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Why C.J. McCollum Is Not The Obvious Choice To Win NBA’s Most Improved Player

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. McCollum’s per game improvements since last season are not enough to solidify him as the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year

Portland Trailblazers starting shooting guard C.J. McCollum is widely considered to be the early favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this year. To his credit, the third-year player out of Lehigh is having a terrific season. It was only one year ago that McCollum was averaging just 6.8 points, 1 assist, and 1.5 rebounds per game. Now, the 10th pick in the 2013 NBA draft is putting up significantly better numbers. This season he is averaging 21.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. 

With help from teammate Damian Lillard, McCollum is giving the Trailblazers the spark they desperately needed following a terrible 2015 free agency. Over this past offseason the team lost starters LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), Nic Batum (Hornets), Wesley Matthews (Mavericks), and Robin Lopez (Knicks). After losing four starters, the Trailblazers were not expected to make any noise this season, however, they currently hold the 6th spot in a tough Western Conference with a record of 30-27. Without McCollum playing a larger role in the team’s offense, the Trailblazers might have a losing record and be on the outside of the playoff picture. All this being said, C.J. McCollum should be the clear-cut favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, right? Wrong.

Although McCollum is currently having a great season, he performed well in the limited minutes he played last season. Click the link below to watch McCollum’s highlights from the 2014-15 season.

As previously mentioned, McCollum’s averages are significantly better this season when compared to last season. The main reason for this, however, is because the young scorer went from playing 15 minutes per game last season to averaging 35 minutes this season. Looking at his Per 36 numbers, there have not been many substantial improvements to his game. Refer to the chart below to compare McCollum’s stats from this season to his stats from one season ago.

Season (Per 36 Minutes)
PTS
AST
REB
STL
TOV
FT%
FG%
3P%
EFG%
2014-15
15.7
2.4
3.4
1.6
1.8
69.9%
43.6%
39.6%
51.1%
2015-16
21.7
4.4
3.7
1.3
2.5
80.3%
44.9%
40.8%
51.7%

Yes, McCollum has made improvements this season, but the above table illustrates that he was still a very effective player last season. Even C.J. McCollum himself agrees that he is not the NBA’s most improved player.

I don’t necessarily think I’m the most improved player in the NBA,” McCollum said. “I think I’ve always been a good player, it’s just more about opportunity and role increasing.”

Along with being effective during last year’s regular season, McCollum played even better in the playoffs. Look at the chart below to see just how well he played in his team’s final five games of the 2015 season. This illustration is based off of the Trailblazers’ first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies which lasted five games. 

Per 36 Minutes
PTS
AST
REB
STL
TOV
FT%
FG%
3P%
2015 Playoffs
18.4
0.4
4.3
1.3
1.3
76.9%
47.8%
47.8%
2015-16 Regular Season
21.7
4.4
3.7
1.3
2.5
80.3%
44.9%
40.8%

McCollum actually played some of the best basketball of his young career during last year’s playoffs. All the 24 year old needed to prove his value to the team was more playing time, which is exactly what he was given this season.

Look at BlazersEdge’s table below to see some of the other candidates projected to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The numbers are based on each player’s improvement in the win shares category. Some players are highlighted to point out that their win shares improvement ratings were largely impacted by their injuries from the 2014-15 season (like Paul George and Kevin Durant). The remaining seven players highlighted in yellow represent those who have the best chance to win the award.

Image title

A case can be made for any of the above candidates highlighted in yellow and it will be interesting to see who winds up winning the award at the end of the season. McCollum is definitely a qualified candidate to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player honors, but he should not run away with the award solely based on his per game improvements since last season.

Edited by William Ledy, Ben Moore.

SQuiz
How many points did C.J. McCollum average in his senior year at Lehigh University?
Created 2/25/16
  1. 12.4
  2. 23.9
  3. 19.8
  4. 16.1

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