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Which Players Have a Case for Most Improved?

Which players are in the mix for the Most Improved Player award one month into the 2014-15 NBA season?

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Every offseason, players put in extra work in an effort to make that next leap in their development and take their game to the next level. Everything from a return from an injury, a new role on a team, an increase in playing time or a team’s changing style can have an effect on a player’s individual impact. So far in the 2014-15 NBA season, which players have impressed and have a shot at winning this year’s Most Improved Player award? Here are a few names to keep in mind:

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

In seeing the kind of impact that Anthony Davis had on Team USA this summer, you couldn’t help but think we were going to be in for something special this season and he has not disappointed one bit. In fact, he has played so well that in many circles he’s being discussed as a potential Most Valuable Player candidate.

Right now, he’s posting a beastly stat line of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 1.8 assists and 2.1 assists per game (which are all career-highs). While the statistical jump may not be as high as the one he made last season, the overall improvement in so many categories while playing relatively close to the same amount of minutes as last year is mind boggling. He’s just an incredibly efficient player, as he is also posting the highest player efficiency rating in the league (33.52).

The scary thing is that Davis is very much a team-first player, so all of this is coming within the flow of the system, and his head coach Monty Williams is becoming more vocal in demanding the team feed him more on the offensive end. If that indeed does happen, the man dubbed “The Brow” may still not have scratched the surface for the Pelicans this season as he continues to solidify his status as one of the NBA’s best players.

2. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Following an offseason filled with trade rumors about the Golden State Warriors considering a trade package that would have swapped Klay Thompson among others for Kevin Love, the Warriors decided to pony up instead and sign Thompson to a near-max contract extension worth $69 million over four years. While many felt that was a bit hefty, it seems to have only fueled this Splash Brother into proving he’s been worth every penny.

Not only is he averaging more points (21.4), rebounds (3.6), assists (3.3) and steals (1.3) per game, he’s doing it while playing less minutes than last year. Watching him play, it’s also clear that his confidence is sky high right now. His shooting has always been superb, but he’s currently posting career highs in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage.

It’s worth noting that he has been much more well-rounded this year, as he’s now scoring all over the court, getting to the free throw line and seeming more comfortable putting the ball on the floor to score or make plays for his teammates. He has evolved into much more than a spot-up shooter who can defend, and he’s making the Warriors look like they made the right decision with that extension.

3. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Breaking out as a star on a defensive-minded team like the Chicago Bulls that has struggled on the offensive side of the court is no easy task, but Jimmy Butler has done exactly that. As the last pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, not many expected him to be where he is today. He became a key member of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation with his stingy defensive play and carved himself a nice support role on a team posting some modest offensive numbers.

However, this summer he worked hard and when the Bulls offered him an extension rumored to be worth more than $40 million over four years, he turned it down feeling he was not done showing this team what his true worth could be. That belief in himself is making him look like a genius so far, as he’s playing like one of the top five shooting guards in the NBA. His aggressiveness on the offensive end of the court now matches his intensity on the defensive end, and he’s gone from 13.1 points per game last year to 21.6 points per game this year. As an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, the Bulls will have to show him the money if they are hoping to retain his services.

4. Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers

Talk about a diamond in the rough. Tony Wroten went down a tough path before being able to showcase his potential and ability in the league. As one of the more highly-touted recruits from the Washington area, many expected big things for him. However, he was drafted with the 25th pick in 2012 by the Memphis Grizzlies, and the flashy point guard found himself riding the bench as a rookie on a contending team with little time to spare for developing a young prospect.

After a trade that sent him to the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers last season, things were looking much better, but it wasn’t until his teammate Michael Carter-Williams went out with an injury to begin this season that he showed what he’s really capable of. While his shooting percentages still leave much to be desired, there’s still a lot to like as he did a solid job running the team in Carter-Williams’ absence and has posted career-highs in points (17.9), assists (6.3), rebounds (3.3), and steals (1.9) per game this year. He has played so well that even upon the return of Carter-Williams, head coach Brett Brown has felt comfortable playing both guards at the same time and Wroten continues to excel. He’s one of the few bright spots to watch on an otherwise dreadful 76ers team.

 

These players certainly have a case for Most Improved Player, as their hard work and dedication to the game has paid off now that they’ve been given an opportunity to succeed and taken full advantage. Some have shown that they’ve made the leap from great to elite, which is hard to do, while others have simply shown they are worth a lot more to their respective teams than initially thought. These are some players to watch throughout the remainder of the season in order to keep track of their development and their Most Improved chances.

E.J. Ayala is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah covering the NBA, NCAA, and international basketball. Currently serving as a newsline editor for Basketball Insiders.

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