Some players peak early on their careers while others never actually develop their full potential. Others, just a few, are able to improve year after year, putting a lot of work on their strengths and flaws, and that’s what makes them stand out in the league.
People often see just the finished product and not how much players had to grind and sacrifice in the offseason to pull it off. That’s why the league honors those guys by handing out the Most Improved Player award, a recognition to their work ethic and effort.
This year won’t be the exception to that rule, as we have plenty of young studs that went from being non-factors to game-changers, while others went from being pretty good to blossoming as stars. Today, we’re going to talk about them by naming our top-10 candidates for this year’s MIP award:
10. Domantas Sabonis
2018-19 Stats: 14.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 59% FG
2019-20 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 52% FG
The Indiana Pacers traded Paul George mostly to get their hands around Victor Oladipo, who looked like a star in the making ready to break out. Ironically, it was Domantas Sabonis the one to step forward in Oladipo’s absence due to injury, and he just keeps getting better and better.
Sabonis is as efficient as they come in terms of scoring. He’s also made great strides to establish and maintain position as a rebounder, which also comes thanks to the muscle he’s added. More importantly, it seems like he’s inherited some of his fathers’ playmaking and court vision skills, as he’s a great facilitator off the low post.
9. Davis Bertans
2018-19 Stats: 8.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.9 3PG, 45% FG, 42% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 15.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 3.7 3PG, 43% FG, 42% 3FG
Davis Bertans was nothing more than a borderline rotation player. He was there to take a couple of three-pointers per game in some sets and there were nights where he didn’t even play at all. Now, he’s about to get paid a lot of money in the summer.
Bertans broke out as one of the most productive players off the bench this season despite being on a terrible team like the Washington Wizards. His great, efficient stroke from beyond the arc will grant him plenty of attention in this upcoming free agency.
8. Trae Young
2018-19 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 8.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.9 3PG, 41% FG, 32% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 29.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 3.4 3PG, 43% FG, 36% 3FG
Everybody knew Trae Young was the real deal when he came out of college. He had a rookie season with some ups and downs but showed us some glimpses of greatness and it looked like it was just a matter of time before he became one of the league’s top scorers.
Well, needless to say, that didn’t take long at all. Young is averaging almost 30 points per game in his sophomore season. His assists totals went up and he’s scoring way more efficiently. He still needs to take better care of the ball and put some kind of resistance in the defensive end, though.
7. Jaylen Brown
2018-19 Stats: 13.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.3 3PG, 46% FG, 34% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 20.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.1 3PG, 49% FG, 38% 3FG
Jaylen Brown had a bit of regression last season and some people were questioning whether he was worthy of a big extension or was ever going to break out for the Celtics. It’s pretty safe to say that he proved his doubters wrong this season.
Brown has already been a stud in the defensive end but his shooting has come and gone. That’s why it’s been great to see him be a more efficient scorer from all three levels this season while keeping the defensive intensity going night in and night out.
6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
2018-19 Stats: 10.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 3PG, 47% FG, 36% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 19.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 3PG, 47% FG, 35% 3FG
Plenty of people had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as one of the biggest sleepers of his class and he proved why this season. He broke out with the Oklahoma City Thunder and has clearly learned a lot from Chris Paul on every aspect of his game.
Shai was already a great defender for his age but he took it up a notch this season. Moreover, he’s turned into a volume scorer while keeping his efficiency and commitment in the defensive end. Once he starts taking more threes, he’ll be a superstar.
5. Jayson Tatum
2018-19 Stats: 15.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 3PG, 45% FG, 37% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 23.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.8 3PG, 44% FG, 39% 3FG
Jayson Tatum continues to make a case for being the best player in his class and arguably the best young player in the world. Perhaps he’s not the most prolific scorer of them but he’s already ahead of schedule as one of the league’s most promising two-way players.
It seems like Tatum has no flaws in his game. He can create off the dribble, run the offense, pull up, post up, slash, cut, you name it. He’s also a solid defender that embraces the challenge of guarding the rival’s best player. He became the leader of the Celtics this season and his numbers went all up.
4. Bam Adebayo
2018-19 Stats: 8.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 57% FG
2019-20 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56% FG
Some people were wary about the Miami Heat this season while others didn’t think they could contend. Well, Bam Adebayo and his boys made sure to prove everybody wrong and he’s played a major part in the team’s turnaround this season.
Adebayo outplayed and outworked Hassan Whiteside. Now, he’s one of the league’s best passing big men, as well as a standout defender and rim-runner with a bright future ahead of himself. He nearly doubled his scoring totals and is one of the few players averaging a double-double for the season.
3. Brandon Ingram
2018-19 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.6 3PG, 49% FG, 33% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 24.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.4 3PG, 46% FG, 38% 3FG
A lot of people were ready to give up on Brandon Ingram. He had some great games with the Lakers but he looked far from the Kevin Durant 2.0 kind of guy everybody thought he’d become. Now, he’s an All-Star and top-3 candidate for MIP. It’s funny how things can change in the league.
Ingram put a lot of work in the offseason and the change of environment clearly worked on his favor. He’s now a dominant scorer from all over the court and he’s finally making the most of his athletic traits and wingspan to be an impactful defender as well.
2. Luka Doncic
2018-19 Stats: 21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.3 3PG, 42% FG, 32% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 28.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.9 3PG, 46% FG, 31% 3FG
Nobody expected Luka Doncic to be as good as he is, at least not that fast. But hey, now he’s among the league’s MVP candidates, an All-Star and why not? even our MIP runner up, as he improved a lot from his already impressive Rookie of the Year campaign.
Doncic is scoring even more points and is a nightly triple-double threat. He’s also scoring more efficiently this season and has looked slightly better in the defensive end. He still needs to knock down threes more consistently and continue to work on his defense.
1. Devonte’ Graham
2018-19 Stats: 4.7 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.7 3PG, 34% FG, 28% 3FG
2019-20 Stats: 18.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 3.5 3PG, 38% FG, 37% 3FG
Chances are you have never heard about Devonte’ Graham before this season. He barely played at all last year and when he did, he wasn’t that impressive. Now, he should be in line to win the Most Improved Player award after this major turnaround.
Kemba Walker’s departure did wonders for Graham. He’s now one of the league’s deadliest sharpshooters and has also showcased his playmaking ability. Terry Rozier got all the money in the summer but it was Graham the one who led their offense.