At this point, the 2017-2018 season has been a very eventful basketball campaign. The crazy trades and free agent signings from the summer continued well past its starting point leading to major changes in the league. Careers and rosters were altered heavily and right now it’s all history in the making.
This has given the NBA community and the media a lot of topics and scenarios to discuss. One of which, often times neglected due to its less attractive nature, is the competition for the Most Improved Player award. Although the MVP and ROTY awards create all the hype the MIP has its importance as it gives the general public and team officials an idea of who, how and where is rising to NBA fame. People usually say that the player improvement is a product of a system and momentary opportunity. That may be true but not just anybody can take advantage of the situation.
With fewer and fewer games left in the season, some players have emerged as potential MIP nominees. The following text will examine the most probable names out there which we may hear as a winner or runner-ups.
5. Aaron Gordon
This season has been a small Renaissance for the Orlando Magic young forward. His improvement can be attributed to a new team strategy (although highly questionable in its results). Right now Gordon is once again playing at the power forward spot which he was used to back in his Arizona Wildcats days. He has also been given the opportunity to expand his offensive potential.
Due to his expanded offensive role, he is averaging a career-high stats all across the board – 18 points, eight rebounds and two assists per game. This year he has shown glimpses of what he was projected to become in the NBA which is a solid offensive forward. In the very beginning of the season, Gordon scored career-high 41 points vs the Nets. Later against the Thunder, he pulled down 15 defensive boards while the Magic was expected to be a surprise in the East. But at the end of 2017 and early 2018 Gordon was sidelined due to a hip injury. All while his team started losing badly to the point the season went to waste.
Although AG hasn’t been consistent in any particular improved area he is still on the up. It couldn’t have come at a better time for him as he is in the last year of his rookie deal and is about to become a restricted free agent. Playing your best basketball is a nice way to ensure that you will be getting offers in the upcoming summer. By far it’s almost sure to say that Orlando will match any number. Hopefully, Gordon is able to continue his improvement as he has clearly shown he is far from the bust some speculated he was. But at some point, he must add leadership and winning mentality to his resume. Because at the end of the day you can’t shine from the bottom of the East.
4. Jaylen Brown
Brown is still new to the league but he is already showing signs of potential stardom. At the 2016 Draft he was overshadowed by Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram and for his whole first year, the Celtic’s small forward went under the radar 6.6 points and almost three boards while playing just 17 minutes per game. The signing of Gordon Hayward meant that Brown would have probably be given a lesser role. Therefore he was not expected to overachieve.
At some point, there were rumors the Celtics would leave him to develop into an attractive young player who would be packaged in the future for Anthony Davis. Just in the first game of the season, Boston had a “change of plans” moment. With Hayward out for the season coach Brad Stevens gave Jaylen Brown the starting spot as either a small forward or a shooting guard. And he showed up to the challenge.
As a starter for every single game, he is averaging 14pts and 5rbs for 31 minutes of play time. He has also reached career bests in points – 27, and rebounds – 13, all in within a week early this season. Brown also scored the most points (35) in the USA vs World game showcasing his potential. Also being an integral part of a rising contender in the East proves Jaylen Brown is definitely improving. He is placed in a great situation in terms of coaching and teammates so we can hope his real improvement is yet to come.
3. Clint Capela
It may sound hard to believe but in December 2017 Clint Capela was literally breaking the MVP tracker on Basketball Reference. On the 18th of the same month, Capela peaked at number seven with a moderate stat line of 14 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game. With the return of Chris Paul, he gradually slipped off the Top 10 as the tracker automatically excludes a third player from the same team. Though a momentary achievement it was definitely a surprise for the NBA community to see Houston’s young center amongst the top names in the game.
Well, he got there thanks to his incredible improvement this season. He is putting up career numbers in addition to leading the league at FG percentage at 65% and Offensive rating at 127.2. Meanwhile, he does not take a step back on other important aspects that a center should have – Capela is sixth in Defensive rating at 101.7, fifth in total blocks at 102 and seventh in total rebounds with 628 and counting.
His improvement this year has been important in three major ways. Aspect number one – he is playing through the last year of his rookie deal which makes him a severely underpaid player for his capabilities. Which has enabled the Rockets to maintain and manage their cap with James Harden, Chris Paul, and the overpaid Ryan Anderson on the team.
Aspect number two – Capela’s game has been crucial for the remarkable success of Houston. Which will turn him into a priority signing in the offseason given that he reaches an agreement with the team? Which is a high possibility because the chemistry and mindset are there on both sides. But above all Capela has given a proof that he is a lot more than an expendable player at the five spot. His quick adaption to the famous “D’Antoni system” and the new “Lob City” may be just the beginning.
2. Steven Adams
Unfortunately for Steven Adams, the hype about the Thunder revolves around the Big Three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. However, if he was not showing up the way he has been doing this season the team would have been a catastrophe. After a shaky start, the Thunder got back on its feet but questions about Westbrook’s ball hogging and coach Billy Donovan’s offensive strategy still bother the NBA community. In the light of all the issues, Steven Adams has managed to facilitate his role on the team and produce.
By averaging 14 points and nine rebounds while having an FG efficiency set at 63% you can easily say he’s doing his part in a good way. After all, these are career number for a player who is not heavily involved in the offense. He rarely gets a pass in the post so that he can find his shot or dribble to the basket. Adams scores mainly on pick-and-rolls, lobs, alley-oops and pass-step-dunks. But try to imagine Adams replaced by an older or less good center for the entirety of the season. A type of player you get to do the ‘center chores’ for way less money so that you can get your Big Three paid. For example, some of these names may come up to mind – Aaron Baynes, Zaza Pachulia, Robin Lopez or the younger Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Alex Len.
None of them is even close to the production and presence of Steven Adams. What’s more – they don’t have the rebounding leverage he has! Which would translate into more opportunities for the opposing team when Westbrook and George have a tough time shooting. The Big Kiwi in that sense covers up one of the glaring problems of his team – the hectic missed shots.
The Thunder have realized this aspect of Adams’ game and has paid him for it. As of today, he is signed to a four year /100mil deal with OKC. And he has proven his signature was worth every penny.
Perhaps the potential winner of the MIP award plays the shooting guard spot for the Indiana Pacers. From an average player in Orlando then a member of a supporting cast alongside Russell Westbrook, Oladipo has reemerged as a star player for an unlikely team in the East. When Indiana traded away Paul George (who made sure he was undervalued) everybody thought they got robbed for receiving only Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. Where’s the pick some were asking. It felt like a rushed deal from the get go. Just after PG13 left there were concerns that Indiana would suffer a draught in terms of team success and viewership. Alas they lost their franchise player!
Luckily enough Westbrook’s shadow turned out to be a very dark place since it was able to hide an all-star player. Since his arrival Victor Oladipo has been playing the game of his life with career numbers across the board – 24.0 points, five rebounds, four assists per game and league-best 2.2 steals a game. This was the season he recorded his most points (47) and rebounds (15) plus several other career achievements.
Apart from raw statistics, Oladipo has managed to emerge as a leader and a scorer. Which is exactly what Indiana needed in a time of a transition. Victor has been very versatile offensively being able to score from beyond the arch, dribble the ball then pass it to an open man or drive for a finish at the rim. What could be problem is that sometimes he is trying too hard and ends up playing hero ball or he is having a tough time improvising which leads to him passing the ball instead of finding his own shot. But the excuse is he is yet to expand his game in that regard.
Here lies the biggest challenge before him – can he take it to the next level? The next level is the moment when he is shooting more than six times per game from beyond the arch and he is going to the free throw line more than three times. If he works on that while keeping up the pace he will ensure a second all-star selection. Not only that but he may turn into that new franchise player Indiana had no idea came in when Paul George left.