of 3-point conversions, just behind the likes of Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield and Fred VanVleet. Maintaining his efficiency from beyond the arc while shooting at a much higher volume is also telling of just how elite of a marksman Bane is.

From attempting 4.0 3-pointers per game last season, he has nearly doubled that with 7.0 triple attempts a night this year.

In addition, Bane has shown great improvement with his ballhandling and playmaking thanks in large part to his Summer League stint where he got reps to play as point guard. These have opened up his shot-making abilities, as he is now able to create for himself. He isn’t just a stand-still shooter anymore. He’s getting more comfortable driving to the basket and shooting off the dribble. Per NBA.com, Bane’s pull-up shots have increased from 25.5 percent in 2020-21 to 37.3 percent in 2021-22.

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This is an important part of his development as he is slowly breaking out of the mold as solely just a 3-and-D player. For an up-and-coming talent like himself, being able to do multiple things on the offensive end makes him a more dynamic weapon for Memphis. Bane’s growth in these departments gives the Grizzlies a much-needed secondary playmaker and shot creator next to Ja Morant.

Furthermore, one of Bane’s strengths as a rookie was his strong defense. His added bulk in his second year has only helped him become a much stronger defender this season. At 6-foot-5 with just a 6-foot-4 wingspan, Bane is pretty undersized when defending bigger wing players. But his burly 215-pound frame more than makes up for his lack of length. This has allowed him to take on much larger players, such as LeBron James, this season.

If Desmond Bane continues his upward trajectory, he and Ja Morant could emerge as one of the best backcourts in the league. Nonetheless, his strides this season are more than enough to warrant love for Most Improved Player.