Each season, one NBA player is given the Most Improved award, and each season there are players who are left in need of improvement. As the 2015-16 season approaches, here are five individuals who need to turn the corner for their respective team.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets
Expectations for Kidd-Gilchrist were very high when the Charlotte Hornets drafted him second overall in 2012. But the small forward has been slow to make an impact, last season averaging a career-best 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. This offseason the Hornets traded for Nicolas Batum, who plays the same position. The team could go small next season and move Kidd-Gilchrist to the four spot with Batum at the three, or go big with one of them sliding to shooting guard. Or there’s always the possibility that they explore options for Kidd-Gilchrist and his expiring contract.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
Injuries and conditioning have marked Sullinger’s career to this point. The 23-year-old has already earned a starting role, but he has to be able to stay on the court to keep it. The Celtics added frontcourt players this summer, giving them more options for minute distribution. This isn’t about stats – Sullinger averaged 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds in 58 games last season. Looking ahead, his weight (both dropping it and maintaining it) will be critical to his success.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors improved to one of the top teams in the East last year and DeRozan developed into an All-Star. Now what? The Raptors have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons. While their success does not rely solely on DeRozan, he is one of the leaders of the team tasked with taking them to the next level. Last season he battled injuries and shot 41.3 percent from the field (a career low) and 28.4 percent from long range. The shooting guard is under contract this season and has a player option for 2016-17. The Raptors could look to make a change, especially if he’s looking to explore other possibilities next offseason.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves inked Rubio to a four-year, $55 million contract extension last year. But the oft-injured point guard has had health issues throughout his entire NBA career (he was limited to 22 games last season due to an ankle injury), and his value to the team is on the floor not the sidelines. The Timberwolves are in a new phase of growing with young talent, including Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and 2015 first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns. They will need Rubio, who averaged 10.3 points and 8.8 assists last season, to be their floor leader in this chapter. In addition to his health, Rubio’s offensive consistency will be key. He shot 35.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from long range last season, and recently told SI he has been trying to take 100 to 200 shots each day without jumping.
Mario Chalmers, Miami HEAT
Players have come and gone during the HEAT’s championship runs and playoff pushes, but Chalmers has been there for the past seven seasons since being drafted by the team in 2008. The point guard had been a complementary player alongside superstars, but now that Goran Dragic inked a five-year deal the starting role is in new hands. Last season, Chalmers’ shooting dropped to 40.3 percent from the field and a career-worst 29.4 percent from three-point range. His assists also decreased from 4.9 to 3.8 per game.
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