At this point in the season, there’s very little reason to believe that anyone but Jimmy Butler will ultimately win the Most Improved Player award by year’s end, as he’s leading the Chicago Bulls in scoring (21.9 PPG), minutes (40.0 MPG), steals (1.6 SPG) and PER (22.5). He’s averaging career-highs basically across the board and waltzing his way toward his first All-Star appearance and what is likely to be a max contract when he hits restricted free agency this summer.
There will be people voting for someone other than Butler, however, as there are a handful of other players worthy of winning the Most Improved Player award. Here’s a look at a handful of the most deserving challengers:
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Easily Butler’s biggest competition for the award this year, Green may truly be the most improved player in the league in a literal sense. Butler already was a starter who transcended his game from good to borderline great, while Green went from a reasonably effective role player to extremely effective starter on one of the league’s best teams in only a year. He’s nearly doubled all of his statistics this season and is averaging a more-than-respectable 12 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.5 BPG and 1.4 3PT. His emergence (along with the big leap made by his teammate below) has been a huge reason why Golden State has been so successful this year.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – Considering that the Warriors have been one of the league’s most improved teams this year, it probably makes some sense that two of their starters are in the conversation for Most Improved Player. Thompson is quite different from Green in that he was already pretty established last year as one of the league’s premier three-point shooters, but this season he’s broken out as a bubble All-Star, averaging a career-high 3.3 APG and 2.9 3PT to go along with 21.1 PPG at a career-best .453 clip. His .423 shooting percentage from deep also is a career-high. Outside of assists, there is not a whole lot of difference between him and Steph Curry at this point, and Curry would probably win MVP if voting for that award happened right now. Thompson is now a #1B alongside Curry on this ream, rather than a #2, and that’s a bigger leap than some people realize.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – It might be cheating to include a guy who was an All-Star last year and for whom we expected even more improvement this year, but there’s no denying the fact that an already-solid Davis has improved even more in his third season in the league. His scoring is up 3.5 points a night, he’s up a half-rebound per game, is shooting 4.6 percent better from the field, raising up to an absurd .565 on 16.8 attempts per game, and his steals and blocks are even up a bit from a year ago. He went from being really good last year to great this year, and while it may not be as astronomical a leap as some of the other Most Improved candidates, it’s a lot more improvement than typically occurs in a player who is already as good as Davis was a season ago.
Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets – Definitely the most out-of-left-field candidate on this list, Motiejunas has been on the receiving end of a huge minutes boost thanks to Omer Asik’s departure and Terrence Jones’ nagging injury issues, and that has resulted in a huge jump in production for the third-year Lithuanian big man. Like Green, his statistics have nearly doubled, and he is now averaging 10.2 PPG and 6 RPG in 23 starts for the Rockets this season. He was drafted for his inside-outside Euro-style offense, and he’s put that to use this year while playing a career-high 27.1 MPG. He hasn’t experienced quite the same success as Green, but the two players are not dissimilar in the type of leaps they’ve made this year for their respective teams.
Jordan Hill, L.A. Lakers – We saw flashes of good things from Hill last year, but he’s been doing those good things much more consistently in 2014-15, which has resulted in career-highs of 12.2 PPG and a team-high 1.0 BPG and 7.9 RPG. He’s playing more minutes and is starting, which obviously has something to do with the boost in production, but he’s been one of the few rocks of reliability this year for what obviously has been among the most dismal franchises in the league. He’s a longshot to win this award, but this level of improvement from a 27-year-old isn’t common, which is what has made his season extraordinary.
At the end of the day, Bill will more likely than not win this award, but should the Bulls flounder or Butler end up injured or regressing in the second half of the season, these are the guys most likely to swoop in and snatch it away from him.
Are there other players worth of consideration? Make your case. Improvement at any job should never go unnoticed.
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