We have reached the mid-point of the NBA season and we know a few things: Which teams are good (Warriors, Suns, Bulls and a few more), which teams are disappointments, and which players have set themselves up in the postseason award races. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year).
Today: Most Improved Player.
Desmond Bane (Memphis Grizzlies)
As a rule, I am hesitant to go with second-year players (or even third year) to win this award because they should be on an improvement curve, but Bane is blowing that curve away. He’s also been critical to the surging Grizzlies. Bane has taken on much more of the offense — his usage rate jumped from 16.1 last season to 22.9 this season — but his true shooting percentage and other marks of efficiency have not dropped much at all despite the increased load. Bane is tied for the fourth most made 3-pointers in the league (128). He’s also at the heart of the Grizzlies’ spirit.
This is also a difficult award to pick mid-season, and there are a lot of other deserving candidates: Dejounte Murray, Darius Garland, Miles Bridges, Jordan Poole, and Cole Anthony. The race for this award is still wide open.
Ja Morant (Grizzlies)
Morant has leaped deep into stardom, maybe even into superstardom. He’s shooting better from deep, gained even more control over the offense and dialing up his defense.
Climbing higher echelons means Morant tops Magic guard Cole Anthony, who was lousy as a rookie and has become solid. It’s just so much harder to break into stardom.