10 Players Who’ll Most Likely Improve Next Season
10 Players Who’ll Most Likely Improve Next Season
The toughest award to predict in the NBA is the most improved player award. It is hard to predict which player is ready to take the next step. Will the player get the opportunity to play enough to win the award? Does he have an injury history? How good is the team he is on? Does he have enough game to be one of the most improved players?
Looking back on the past ten winners of the award, there a few things in common. Six of the past ten winners were on playoff teams. There was also Goran Dragic in 2013-2014, whose Suns won 48 games, but missed the playoffs. The west is brutal. Aaron Brooks in 2009-2010 with the Houston Rockets also just missed the playoffs. Only two of the winners were on terrible teams. Kevin Love in 2010-2011 and Danny Granger in 2008-2009.
Finding more commonality between the winners is a little tougher. Four of the winners benefited from becoming starters for the first time. Aaron Brooks, Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson in 2011-2012 and CJ McCollum in 2015-2016. The other six winners were already established starters who won for other reasons. Last year Giannis Antetokumpo won due to a full-time switch to point forward. Dragic won due to playing on coach Jeff’s Hornacek system. Hedo Turkoglu also benefited from a new coach in Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. For Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Danny Granger the light simply seemed to click. These are the hardest ones to predict.
All these players do have one thing in common and that is some sort of opportunity. That opportunity can be starting for the first time, a new head coach with a system that suits them, a position switch, or an opportunity to become the number one option on a team. Sometimes it can just be the famous break out third season. This was the case for CJ McCollum, Paul George, Kevin Love, Aaron Brooks. Lets predict the ten most likely most improved players of the 2017-2018 NBA season.
1. D’Angelo Russell
No player on this list has more of an opportunity to break out, than Russell. He is on a new team and he is hungry. Entering his third season, Russell is ready to break out. His first two seasons on the Lakers were bumpy to say the least. The Kobe Bryant circus and the Nick Young drama stunted his development. Last year though, despite playing on an awful team and fighting through injuries, Russell showed potential.
In his second year Russell averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds. His player efficiency (PER) jumped from 13 to 15.3. There is a lot to like about Russell’s game. His combination of court vision, pick and roll play and ability to hit threes off the dribble make him a perfect fit for todays NBA game.
Now in Brooklyn he will get every opportunity to show his skills. Playing with Jeremy Lin, he will have opportunities to play on and off the ball. He can do both. Russell is already a league average three-point shooter at 35%. That number should only go up as he improves his shot selection. Brooklyn lacks a lot on their team, but especially scoring. Russell will get every opportunity to play big minutes and score for the Nets. Brooklyn was 4th in three-point attempts last season, expect them to continue to let it fly this year.
D’Angelo’s ability to hit pull up threes, and attack close outs make him a perfect fit for the offense. Health will be a factor, but all signs show a big year for Russell. He will play big minutes, and he is the best scorer on the team. Don’t be surprised if he averages 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
Biggest Concern: Health
2. Myles Turner
Also entering his third season, Myles Turner is about to break out. Like Russell he will be ‘the man’ on his team now. With Paul George leaving Indiana, Myles Turner is the number one option for the Pacers. Unless you count Victor Oladipo. In his rookie year Turner averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and shot 21% from three.
Then in his second year, Turner averaged 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and shot 34% from three. If he continues on that same rate, Turner is ready to post monster numbers in his third season. Think 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Indiana will be really bad next season, but not because of Turner. He is a rare talent with his ability to hit threes and block shots. Coach Nate McMillan will start to run more offense through him. Expect more post ups, and tons of pick and rolls/ pick and pops. Indiana will at least have two capable point guards in Darren Collison and Cory Joseph who will be able to get Turner the ball in his spots.
The analytics love Turners game as well. His PER was 18.5 last year and his true shooting percentage was 58.5. Both well above league average. Turner has shown fast progression and has had no health concerns in his career so far. This is a guy who might be an All-Star and most improved player candidate.
Biggest Concern: Team’s poor record/small market
3. Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis is a player who is the most comparable to last year’s Greek Freak. Meaning he is already a really good player, who is just about to explode. With Carmelo Anthony out of New York, Porzinigs is the number one option. There is very little scoring on this team, so Porzinigis will get every opportunity to show his unique skills.
Like Turner, Porzinigs saw a big jump in numbers from his rookie season to his second. His scoring numbers went up from 14 points to 18 points and his field goal percentage jumped from 42% to 45%, his three-point shooting also improved from 33% to 35%. A very encouraging sign to see his stats improve, while his efficiency also improved. This offseason Porzinigis has been working on adding muscle. That should help him play the five more and hold his own against bigger opponents. Adding muscle should let him grab more rebounds; he only averaged 7.2 rebounds last year, which is too little for someone who is 7’3. At the five he will be a huge match up problem for opposing fives. Slower fives, he can drag out to the perimeter, smaller fives, he can post up.
Also smiliar to Myles Turner’s situation in Indiana, New York will start running more offense through him. RIP to the triangle. Back injuries hampered Porzingis last season, but you saw flashes of the player he is when healthy. In the month of November he averaged 21.8 points per game. Now entering his third season, and the first as a number one option, Porzinigs is ready to be the star player he can really be. 22 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks are well within reach for him. New York as usual will be awful, but Porzingis will get his run. As long as his back holds up.
Biggest Concern: Health
4. Julius Randle
I don’t know if you have seen Julius Randle’s new physique, but he is absolutely shredded. Conditioning was an issue for Randle last season, this year it won’t. He is our first sneaky candidate on the list. Last year Randle quietly averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in only 28 minutes.
With improved conditioning he will play more, likely in the 31-36 minute range. Randle is already a brute down low. A terrific defensive rebounder, and on offense he can finish with either hand around the basket. Now he is entering his third full season. He missed his whole rookie year with an injury. Randle should benefit from all the pieces the Lakers added. Rookie Lonzo Ball with his brilliant passing should get him a lot of easy looks. Having Brook Lopez next to him, means teams can’t key on Randle. Kentavious Caldwell Pope adds shooting, which should give Randle more room to work.
Randle also quietly had three triple doubles last season. This year he will have even more and that will get the attention of the voters. Now Randle has the body and the game to maximize all of his skills. If he also adds a consistent three pointer (which he is reportedly working on) watch out! Randle is capable of averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
Biggest Concern: Lonzo, Lopez and Ingram take away touches from Randle.
5. Elfrid Payton:
Payton has been considered a disappointment since he has been drafted by the Magic. At one point last season he was even benched for D.J Augustin. Yuck! Then at the end of the season the light bulb finally seemed to click. In the last month of the season Payton averaged 16 points, 9.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds. For the entire season Payton averaged career highs in points (12.7), rebounds (4.7), field goal percentage (47%) and free throw percentage (69%). Peyton also had five triple doubles last season.
Now entering his fourth season in Orlando, he is the unquestioned starter at point. His improved free throw percentage will allow him to increase his minutes from 29 to the 35-minute range. If he can add at least a respectable three-point shot, then he has a real chance to win this award. Payton already is a great rebounder and defender for the position. On offense he is an above average passer and he can finish at the rim. There is a lot to like about Payton’s game.
His PER last season was 17.2 and his true shooting percentage was 52%. Orlando has improved from last season and Payton will be a big part of their resurgence. In the terrible east they have a shot to make the playoffs. If Payton can lead them there people will notice. Payton is capable of 15 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. Keep an eye out for Payton.
Biggest Concern: Lack of a jump shot
6. Rodney Hood
So the Jazz lost some guy named Gordon Hayward this offseason. It is unclear who will score points for the Jazz this season. The prime candidate is Rodney Hood. Two years ago Hood was an up comer who looked ready to break out. Then last year he took a step back due to injuries. He only played 59 games, and his scoring dropped from 14 points to 12 points. Now Hood is healthy again and he is ready to be the number one option.
A pass first point guard like Ricky Rubio should help him get plenty of good looks. At 6’8 Hood is a big wing who can spot up from three and handle the ball. Last year he shot 37% from deep. This year expect him to spot up off Rubio/Gobert pick and rolls. Then like Hayward used to do, he can run a secondary pick and roll. Utah will be desperate for scoring and Hood has the best chance to fill that void. Defensively Utah should still be elite which will keep them in games. If Utah makes the playoffs and Hood is the leading scorer, people will notice. Hood is capable of averaging 18 points on 38% shooting from three.
Biggest Concern: Unable to round out the rest of his game
7. Jusuf Nurkic
This guy was an absolute beast once he arrived in Portland last season. Unfortunately he was injured for the playoffs, but before that he was a monster in Portland. In the first half of the season Nurkic was stuck behind Jokic in Denver and averaged only 8 points and 5 rebounds. Once he got to Portland he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds along with a surprising 3 assists. Nurkic showed his potential with monster performances.
These included a 28 points, 20 rebound game against the Sixers and 33 points and 16 rebounds against his former team. Now heading into his first full season with Portland he is ready to break out. He is a perfect complement to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Nurkic is capable of posting up, crashing the glass, and is a great roller for those two guards. Portland will look to feature him even more this season. Few centers can match up with his massive strength and skills around the basket. A 17.5 PER and a 52 true shooting percentage are already solid and they should only go up. Expect around 18 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists for Nurkic. Portland being a playoff team will only help his cause.
Biggest Concern: Health
Our second Los Angeles Laker on the list. I won’t lie Ingram was a disaster last year as a rookie. Especially for a number two overall pick. Clearly he needs to add more muscle to fill out his frame. This year he will be stronger and that means he will be better. Ingram will start at small forward this season for the Lakers. Ingram only started 40 games last season. Like Julius Randle he should benefit from the additions of Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez and Caldwell-Pope. Ball can get him easier looks, Pope more spacing, and Lopez will draw lots of defensive attention.
Ingram has already looked worlds better at summer league. Granted it’s just summer league, but you could see a stronger and more confident player. Last season Ingram only shot 29% from three and 62% from the line. Those numbers should surely go up. Ingram is the player who can go nowhere, but up. I know that’s the best endorsement of a player, but Ingram has the tools. He may not win this award, but there is no question Ingram will be a better player this season. Ingram is capable of averaging 15 points per game this season.
Biggest Concern: Confidence/ not being a primary option
9. Seth Curry
The other Curry! Curry number two started to make a name for himself last season. He thrived in Rick Carlisle’s system in Dallas. It was great to see him take advantage of the opportunity. Like his brother, Seth has a sweet stroke and shot 42% from deep last season on the way to averaging 12.8 points per game. Seth will likely come off the bench this season, with rookie Dennis Smith and Wesley Matthews starting in the backcourt.
That shouldn’t stop him from getting plenty of minutes as a combo guard. Dallas will need his shooting and scoring. Curry will never be a great defender, but he can score as he crossed the 20 point threshold 11 times last season. Expect that number to go up even more this season. Smith Jr should take some attention off him and give Curry more catch and shoot opportunities. Curry has earned Rick Carlisle’s trust, and in his drive and kick offense he will get a lot of good looks. Don’t be too surprised if Curry gets more minutes, means his scoring averages would be going up to around 15-17 points per game.
Biggest Concern: Bad team/Coming off the bench
The Raptors’ playoff savior. When things go south for the Raptors for the playoffs, and they always do, they insert Powell into their line up. Powell is a versatile wing, capable of playing the two and three. He can shoot a bit, but his best strength is attacking off the bounce. Powell will get an opportunity to start next to DeMar DeRozan this season with the departure of Demarre Carroll. Powell only started 18 games last season and averaged just above 18 minutes per game. However in the playoffs he averaged 25 minutes and his scoring jumped from eight points to 11 points per game.
Powell’s versatile defense got him on the floor as a young player, but this season his offense will get him noticed. Toronto needs another scorer to take pressure off Derozan and Kyle Lowry and Powell is that guy. The Raptors realized his value in the postseason and that should lead to coach Dwayne Casey giving him more opportunities to score. Powell is in line for a big jump. Expect his scoring average to go from eight points to 14 points. If he gets his three-point shooting to above 35% it can even be higher.
Biggest Concern: Derozan and Lowry take away scoring opportunities from him.
This is the toughest award to predict. There are surely several players not on this list who will take big jumps next season. These are the players though that you should keep an eye on. They all have a huge opportunity in front of them. It is up to them and those around them to seize the opportunity. I can’t wait to look back on this article in years time. I’m excited to see how these players develop. Can it be October yet?