A New Sheriff In Dallas Leads The Early Most Improved Player Discussion
The Most Improved Player award recognizes the player that has taken the biggest step forward in their career from the previous season. Since the award was first handed out in 1986, previous winners have included Tracy McGrady, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and most recently C.J. McCollum. While no team has played more than 10 games yet this season, here is my early season Top 3 and a few other players who should be in the discussion as well. (Thanks to DowntoBuck on YouTube for his highlights)
1. Harrison Barnes- Small Forward- Dallas Mavericks
Barnes, who is entering his 5th year in the league, was drafted by the Golden State Warriors because of his athleticism and his ability to defend. One of his biggest perceived weaknesses in his short tenure in the league is ability to score. his scoring ability, only posting a career average of 10.4 points per game. Because of the team he was on, his scoring really wasn’t a problem, and he was often asked to defend some of the opposing teams’ best players. However, this past offseason Mark Cuban gave him a 4-year $94 million max contract. Even though the contract was questioned, Barnes hasn’t disappointed the organization so far. He has doubled his scoring average to 22.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. If he keeps these type of numbers up, the award his to lose.
2. T.J Warren- Small Forward- Phoenix Suns
The big story out of Phoenix this summer was the improvement of Devin Booker. While he’s still improving every game, it’s TJ that’s been the biggest breakout player so far. Warren, who is entering his 3rd year in the league for the Phoenix Suns, and is finally getting some playing time. Warren has taken advantage of the increased playing time (An additional 13.5 minutes per game over last year) and has improved his scoring over 11 points per game over last season. He’s averaging 20.2 points and adding 5.1 rebounds all improvements over last season. This improvement has allowed Head Coach Earl Watson to make him the the full-time starter at Small Forward even with P.J Tucker returning from injury.
3. George Hill- Point Guard- Utah Jazz
Utah acquired Hill this off-season as part of a three team trade involving the Hawks and the Pacers. Hill, who is entering his 9th year in the league has been putting up considerably better numbers than last season with the Pacers. In a down somewhat of a down season last year, Hill put up 12.1 points, 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. This season, Hill has upped his scoring by 8.3 per game and is posting an improved stat line of 20.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Not only that, but he is having his best shooting year of his career. He is shooting a career high of 43% from behind the arc, 54% from the field, and 87.5% from the line. While the award is usually given to players who are still relatively young in their career, Hill’s numbers are too impressive to ignore.
Honorable Mentions include:
- Demar Derozan- Shooting Guard- Toronto Raptors- He is leading the league in scoring (34.1 per game) and has 8 30+ point scoring games in the Raptors first 9 games of the season.
- Zach LaVine- Shooting Guard- Minnesota Timberwolves– LaVine is 4th in the league in 3 point % at 48.9% and he is adding 20.4 points per game (an increase of over 6.4 per game from 14 per game he averaged last year).
Remember, it is far too early in the season to predict whether these numbers will continue and others players could step up and over take these guys. Remember the NBA is an 82 game season and we still have a long way to.