The end of the year awards are always a fun discussing point for fans and writers across the globe. There is many young players, who have the opportunity to take this award, but in this article, I will discuss my five candidates, who I think have the best shot for the most improved award for the 2015-2016 season.
Lance Stephenson: Lance Stephenson had one of the most disappointing performances of his career this past season, after signing a new deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Stephenson was brought in to shore up their perimeter defense, as well as be a spark plug for their offensive unit. Had Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson not spent good chunks of the season injured, maybe Stephenson would have had less pressure on him, and would have had a better chance of success, but that is hypothetical, so lets not waste our time thinking about that. After this past season, Charlotte was eager to off-load his contract and free themselves from their mistake. Los Angeles figured they had the locker room to keep Stephenson in check, as well as wanting to rid themselves from Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes, so the two teams struck a deal. The Clipper’s are eager to use Stephenson off the bench, as a defensive specialist, along with a player that can generate an offensive spark, since there is a lot of talk about a potential trade built around current sixth man, Jamal Crawford. Stephenson’s often difficult attitude should be held in check by the likes of Chris Paul and Paul Pierce, who can also give him advice on how to regain his confidence, and become the X-Factor the Clippers need to win the Western Conference. Stephenson should see his scoring and rebounding go up drastically, along with his defense still being his calling card, coupled with being on a top team in the league, Stephenson will get a lot of attention from voters for this award.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Antetokounmpo has been gaining more and more buzz ever since his name appeared on people’s draft boards back in 2012. Antetokounmpo is an athletic freak that is defying everyone’s expectations of where he should be. When he was selected 15th overall in the 2013 NBA draft, experts were saying he was two years away from contributing, but Milwaukee was in a complete rebuild, so they brought him over to see how he stacked up against the rest of the NBA. His rookie season, Antetokounmpo stats were not mind blowing, but decent for such a raw player in a limited role. Antetokounmpo was suppose to take another step in his sophomore season, and he did just that. Antetokounmpo nearly doubled his scoring average, and increased the rest of his stat’s averages as well. Antetokounmpo does need to work on his three point accuracy, as that was about the only thing that he struggled with last season. This summer, Antetokounmpo has played for his home country of Greece, and he has been electric on both ends of the court, even showing an improved three point shot. Antetokounmpo also has a new, more hardened attitude, that we saw glimpses of during the first round of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls. Along with this new attitude, Antetokounmpo has been called out by MVP candidate, Anthony Davis. Hopefully this generates a rivalry between the two, as these two players would be fun to watch go at each other. For this upcoming season, look for Antetokounmpo’s new attitude, desire for greatness, highlight reel plays, and continued development, to have him in consideration for most improved, as once again, all of his numbers should continue to rise for this young franchise cornerstone.
Rudy Gobert: Another late first round gem found in the 2013 NBA draft. Rudy Gobert was thought to be even further from contributing than Antetokounmpo, and as a rookie his numbers were pretty low, 2.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Even though the numbers were low, I was a big fan of Gobert during his rookie season, seeing his keen ability to block shots with ease, and his rebounding determination. Last summer during the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Gobert showed huge strides in improvement, while helping lead France to a third place finish. Gobert finished third this past season for most improved player, but with the departure of Enes Kanter, and Gobert now having the whole season to show his ability, Gobert should be considered a front runner for the award, as he continues to dominate the defensive side of the ball, and his offensive game continues to develop on a young, hungry Utah Jazz team.
Nikola Mirotic: Mirotic is gong to be an electric offensive player for the Chicago Bulls for a long time. Staying in Europe to further develop his game has allowed Mirotic a seamless transition to the NBA, and give the Bulls a huge X-Factor in their quest to beat LeBron and Cleveland. We saw flashes of his potential with multiple 20+ games, and with a new, more offensive minded head coach, Mirotic should see the court more often, as his offensive ability holds the key to Chicago being able to beat Cleveland. The only thing holding back Mirotic from being the front runner for the award is the fact of whether or not he will start. Chicago has a very deep front court, with the likes of Pau Gasol, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah, and with most projecting Mirotic to switch to a small forward type role, we will have to see how he handles going up against faster competition, and if he can still be as dominant as he has shown flashes of being against current NBA big men. At this new role, I still expect Mirotic to use his size to an advantage, and propel him to averages of at least 16 points and 7 rebounds per game, which are not gaudy numbers, and with the projected competition this year being as talented as it is for the award, Mirotic will likely not hear his name called for the award.
T.J. Warren: Warren was a scoring machine in college, leading the country for scoring average his senior season. His rookie season was less then spectacular, but in a loaded back court in Phoenix, Warren did not get many chances to shine yet, and this next season offers better chances for success. This summer, Warren was named to the All-First team summer league team with averages of, 19.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. With the regular season coming up, Warren is penciled in at the starting small forward position, which is a huge hole for the Phoenix Suns. Warren’s explosive offensive style of play should allow for him to skyrocket his point totals, and help propel an often forgotten about team to a potential playoff berth. Warren has the potential to be a James Harden type player, based off his similar offensive game, and if he can develop into that type of player, Phoenix will be a very dangerous team this year, as they have a solid starting five with good back-up depth across the board. Warren does have a lot of work to do, as his three point accuracy is extremely poor for a perimeter player, as well as needing to work on getting to the line more, but a starting position, along with a confident showing in summer league should have Warren putting up good numbers, and making him a dark horse candidate for most improved player, as most people will start the year picking between some of the other players listed above.
By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17