It has been almost 4 weeks since the NBA regular season began and one of the most discussed topics at the moment is the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Many of the players worked on improving their game last offseason, even though for some teams it was very long and for others it was very short. This unique scenario, where COVID-19 is an important factor, has given some players the opportunity to shine and show their improvement. Right now, the list of the players that can aspire to win this award is long. Even though it is notable that some of these players have made a bigger step than others, I think it is important to include more characters that clearly have improved their game. To me, these are the 5 players that have made a more significant improvement and are are standing out at the moment:
5. Collin Sexton
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a low-expectation team just last season, as there were many interrogatives with their young core and how would compete to scratch a playoff-spot as the Eastern Conference got stronger this offseason. Although the Cavs doesn’t have a magnificent record as of now (6-7), they are into the best 8 in the East right now. One of the most important factors for Cleveland to exceed our expectations a bit this year, is the evolution of their two young-guns, Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Making emphasis on “the Young Bull”, Sexton has been key for Cleveland’s early success. The former 8th pick of the 2018 Draft has been increasing his numbers every year, perhaps being 2021 his breakout year. Sexton hasn’t played recently due to an ankle injury, but through 8 games played this season, Sexton showed his scoring improvement, averaging 25.1 PPG while shooting 51.6% from deep and 53.1% from the field. With the adding of Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen due to the James Harden blockbuster trade, the Cavs are looking forward to Sexton’s return and building a team that could compete in the future.
4. Jerami Grant
This season may not be the one for the Motor City, as the Pistons have only won 3 games which is tied for the league-low with Minnesota and Washington. Detroit ranks 21st in points scored and 22nd in points allowed which is not a good sign for Dwayne Casey’s team. The bright side in Detroit has been the acquisition and emergence of the former Nuggets player. After being used to come off the bench in Denver, Grant has affronted the challenge to become a starter and shine in Detroit. Grant has increased his minutes per game this season, as he is playing 10 more minutes than last year. Grant has been the primary option when it comes to scoring in the Pistons, as he leads the team. His passing and defensive abilities have also improved and he is recording 6.1 rebounds per game, 2.6 more than last year.
3. Julius Randle
The New York Knicks are off to a surprising start as they are 6th in the Eastern Conference. The main key to win for Tom Thibodeau’s team has been the improvement of Julius Randle. Randle has really stepped up and it may not be crazy to say that he is playing like an All-Star. The Knicks were surpassing a terrible situation the last recent seasons, but the new players have elevated New York’s competitiveness and Randle has established himself as a more solid team-star. Randle’s 22.8 PPG may not be impressive for some NBA fans, but it’s true that he has improved his game all-around. The former 7th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft is averaging 11 boards per game and 6 assists per game, which would make 2021 the best year of his career. He is also shooting better than last season in all aspects. The Knicks are looking to scratch for a unexpected playoff-spot by the hand of Randle.
2. Jaylen Brown
The Boston Celtics have emerged as one of the strongest team in the East again, and without any doubt, Jaylen Brown has improved a lot again to be considered as one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Many could argue that Brown deserved a trip to the All-Star game in Chicago last year, but if last season wasn’t enough, Brown could aspire to get that credit this season. When we look at Boston, almost of the attention is on Jayson Tatum who is undoubtedly a super-star in progress, but then we could start looking at Brown who is one of the best players under 25 years in the NBA. Taking away the 2018-2019 season, Brown has improved his PPG every year, averaging 25.8 at the moment. Apart of the great improvement Brown has had perfectioning his jump-shots, this season he’s showing to be a more solid defender, a more skillful passer, and a more intelligent player.
1. Christian Wood
At the moment, the Rockets aren’t having a good season. Losing a MVP caliber player is not easy, but the team is looking forward to reinforce the chemistry and fight with the competitive roster they have. It’s impossible to talk about the Rockets this year without adding to that conversation the name of Christian Wood. Wood was undrafted in 2015 and his path to having success in the NBA is inspiring. Early in his career, Wood had to spent several time in G-League teams and got very few opportunities in the big stage. He stood out as an interesting player in New Orleans and last year in Detroit, where he was one of the trending free agents during the offseason for many teams. His impact in Houston has been immediate and right now he is the favorite for many people to win the MIP award this year. Wood is averaging 23.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG and 1.7 blocks this year, and he is establishing himself as one of the most flexible and difficult big men to guard in the league.