2021’s Contenders for Most Improved
It seems like the field of players continuing to improve their games gets larger and larger every year. With one quarter of the season behind us, here are the players that are looking to be prime contenders to take home this year’s most improved player award.
Collin Sexton and the Cleveland Cavaliers have been a pleasant surprise to start the season. The Cavs are uber-competitive for the first time post-LeBron, and Sexton has been a large part of the resurgence in Ohio. Putting up a career-high 24.6 points a night, while also shooting 43.9% from three, Sexton is the engine that fuels the Cavalier offence.
A big part of Sexton garnering recognition for the award is that the Cavs are actually looking like a fringe playoff team, and if they get there, it’ll be a big factor for his case as this year’s MIP.
His intensity on the defensive end should also be noted, as the effort level he brings to the court is contagious, even for those watching on the big screen.
Sexton capped off a 42-point performance against the newly-assembled Brooklyn big three by scoring 20 straight points in overtime and double OT to get the win against the Nets. Wow. If you haven’t put notice on the young bull, he’s here, and he’s legit.
It almost seems like every year there’s one player that comes out of nowhere and increases their production two-fold, and that’s exactly what Jerami Grant has done thus far for the Detroit Pistons.
Grant was a high-value role player in Denver, and with Detroit, he’s become a go-to scorer for a team that desperately needs one. Grant’s nearly doubled his point average from last year, scoring 23.8 points a night so far in 2020-21, and he’s netting career-highs across the board.
The most impressive part of Grant’s leap has been his efficiency. With the Nuggets, he was a fairly low-usage player in an offence that featured Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. This season, his shooting splits haven’t fallen too far off his Nugget averages, and in areas such as three point percentage and free throw percentage, Grant has improved.
If Grant continues this stellar play throughout the season, it might be hard not to hand the award to a player that’s putting up his level of production across the stat sheet.
Chris Boucher had a hot start to the season, and while he’s cooled down just a tad since, he’s one of the prime players generating most improved buzz due to the role he’s had to take on with the Raptors. Boucher went from a fringe rotation player last year, to sixth man candidate in one offseason.
A part of it might be because the Raptors haven’t had many options to go to at the centre position this season, but regardless Boucher has proven to be an effective option at the five. He’s putting up 14.3 points, grabbing 6.3 rebounds a game, while shooting a blistering 44.9% from three.
Boucher is also among the league’s block leaders, sitting at fourth with 2.1 blocks a game. With the Raptors’ troubles at the big positions looking unsolved for the foreseeable future, look to Boucher to continue filling in the gaps where he’s needed, and it’s likely the Raptors will lean more on the Montrealer going forward.
Christian Wood is another one of the standout big men on the list, and he’s played big for a Houston team that’s dealt with drama to start the season. With James Harden out of the picture, Wood will play an even larger role in the Houston offence, and he looked primed to relish the opportunity.
He’s currently putting up averages of 23.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks a night, and his shooting splits are near-identical to his slashes last year in Detroit.
Wood’s been in and out of lineup for the past few weeks, but once he strings together a couple of consecutive games, Wood will make a big splash on the court. Consider yourself a casual if you haven’t heard of Christian Wood up until now.
Jaylen Brown is a player that was already a star going into the 2020-21 season. He was the best player for Boston in the 2020 playoffs, and this season he’s making a legitimate case as the best player on the team even with Jayson Tatum on roster.
There are certain players that when you watch, you just know that they’ve taken the leap from star, to superstar, and Brown’s looked to have done that this season. Without even getting into numbers, the way Brown operates on the court this year is different.
He moves on offence with an attitude that screams “you can’t stop me,” and he’s routinely getting whatever he wants despite the opposing defence’s best effort. Brown’s mid-range game looks nearly unstoppable, and he just looks overall more efficient in all aspects as a player.
The numbers also indicate Brown’s improvement, as he’s putting up 27.1 points a game while shooting 52% from the field and 44.1% from three. He was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, and the time off hasn’t slowed him down one bit. If a pandemic can slow down Jaylen Brown, what can?