Each year the NBA delivers a new crop of players that come into their own and show a vast improvement from the year before. This year has been no different as there have been quite a few players that have made waves in terms of improvement. However, there is only one clear cut winner for this award and that is D’Angelo Russell.
The Brooklyn Nets are one of the better feel-good storylines on the season. They are in the process of getting their first playoff berth since 2015. Leading the charge is their All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell. Now there is some debate over who should win the award. The other well-known candidate for the award is Toronto’s Pascal Siakam. Although Siakam has definitely had bigger stat increase, the real reason why Russell is the clear cut favorite is because of the precedent set by the MIP race last year.
Last season Victor Oladipo of the Pacers won the MIP award over Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie. After bouncing around in his first few years in the league, Oladipo finally hit his stride in Indiana. He went from a really good player to a great player. And not just that, he became the franchise player for Indiana. Now Spencer Dinwiddie had a strong case though last season. He went from being a former G-Leaguer to one of the focal points of the Nets team. Not to mention he was who the Nets would give the ball to down the stretch of close games. However, Oladipo filled the superstar void that had been made when Paul George was traded. Oladipo, much like Russell this season, made the All-Star game which no doubt played a role in him winning the award.
This season you’re seeing the same thing. Russell has made that leap from just a good player to a perennial superstar. Let’s not forget that when D’Angelo was traded, the narrative around him was a locker room problem and incapable of leading a team. But since coming to Brooklyn he has completely rewritten his story. Currently, Russell is up in many categories from last season. He’s up five points in scoring from 15.5 to 20.9 ppg.
There have been an increase in his assist totals and a decrease in turnovers. The type of growth you love to see in a guard. Russell has also increased his field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages as well. As it stands now Russell ranks ninth in total 3-pointers made, is eight in total assists and is second in assist % at 41.8. In terms of usage %, he is top 10 in the league. D’Angelo has the longest streak in the NBA with at least one made three in 56 consecutive games.
Going beyond the stats you have to look at what Russell has done throughout the season. It seems like every few weeks he is on bleacher report or Sports Center because of one of his in-game performances. When he’s on fire it’s quite the show. Against the Cavaliers, Russell scored 14 points in the third OT to lift the Nets to a win right before the All-Star break. On two separate occasions against the Celtics this season he scored 20 points in a quarter.
But his crown jewel game came when he dropped 44 points, including 27 in the fourth to lead the Nets to their biggest comeback in franchise history. Russell brought the Nets back from being down 25 points in the fourth with essentially bench players. The 27 points are also the most any player has scored in a single quarter this season.
With all due respect to Siakam, he is having a fantastic season. He’s up in every offensive statistical category including minutes per game. The drastic increase in minutes can be looked at as a reason for the big statistical improvement. Not to mention he has three All-Star caliber players surrounding him on the court as well.
Russell’s improvement has gone beyond just statistics. He’s become not only the face of the Nets but also one of the faces of the NBA’s youth movement. He’s become a leader, something Lakers GM Magic Johnson said he wasn’t after he was traded from Los Angeles. If Russell can help secure the Nets a spot in the playoffs, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win the award based off of how it was awarded last year.