NBA

Most Improved Player Watch – 3/31/18

David Yapkowitz checks in on the Most Improved Player race.

5 min read
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With the NBA regular season winding down and playoffs right around the corner, many of the NBA award races are getting pretty close to be decided. The frontrunners have established themselves, but there are other candidates who could make things a bit interesting.

We actually have yet to take a look at the candidates for the Most Improved Player award here at Basketball Insiders. There are about two weeks remaining before the postseason begins and here are the top deserving candidates for the Most Improved Player award.

6. E’Twaun Moore – New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans have been one of the surprise teams of the season. They were playing great basketball before DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the rest of the year, but Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday have kept them afloat. However, E’Twaun Moore has been one of their best players all season long and is a big reason for their success.

Prior to this season, Moore was a reserve who bounced around the league (Boston, Orlando, Chicago) before finding long-term financial stability with the Pelicans. He’s rewarded the Pelicans with the best basketball of his career. He’s become a full-time starter in New Orleans. He’s never averaged double-figures in points before, but this season he’s up to 12.3. He’s shooting career-highs from the field (50.1 percent) and from the three-point line (41.5 percent).

5. Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers

Now in his third full year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Julius Randle has become arguably their best player. Randle started off the year unsure of where he would fit in the Lakers’ future plans. It’s been no secret that the team is trying to sign one or two max-level free agents this upcoming summer. Randle, on the verge of entering restricted free agency, was someone whose name came up in trade rumors in order for the Lakers to clear salary space.

He’s responded with the best season of his career so far. He’s actually playing fewer minutes than in previous seasons (26.7 this year compared to 28.8 and 28.2 the past two years). His 16.2 points per game are tied with Brandon Ingram for first on the team. He’s shooting a career-high 56.6 percent from the field. If it was questionable if he was in the Lakers future plans, he’s definitely got their attention now.

4. Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder

Steven Adams has improved every year he’s been in the NBA, but this season is his best one yet. In an offseason that saw the Thunder add stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Adams might just be their second-most important player behind Russell Westbrook. He’s arguably the team’s best defensive player, and he’s strikingly good on the offensive end as well.

Adams’ 14.1 points per game are a career-high, as is his 63.1 percent shooting from the field and 9.1 rebounds. He’s emerged as one of the best pick and roll big men in the league. The Thunder are the number one team in the league in second-chance points (15 per game) and that’s largely due to Adams, who has become one of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA.

3. Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics

Jaylen Brown played in 78 games for the Boston Celtics last year as a rookie, but that was mostly off the bench. This season has seen Brown emerge as a full-time starter and he’s definitely delivered for Boston. Sure you might expect a decent sized leap from rookie year to the next when a player was a top three pick like Brown, but he’s should warrant consideration for the Most Improved award.

He’s more than doubled his points per game from last season (14.2 from 6.6). He’s doubled his shot attempts as well (11.3 from 5.4) while improving his shooting to 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from the three-point line. More importantly, he’s played a key role in keeping the Celtics afloat as they’ve been hit by the injury bug as of late.

2. Spencer Dinwiddie – Brooklyn Nets

Spencer Dinwiddie has had one of the biggest leaps out of any player this season. He went from being a guy who could never get off the bench in Detroit to a capable starter and floor general. He was on the verge of being out of the league prior to landing with the Brooklyn Nets. A strong stint in the G-League caught the Nets attention and early season injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell really opened the door for him.

This season, he’s playing a career-best 28.9 minutes per game for the Nets and he’s started 57 games for them. He may not be shooting particularly well stat-wise (38.7 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from the three-point line) but there’s no question he is critical to the Nets offense. He’s leading the team in assists with 6.5. He would probably be the overall favorite or the Most Improved Player award if not for the guy who is first on this list.

1. Victor Oladipo – Indiana Pacers

Similar to how James Harden is essentially running away with the MVP award, Victor Oladipo should be the overwhelming favorite for the Most Improved Player award. From his time in Orlando and Oklahoma City, Oladipo has always been a solid starter. But it’s been this season with the Indiana Pacers when he’s truly come into his own.

A first-time and very deserving All-Star, Oladipo is putting up career-highs across the board. Prior to the start of the season, the Pacers were a team that on paper looked like they were headed for a lottery finish. Not only are they right in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, they’re fighting for home court in the first round thanks in part to Oladipo. He’s putting up 23.2 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting, 36.4 percent from downtown, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals.

It’s possible that the Most Improved Player award might get slightly more interesting as the season winds down. There are some very deserving candidates. But at this point, the award is Victor Oladipo’s to lose.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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