The NBA's Most Improved Player Award is one of the more unique accolades given out at the conclusion of every season. For many players, this award represents the start of their path to stardom, as has been the case with former recipients such as Lauri Markkanen (2023), Ja Morant (2022), Brandon Ingram (2020), and Pascal Siakam (2019). Even Giannis Antetokounmpo won this award during the 2016-17 season prior to his ascent to becoming arguably the best basketball player in the world. So far this season, Tyrese Maxey and Alperen Sengun have led the discussion for this award.

After breaking onto the scene during the 2022-23 season next to James Harden and Joel Embiid, there were a lot of expectations placed on Maxey with the Philadelphia 76ers. Once Harden was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers just a few games into the season, it became abundantly clear that Maxey was the guy the 76ers believed in to lead their backcourt. At 23 years old, Maxey has not disappointed whatsoever.

The young Sixers guard recently made his first All-Star appearance, and he has been one of the most dynamic scoring guards in the entire league. Only missing five contests this season, Maxey has averaged 25.7 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range. He currently ranks 14th in the league in scoring. Due to Embiid's knee injury, Maxey's importance to the 76ers has grown. Philadelphia will be leaning on their guard to help take them back to the playoffs down the stretch run of the season.

Over in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets have had a very mediocre season. Although they have not been able to find a constant staring of consistency as a team, Sengun has suddenly become one of the best centers in the entire league. The 21-year-old is in his third season with the Rockets and has drastically improved his numbers across the board.

Sengun has seen a 43.2 percent increase in scoring, a 28 percent increase in his assists, and a 5.6 percent increase in his usage rate compared to the 2022-23 season. Houston is very comfortable having their offense flow through the young big man, almost molding him to be the next notable do-it-all center like Nikola Jokic and/or Domantas Sabonis.

Although Maxey and Sengun are the two players who stand out the most regarding this season's Most Improved Player award, several other players have made tremendous leaps this year. Coby White, Jonathan Kuminga, and Cam Thomas are a few of the other young talents around the league who have suddenly become household names. Could any of these three players possibly leapfrog Maxey or Sengun in the Most Improved Player race during the back half of the season?

In the midst of the NBA All-Star break, ClutchPoints conducted a poll featuring media members from around the country, some of whom are official voters the league uses to determine the winner of their end-of-season awards. Some cover the league at large, while others cover individual teams. Nonetheless, each media member was asked a variety of questions pertaining to the major awards and the 2024 NBA Finals.

ClutchPoints Full NBA Midseason Media Poll

Most Valuable Player | Rookie of the Year | Most Improved Player|

Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of the Year

2024 NBA Finals prediction

In terms of who the media believes will win this season's Most Improved Player award, the gap between first-place and both second and third-place was wider than expected. The Most Improved Player award is still very much up for grabs in the last several weeks of the season, which should make for a very exciting finish.

Below are the results from the voting that took place during the All-Star break for the 2023-24 NBA Most Improved Player.

ClutchPoints 2023-24 NBA Most Improved Player Media Poll results

  1. Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers) – 40%
  2. Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets) – 20%
  3. Coby White (Chicago Bulls) – 16.7%
  4. Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State Warriors) – 10%

Others receiving votes: Jalen Johnson (Atlanta Hawks), Cam Thomas (Brooklyn Nets), Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Tyrese Maxey a lock for Most Improved Player?

 Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots the ball against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a reoccurring theme through the years regarding the NBA Most Improved Player award — it tends to go to a first-time All-Star. In fact, this statement has held true for eight of the last 11 recipients of the award. The only players who recently won the award without making their first All-Star appearance in the same year were Pascal Siakam (2019), CJ McCollum (2016), and Goran Dragic (2014).

Maxey made his first All-Star appearance this season, his scoring production has increased by nearly 27 percent compared to the 2022-23 season, and he is averaging over 25 points per game. The fact that Maxey has found so much success offensively this season despite the 76ers always playing through Embiid is what impresses the most. At such a young age, Maxey already understands his strengths as one of the fastest guards in the league, especially when he gets going in transition.

In terms of his three-point shooting, Maxey has been efficient despite seeing his perimeter shooting percentage drop by nearly 5.6 percent. This is mainly due to the fact that he is attempting close to five more shots per game, two of which are coming from beyond the arc. This season, Maxey has attempted 394 threes. He took just 369 perimeter jumpers all of last season. Given how high his usage rate is and the fact that he is now the 76ers' second-best scoring option, it is quite impressive to see the young guard record these numbers.

Maxey can score at will, he can shoot from anywhere on the floor, he's a much better defender than people tend to give him credit for, and he has been able to facilitate the Sixers' offense all season long.

When it comes to the Most Improved Player, voters like first-time All-Stars who are on the verge of ascending to greatness. After receiving 40 percent of the media vote during the All-Star break, it is clear to see that voters believe Maxey is just now beginning his path to stardom in this league for many years to come.

Alperen Sengun's breakout season

Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) reacts after scoring a basket during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Whereas Maxey has been the breakout star in the Eastern Conference, Sengun has looked like an All-Star all season long in the Western Conference. The main problem and reason as to why Sengun wasn't ultimately an All-Star is because of all the talent that exists around him in this conference. In terms of other frontcourt players, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Domantas Sabonis are automatically favored over the Rockets' big man because they are already proven stars. When it comes to All-Star voting, Sengun almost got buried in a sense, despite putting up great numbers this season.

Overall, the Rockets have not found much success at 24-30 coming out of the All-Star break. While this is obviously a step up from their 22-win season last year, Houston is still rebuilding and searching for ways to advance into the future. Sengun has clearly cemented himself as the focal point of this team, as he leads them in scoring, rebounding, shots made, and shots attempted. They may have signed Fred VanVleet and others in the offseason, but it is clear to see that the Rockets are Sengun's team for the foreseeable future.

The biggest reason why Sengun probably won't end up with the Most Improved Player award, besides the fact that he wasn't an All-Star, is due to the infamous eye test. Sengun is a fantastic player, there is no denying that. However, he is not the most athletic player, nor is he one that will put up flashy scoring numbers like Maxey has done this season. This ultimately hurts the Rockets' big man in the race for Most Improved Player simply because people don't get as excited watching him play.

Out of all the award races, the Most Improved Player award truly is a popularity contest in terms of the question of, “How well can you impress me?”

All the voters for this award are constantly asking themselves this question pertaining to each candidate. Sengun has put up great numbers and is going to be the face of the Rockets. However, when compared to Maxey, the big man struggles to stand out. Still, Sengun received 20 percent of the vote for this award at the All-Star break and will be looking to finish the season strong, possibly pushing Houston into the play-in tournament region of the standings.

Others in the Most Improved Player race

Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) reacts after making a three-point basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half at United Center
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Coby White is another fascinating name to discuss pertaining to this season's Most Improved Player award. Maxey was already beginning to grow last season in Philadelphia, and Sengun had shown signs of his star-like potential with the Rockets a year ago. In White's case, he was nothing more than a secondary guard coming off his worst season, and his future was uncertain.

Ultimately, White signed a three-year, $36 million contract to remain with the Chicago Bulls in an attempt to carve out a key role, likely as their sixth man behind the likes of Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso. Now, White may just be the Bulls' most important player, as he has exemplified what it means to be the league's most improved player both from a role and physicality standpoint.

White has started in all 55 games for the Bulls this season, averaging 19.6 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from three-point range. These are all career-high marks for the 24-year-old guard, as he has increased his scoring production by a whopping 102 percent. Just last season, he averaged only 9.7 points per game, and many were questioning if he was on his way out of the league if a new contract offer didn't come from Chicago.

Right behind Sengun, White received just under 17 percent of the vote in the media poll at the All-Star break.

Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga and Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson also received multiple votes, as Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas and Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Jalen Williams each received a single vote for Most Improved Player.