Mapping the 2018 MIP race

Earlier on in the season I wrote a Top 10 MIP Candidates piece that covered the ten best candidates for the NBA’s most-improved award.  Now, over a month later certain players have faded and others have emerged in the MIP race.

To make it easier I’ve separated the current race into three categories: Emerging YoungstersImproved Stars, and The Favorite.

Emerging Youngsters

These guys are getting more playing time and finally starting to showcase their NBA talent.  I know only a few second year players have ever won the award, but this years’ sophomore class has a couple legitimate candidates.

Jamal Murray

20

Denver Nuggets

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After an up-and-down start to the season, Murray has been spectacular over his last nine games averaging 22/5/5 on 50% from the field and 50% from 3.

WHAT?

This dude is only 20 years old and he’s already mastered beating his man off the dribble and finishing on either side of the hoop.  The Blue Arrow has a feathery outside jumpshot, and as he gets older and stronger I think he’ll become a 40% plus shooter from beyond the arc.  Murray is an underrated defender and high IQ player.

The Nuggets actually have two players on this list which is a testament to their “nucleus of young talent.”  The future is bright for Jamal Murray and Denver.

Kelly Oubre

22

Washington Wizards

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Oubre has been fantastic for the Wiz on both ends of the ball.  He’s nearly doubled last years production: scoring 12 points per game, grabbing 5 boards, and swiping a steal.

Kelly worked diligently in the offseason on his three-point stroke increasing nearly 10 percentage points from 28% to 37%.   Oubre has been dubbed a ‘super-sub’ and should be considered a 2018 Sixth Man of the Year candidate as well.

Kelly Oubre has all the physical tools to be an elite player in this league, if he continues to refine his game the Wizards will improve.

Kris Dunn

23

Chicago Bulls

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Dunn has been absolutely terrific for the Bulls ever since Hoiberg entrusted him with a leadership role.  After an awful rookie year, Dunn is putting up an extremely respectable 14, 6, and 5.  Dunn suffered a scary fall against the Warriors but he should be returning to the lineup soon.

Kris is already an elite defensive guard and he’s one of the league-leaders with 2.1 steals per game.  His has the length to bother bigger players, and if he keeps his production up across the board he could be taking home some hardware in 2018.

Terry Rozier

23

Boston Celtics
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Rozier has joined fellow teammate Jaylen Brown on the MIP rankings with his recent play in Kyrie’s absense.  Rozier is a pitbull.  His long arms and gritty mentality make him a terrific defender and solid rebounder for his size.  He’s averaging 10 and 5 off the bench, snagging a steal, and hitting nearly 2 threes a game at 37% .

Rozier’s play has seemingly made Marcus Smart expendable (at the right price).  The Celtics should be happy with the continued growth from their stable of young players.

Jaylen Brown

21

Boston Celtics

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Brown has really emerged for the Boston Celtics as an extremely good three-and-D wing.  Last year his raw athleticism was promising but this year he’s taken a next step in his development playing major minutes for the one-seeded Celts.

JB is averaging 14 points per game, second on the team behind Kyrie.  If Brown and Tatum are as good as advertised (at 19/21 years old) the East is in a whole lot of trouble.

Brown has cooled off a bit from three as of late but he’s still playing stellar ball in Boston.

Spencer Dinwiddie

24

Brooklyn Nets

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Dinwiddie has been a revelation for the rebuilding Nets.  After losing D’Lo to a knee injury, Spencer has stepped up and basically doubled all counting stats from last year in only 6 more minutes. His career-best 17.6 PER rating demonstrates the strides he’s made, averaging nearly 14 and 7.

Dinwiddie is an inconsistent shooter but the tall point guard has legitimate range and a nice package of finishes around the cup. He’s dished out double-digit assist totals in 4 of his last 15 games proving his ability to get others involved.

With Russell in Brooklyn as the longterm option the Nets may be looking to either find ways to get Spencer involved or cash-in on his recent successes. Either way, Dinwiddie has a shot at the 2018 Most Improved Player award.

Trey Lyles

22

Denver Nuggets

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Trey Lyles has been a revelation for the Nuggets. He’s averaging career highs 11 points and 5 boards on 50/40 shooting which is fantastic especially for someone coming off the bench.  Trey is still only 22 but he’s bulked up and developed an extremely reliable jumper in a system that stresses threes.

The silver lining to losing Milsap due to a wrist injury has been Lyles’ blossoming and more space for Jokic to work with.  Denver looks like a legitimate playoff team, and they are developing a core of players that are all 23u.

Brandon Ingram

20

Los Angeles Lakers

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Second-year players don’t generally win the award, but Ingram is as qualified as anyone to take home the 2018 MIP.  Brandon has upped his production across the board including a leap from 9-16 points, +6 percentage points on both FG% and 3FG%, and nearly doubling his assist total.

Ingram has a ridiculously long frame which allows him to get to spots most other players can’t reach. The 20-year old is already an above average facilitator as a wing, and if he continues to get stronger he could become the Laker’s go-to scoring option as well.

BI is part of the future in LA, and the future is bright.  Ingram just put up 26 points on 12 field goals in a convincing win against Pheonix.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

23

Brooklyn Nets

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Rondae has improved across the board scoring 14 points and grabbing 7 boards per game.  Also, Hollis-Jefferson is active on defense getting nearly a block and steal a game.

RHJ does not pattern his game around future NBA trends: he is not a floor spacer, he is not a great ball-handler.

Still, Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t allow his weaknesses to define him.  He finds ways to score with his nice mid-range game and ability to finish in transition.  Rondae’s also a good rebounder and passer for his size and he’s only 23!

Aaron Gordon

22

Orlando Magic

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AG would be a favorite for the award if it wasn’t for his recent hip injury.  Even though his shooting has leveled out a bit as of late, on the season he’s hitting 35% of his threes, scoring 18 points and grabbing 8 boards a night.  For a 22-year old these numbers are extremely impressive especially from someone who averaged only 5 points per game three short years ago.

Gordon could be an All-Star next year if he continues on his career trajectory, and he’s a threat for the 2018 MIP award.

Improved Stars/Vets

Who put in work during the offseason?  These guys were already bonafide NBA players, but each has added another dimension to their game.

Andre Drummond

24

Detroit Pistons

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Drummond has been truly special in 2017-18, fueling the Pistons to 26 wins.  Andre’s 24 PER is fantastic and he’s increased his free throw percentage from 38-61% allowing head coach SVG to keep him in the lineup down the stretch.  Andre has also found another element to his game dishing out a career-high 3.8 assists as the focal point of the Detroit offense.

Drummond is averaging 15 points and a career-high 15.4 boards, including a ludicrous 39 and 29 game against the Heat.

Now that Blake Griffin is in town Detroit finally has an exciting frontcourt and some postseason promise.

Demar DeRozan

28

Toronto Raptors

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Even after scoring 27 points per game last year (top 5 in entire league) DeRozan still had deficiencies in his game that held him back from true superstardom and limited the Raptors postseason success.

He couldn’t shoot threes — an increasingly important skill — and he wasn’t a great facilitator.

Well in the offseason DeMar was diligent and worked on his three point shot and he’s now shooting a career-high 34% from deep. On a Podcast with Zach Lowe, head coach Dwane Casey talked at length about DeRozan’s offseason improvements.

DeDe has struggled with his shot in his last 12 games, but he’s still dishing out 5.1 assists a night in an extremely potent Toronto offense. If the Raptors get a top seed they are a legitimate threat to come out of the East in large part due to their star DeMar.

Lou Williams

31

Los Angeles Clippers

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Lou Will has hit an entirely new gear for himself and he remains one of the best iso-scorers in the league with unlimited range.  He put up 50 points against the Warriors in a game earlier this season, and he’s now averaging career highs in points(23.3), assists(5.3), and threes made(2.8 on 38%).

Williams just inked a 3-year extension with the Clippers so LAC fans can rest easy knowing Sweet Lou is still wearing white and blue…

Tyreke Evans

28

Grizzlies

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Passing? Check.  Shooting? Check.  Attacking the rim? Check.

Tyreke has been magnificent in 2018 putting up 20/5/5 on the most efficient shooting of his career.  He’s played so well that contenders may trade some valuable chips to acquire him(looking at you Danny Ainge).

Evans has found a new home in Memphis though he may be moved by the deadline

Giannis Antetokounmpo

23

Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis is young enough to be in the ’emerging youngsters’ category but his game is so dynamic that he’s already considered a superstar and MVP threat.  Greek Freak won the award last year, but he could become the first player ever to win back-to-back MIP awards increasing his points by 5 per game and rebounds by nearly 2.  Also, Giannis is hitting 54% from the field and 31% from three which are both career-bests.

Giannis is already an elite defender and rim protector, and this year he’s gotten stronger and become an elite scorer.  The 23-year-old wing is currently a top 5 player in the world and still has room to grow, look out.

If you ever wondered if Giannis could high-jump, here’s your answer.

The Favorite

Victor Oladipo

25

Indiana Pacers

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Oladipo is the clear frontrunner for the 2018 MIP award. He checks all the boxes. The 25 year old is playing in his fifth year and he’s made huge strides improving his game and the overall play of his team. The Pacers were widely projected to be a rebuilding team, hell, in August Vegas only gave them credit for 30 wins. They now sit at 30-25 with 27 games remaining…

Vic has increased his points from 16-24, and his field goal percentage by nearly 5 %. On top of that he leads his team in steals(1.9) and he’s second in blocks(0.8).

Oladipo is clearly Indiana’s closer and his all-around stellar play earned him a spot in the 2018 All-Star Game. His 39% three point shooting combined with his elite finishing ability and solid mid range game allows him to score at three levels. Typically NBA players hit their prime around 26/27/28 so Oladipo may still have room to grow.

The pastures are green in Indy.

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