The NBA is full of young talent. Players are making leaps and bounds and becoming better at a younger age. This season, we have seen a lot of players break out and start to fill their potential. Let’s take a look at the top five candidates for Most-Improved Player in the NBA.
5. Clint Capela
I was tempted to go with Aaron Gordon or Tyreke Evans here, but neither of them are doing their improving while playing for a winning team. James Harden (rightfully) gets a lot of the credit for keeping the Rockets afloat when Chris Paul was injured, but Clint Capela has also played out of his mind.
The 23-year-old from Switzerland is averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds while shooting the ball at a whopping 68 percent. He plays the pick and roll better than 98 percent of the bigs in the league. He’s athletic enough to guard centers and power forwards. He has great feet and instincts on both ends, and he seems to always be in the right spot. Just watch this play right here.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 5, 2018
Nothing too fancy, just Capela finding a hole in the defense and going to it. He finishes strong and high above the rim. Capela is still young enough to add a jumper to his game. If he can knock down shots from 15 ft. in, Capela could become one of the better two-ways players in the league.
4. Kris Dunn
Once one of the most sought-after commodities in the draft, Dunn had a rather disappointing season in Minnesota last year. He couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, with a slash line of .377/.288/.610. He had the ability, but wasn’t able to put it together in his rookie year. After an offseason trade that sent Dunn to Chicago with others for Jimmy Butler, Dunn has put more together in his second season.
Dunn is currently averaging 13.9 points for the Bulls, which is more than ten points per game than last season. All of his shooting percentages have risen and he is collecting more boards (4.7) and dishing out more assists (6.1). Dunn is starting to look a lot like the player Minnesota thought they were drafting in 2016. Just last night, Dunn had the best game of his young career in a win against the Dallas Mavericks.
Kris Dunn scored a career-high 32 PTS with 9 ASTS & 4 STLS vs the Mavs!
The only Bulls to ever have a line like this is Michael Jordan (20), Scottie Pippen (3) & Derrick Rose (1)!
Dunn's shooting % (.706) was the highest among them. pic.twitter.com/jt2rKP0pdU
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 6, 2018
At Dunn’s current trajectory, Most Improved Player will not be the last award he is in the running for.
3. Jaylen Brown
The Boston Celtics have exceeded all expectations post-Hayward injury. With a 32-10 record, they are comfortably in the lead for the number one seed in the East. They have seen a lot of players make improvements. Marcus Smart is making more “winning plays” than ever. Terry Rozier is turning into a really solid two-way guard. Jayson Tatum can’t win this award, but he’s a huge reason the Celtics are where they are. All these players have been great, but Jaylen Brown has really increased his game in a lot of areas.
His three-point percentage is up five percent (39.1) and he has been especially efficient from the corners. Brown has raised his averages from 6.6 / 2.8 / 0.8 to 14.7 / 5.3 / 1.3 after putting in a lot of work this summer. Jaylen wants to be great, and he is well on his way. Jimmy Butler recently said this about the young Celtic.
More Jimmy Butler on Jaylen Brown: "He’s got a long way to go obviously, but hell, how old is he – 20, 21, something like that. He’s young. He’s going to study his game, other people’s game, and before you know it the kid’s going to be at the top of this thing."
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) January 6, 2018
What really stands out with Brown this season is his ability to shut down opposing players. The Celtics had a good idea that Brown could become an elite defender, but even they did not think it would come this quick.
Brown’s all around game is developing rapidly. He has been spoken highly of and is one of the hardest workers on the Celtics. He is one of the most improved players in the league and is set to be a human highlight reel for the next decade.
2. Kristaps Porzingis
With Carmelo Anthony out of the picture, the Knicks have a new unequivocal leader in Kristaps Porzingis. The Unicorn has raised his scoring average by more than five points while shooting higher percentages from three (36.6 percent) and the free throw stripe. Porzingis has faced more pressure this season now that the Knicks are his team, but he risen to the challenge.
The Knicks are currently the tenth seed in the East, and may not rise too much higher than that. The Knicks, while still pushing for the playoffs, are reloading on the fly and carry one of the better 4-5 combinations in Kanter and Porzingis. The Unicorn plays hard on both ends and is learning more each and every day. Only 22-years-old, he has plenty of time to develop. Once he fully understands the game of basketball and adds new tricks to his already dangerous arsenal, he can be an MVP-candidate.
1. Victor Oladipo
I have no clue where the Indiana Pacers would be without Victor Oladipo. He has been playing out of his mind all season, and is a legitimate star in this league. He has upped his scoring average by over nine points (24.9) and is shooting a fiery 42 percent from beyond the arc. While the Pacers (19-19) are currently seeded ninth in the East, Oladipo is a huge reason they aren’t a cellar-dweller.
Oladipo has used his hot shooting and his elite athleticism to take advantage of defenders this season. Now in the fifth year of his career at age 25, he is putting together all of the potential and talent scouts saw when he was at the University of Indiana.
Just watch his career-high 47 points, and it is clear that he has put it all together. Oladipo is going to be a name to watch for a long time. That once horrible-looking trade is looking more equal day by day.