With only a few weeks left in the NBA season, it’s not too early to start thinking about awards.
The MVP race has already crossed the finish line, but awards like Coach of the Year and Most Improved Player are still up for grabs. When it comes to most improved, there are several candidates who crack the shortlist for the award. Let’s take a look at those who qualify and see who tops the class.
An injury to Danny Granger has revealed something tremendous for Indiana in the form of Paul George who is averaging 37 minutes per game this season, up from 29 last year. His production has increased along with it, up to 17 points per game from 12 last season.
The big thing for the third year guard is name recognition. Last year, a handful of NBA heads knew anything more about George than he’s an Indiana Pacer. But after a year in which he made the All-Star game and has helped push the Pacers through a slow start to the No.2 seed, George is a respected threat by everyone in the league. His game has developed beyond scoring as well, averaging 4 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game making him one of the cheapest all-stars out there at $2.5 million a year.
After tough years in Cleveland and Sacramento, Hickson being traded to Portland last season really didn’t seem like a big deal, but when the announcement came that he would become a starter this season back in October, many began to believe that he could flourish under Terry Stotts.
Hickson has done just that becoming a rebounding monster at 13 points 10.7 boards per game. Becoming a free agent at the end of the season, Hickson will command a real salary this summer meaning that he may not be in Portland next year. His career path has changed extremely thanks to his numbers and if he keeps up this sort of production, his pay will continue to rise.
Had you ever heard of Larry Sanders before this year? Me either. The Florida native had a quiet first two years in the NBA averaging 13 minutes per game and 4 points, but over those two seasons, the Bucks began to realize that the 24-year old had an impeccable shot blocking ability.
Now, after seeing a raise in minutes to 27 per night, he’s the league’s leading shot blocker at 3.1 per game and has increased his scoring numbers to 9.3 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game too. Sanders isn’t a great finesse player yet, but his athletic 6-foot-11 inch frame is crucial to why Milwaukee is playing postseason basketball this season.
After showing glimpses of his potential in Orlando, Clark has flourished under Mike D’Antoni in Los Angeles. Filling in for Pau Gasol during his injury, there are sects of Laker fans that want to see more of him than Gasol in the lineup. Clark’s shooting has improved to an all time best of 45 percent and in a season where he has had a career best 33 starts, Clark is averaging 24 minutes per game, 8 points and 6 rebounds.
While the other pieces of the Lakers playoff puzzle are much bigger than Clark, the scoring presence and ability to rebound that he’s brought to the squad has helped L.A. fight their way back into contention for the postseason. After it’s all said and done, the former Louisville standout probably won’t have helped the Lakers win a title, but his name will ring out with a lot more credibility in free agency this summer.
The limited numbers he accrued backing up Joakim Noah in Chicago gave Asik just enough of an opportunity to attract Rockets GM Darryl Morey into signing him to a big contract, but there were a lot of doubts about just how much of an impact he could have and whether he could play thirty minutes every night. Sure enough, Asik is averaging 30 minutes per game in which he scores 10 points 11.7 rebounds and a block per game.
Asik wasn’t seen by many, myself include, as a guy that could help Houston make the postseason this year, but sure enough, here the Rockets are as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference with one of the best centers in the conference. The interior defense he provides along with rebounding have given the Rockets backcourt some reprieve from the pressure they were under to perform at the beginning of the season and helped paper over their other defensive weaknesses and lack of a really good power forward. If Morey can ever straighten out their power forward issues, Houston is a team to watch out for.