There are no hard and fast rules for voters to determine the winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Does it go to a player who came out of nowhere to become a big contributor? Is it geared more towards players who are taking the next step on their journey to superstar status? Or is it for players bouncing back from disappointing seasons for whatever reason?
The price can reasonably fit players in a number of different categories, as the season nears the halfway point it’s a good time to look at some of the top trophy contenders no one knows what it takes to win .
MILES BRIDGES – CHARLOTTE HORNETS
The betting lines for the Most Improved Player award have had bridges in mind for most of the season and it’s not hard to see why.
Bridges has improved every season since being Michigan State’s 12th overall pick in 2018, and he’s made a huge leap forward in 2021-22.
With career highs of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, Bridges can affect the game in multiple ways. He is one of 12 players to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal per game this season.
Like many players who ended up winning the Most Improved Player award, Bridges enjoyed a big boost in minutes. He went from 29.3 minutes per game last season to 35.8 this year.
While Bridges’ field goal and three-point percentages are down from last season, part of that can be attributed to a change in his approach as he attacks the rim more effectively and shoots 40.9% from midfield. range, up from 28.6 last season.
Although he proved he was capable of more than scoring, Bridges’ ability to rack up points in clusters was a welcome sight for the Hornets with playoff hopes. He already has six 30-point games this season after only having three in his first 211 NBA games.
Bridges’ case for the award gets even stronger with the success of the Hornets, who are in position for a playoff berth with 20 wins after winning 33 games all last season. With Bridges leading, Charlotte ranks second in the NBA with 115.5 points per game and has five players averaging at least 15 per game.
JORDAN POOLE – GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Perhaps no player with a legitimate chance of winning this award has gone further than Poole, who struggled mightily as a rookie in 2019-20 and was even sent to the G League in January 2021 after having struggling to carve out a role in the team.
This season, however, Poole has been nothing short of a revelation for Golden State, which is in contention for the league’s best record and is back among the NBA’s elite after a dismal 2019-20 season and a mediocre season last year.
Poole replaced the late Kelly Oubre in the starting lineup and was the perfect addition for Stephen Curry as the Warriors await Klay Thompson’s season debut. Poole is averaging 17.7 points – nearly six more than last season – and has increased his rebounds from 1.8 to 3.3 and his assists from 1.9 to 3.4. He did all that as his minutes fell from 19.4 last season to 29.9 in 2021-22 while going from a marginal rotation player to the third option behind Curry and Andrew Wiggins.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Thompson will enter the starting lineup as soon as he’s ready and that will definitely have an effect on Poole. Curry’s ability to create open shots for his teammates just by existing is evident and Poole might struggle to adapt with only so many touches to go around between the Splash Brothers and Wiggins.
The Warriors’ stellar season so far should only help Poole’s case, even though he plays in the same backcourt as the eventual league MVP.
TYRESE MAXEY – PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
No player has improved his scoring at a faster rate than Maxey, who has more than doubled his scoring average, rebounds and assists since his 2020-21 rookie season. After making just eight starts all last season, Maxey helped fill the void left by Ben Simmons with 31 starts in 32 games and is a big reason the 76ers are fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Maxey entered the league with a reputation as a goalscoring keeper, but he has added a new dimension to his game this season and looks more like a true playmaker with each performance. He overcame some early season turnover issues and his 3.58 assist-to-rotation ratio ranks seventh in the league, not bad for a player in his first full season. to commit an offence.
His improvement in scoring mainly comes from more careful shooting and it shows in his percentages.
After shooting 30.1% from three-point range last season, Maxey connects at 38.0 from deep this season and has made double the field goals five times after doing so just twice in 2020 -21.
Additionally, Maxey has had no problem being Philadelphia’s primary offensive weapon when Joel Embiid is absent. In Embiid’s 11 missed games this season, Maxey has averaged 22.4 points on 49.2% shooting, compared to 13.9 points on 45.9% when the two are in the same lineup.
DESMOND BANE – MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
There’s an argument to be made that teammate Ja Morant is as worthy of the Most Improved Player award as Bane, but the difference is in expectations. The otherworldly Morant rises as most thought after being the second overall pick in 2019, while Bane took a much more dramatic leap as the 30th overall pick the following year.
Bane was an impressive shooter in his rookie season, averaging 9.2 points and 43.2 percent from long range. He continued the stellar shooting in his sophomore season and developed other areas of his game. Bane is tied for seventh in the league in three-pointers (112) and 17.4 ppg, only Tyrese Maxey improved their score from last season at a higher rate.
Bane’s evolution really became evident from November 28 to December 19 when Morant was sidelined for 12 games.
During that span, Bane averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds while going 36 of 79 (45.6%) from beyond the arc as the Grizzlies won 10 of 12 without their best player. In a 108-95 win over the Lakers on Dec. 9 and Memphis also missing second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, Bane scored 23 points on nine of 20 shots, including five of 11 from downtown.
With almost no fanfare, Bane became one of the league’s top marksmen.
Earlier this season, he became just the sixth player in NBA history to make 200 three-pointers and shoot at least 40% from deep in his first 100 career games. The others are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson, Voshon Lenard and Landry Shamet.
DEJOUNTE MURRAY – SAN ANTONIO SPURS
With the off-season departure of DeMar DeRozan, Murray has emerged as the undisputed leader of the rebuilding Spurs and he finally seems to be getting the attention he deserves as one of the league’s best playmakers.
Murray has improved in each of his five NBA seasons and hit a career-best 18.0 this season. He also averages 8.4 rebounds – the most of any guard in the NBA – and ranks in the league’s top five in assists (8.9), steals (2.03) and triple doubles (6).
While many contenders for this award have seen a huge increase in minutes, Murray is averaging just two more minutes per game (31.9 to 34.2).
One area of his game that could prevent Murray from winning this award is his shooting. His 44.2 field goal percentage ranks him 16th among the leaders, while his 33.6 three-point percentage is ranked 23rd. He also connects just 69.6% from the foul line.
San Antonio is currently 10th in the Western Conference and has a chance to advance to the playoff round. This award is traditionally given to a player on a team that is enjoying some level of success, so Spurs finishing in at least the top 10 in the conference would be a big help in Murray’s case.