Which NBA players are poised to take the biggest jumps in their careers next year?
The Most Improved Player Award in the NBA is one that has the least definable criteria, but is usually an obvious choice by the end of the year. Although it’s an award that can technically go to any player, it is almost always won by those in their early to mid-twenties because this is the time when players develop their skills the most. Some past winners have gone on to experience high-level success in the league, such as 2013 winner Paul George and 2017 winner Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last season’s winner was Indiana Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo, who seemed to earn it with ease after uplifting his career from solid contributor to an All-Star level and potential franchise player. It didn’t seem obvious that Oladipo would win the award going into the 2018 season, given merely decent stats over his first few years in the NBA and moving to a new team after his offseason trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though this award may be somewhat unpredictable both in who will win it and what that player may accomplish in the future, it’s still worth a look at the top three candidates, in order, for this award for the upcoming season.
1. Dejounte Murray - Guard, San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray is a player who’s grown into the Spurs’ system of efficient basketball through tremendous defensive effort, and has developed quite a bit as an individual player, too. Last season, Murray was selected to the All-Defensive second team, an impressive accomplishment for someone in his second NBA season. He is an excellent rebounder for his position as well, finishing last season with 5.7 rebounds per game and second among point guards in defensive rebounding percentage at 22%.
Although Murray is adept at the defensive end, his offensive game, specifically his shooting ability, still needs some work. He attempted very few three-pointers last season and only made about 27% of them, a below average mark in today’s NBA, especially for point guards. This is something that Murray is most likely focusing on for next season because it was the biggest glaring issue with his game last year. Additionally, he’ll have more opportunities to succeed next year since Spurs’ guard Tony Parker left during the offseason.
During Murray’s rookie season in the NBA, he only played eight minutes per game, which is effectively the role of a lower end bench player. When Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich gave him a larger role in 2017-2018, however, he was able to more than double his scoring and assist averages playing against higher level competition (he started 48 games last year) while simultaneously increasing his overall shooting percentage, albeit slightly. If Murray can further improve his offense and shooting ability next season in the same way he developed his defense last season, he could be a shoe-in for the award.
2. Jabari Parker - Forward, Chicago Bulls
Among this list of nominees, Jabari Parker has had the most enigmatic career. At times, he’s looked to be a player a team could build their roster around, as exhibited by his 20 points-per-game 2017 campaign. But he’s also endured two torn ACLs on his left knee and had seemed confused playing next to former teammate and aforementioned Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Despite Parker’s unsteady career path, there’s still a great deal of promise surrounding the former number two overall pick. Parker’s three-point shooting percentage has increased every season he’s been in the NBA, reaching a career high last year at 38%. Also, if the $20 million annual salary the Bulls gave Parker during the offseason is an indication of anything, it may prove the commanding role they expect him to fulfill next season for such a hefty price tag.
Although Parker is getting a fresh start with this career move, his fit in the Bulls’ system may be awkward and might take an adjustment period. The Bulls have two other fairly high-volume shooters in their starting lineup in guard Zach LaVine and forward Lauri Markkanen, so these three could end up fighting for looks on certain nights. However, LaVine and the offense’s main facilitator Kris Dunn are both capable passers, and can thus create a flow and sense of unselfishness for it that would otherwise be difficult. Also, Parker has the most versatile scoring ability on this offense, so he should have no problem establishing himself as one of its primary contributors.
3. Cedi Osman - Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
Cedi Osman may appear to be a random selection on this list, considering his lack of accomplishments last season - or even playing time, as he only racked up 11 minutes per game during his rookie debut. However, Osman displayed an extremely well-rounded game during the 2018 Summer League, averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1 block per game. Although the talent level is clearly not the same in the Summer League as it is in the NBA, these statistics prove Osman is ready to take the next step in order to succeed in the league.
Not only that, the Cavaliers have a gaping hole on their roster due to the departure of LeBron James, who played the same primary position as Osman. This will give the second-year Turkish talent plenty of opportunities to take home the Most Improved Player Award next season.
Each of these players is in a unique situation heading into next season. Murray is hoping to develop his offensive game to make himself a better all-around player, Parker is trying to settle his NBA career after plenty of ups and downs, and Osman is hoping to at least partially fill the hole on the Cavaliers left by the best basketball player on the planet. As exhibited by the growth and potential each of these three have displayed throughout their short NBA careers, don’t be surprised if one of them walks home with some hardware at the NBA Awards show next season.
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