Every year in the NBA, there a four or five players who’s stats or performances go through the roof. Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Paul George and Kevin Love. These are four of the last five winners of the award, and today are all stars in the NBA. And there are so many great young players that could snag the award this year. These players will not be in any particular order, they are just my favourites to win the award this coming NBA season.
Front-runners for NBA Most Improved Player
Nerlens Noel – Forward/Center – Philadelphia 76ers
I am a big fan of Nerlens Noel. Ever since his days a Kentucky, where he was defensively dominant, Noel has always struck me as a player who could really go places. Injuries have held the big man back, but Noel is finally getting back on track and is contributing on a nightly basis for the 76ers. Nerlens Noel averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season. These numbers may be about to volcano and next season will be pivotal for Noel. If the big man out of Kentucky can get his scoring numbers up to 14-15 PPG, then he would have to be a front runner for the Most Improved Player award. Nerlens Noel played 75 games last season, if you would have told the injury prone Noel that before last season he would have bitten your hand off. 75 games was a huge achievement for Noel, and his health will be key to both his success and the 76ers.
Kemba Walker – Point Guard – Charlotte Hornets
Now we take a step back in size of player, much like Kemba Walker does in games. With one of the deadliest step back jumpers in the NBA, Kemba Walker is a player that when in form, is one of the most enjoyable guards to watch in the NBA. In what was a very disappointing season with the Hornets last season, Kemba Walker was a very bright spot in what was a dark, dark season in Charlotte. Kemba Walker averaged 17.3 PPG and 5.1 Assists per game, numbers that went under the radar, mainly because of the Hornets poor season. Winning just 33 games, the Hornets and Walker especially did not have a fun ride. If Walker really wants to win this award, he needs to do two things. First he needs to find a way to get his Hornets into the Playoffs, the additions of Forward Nicholas Batum and rookie Frank Kaminsky should help. Second he needs to bump his assists average to 7 or 8 per game. Walker needs to let people know he is a point guard and not just a scorer.
Zach Lavine – Shooting Guard – Minnesota Timberwolves
Dunk. Dunk. Dunk… Surprisingly enough this is not all that Zach Lavine does. Lavine is good shooter, has incredible speed and is a very intelligent player. We all know he can jump literally out of the arena most nights, and put on an incredible show in the Dunk contest. But Lavine won’t win the Most Improved player award just by dunking two three times a night. But he can shoot his way there. With Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and others roaming around the court Lavine will quite often be forgotten about by the other team. This will lead to Lavine taking full advantage of lackadaisical defense. Lavine played 77 games last season and he averaged 10.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. Lavine has it all to build on, if you are 6’5″ with a quality jump shot, can dunk and finish when attacking the rim, you have a bright future in the NBA. And that’s exactly what Zach Lavine has.
Derrick Favors – Forward/Center – Utah Jazz
Heading into his sixth season as a pro in the NBA, Derrick Favors has shown slow but gradual progression. A versatile player who can play both power forward and center, Favors is every team’s first priority when facing the Jazz. Favors scores, rebounds and does everything with high effort, a trait his coach’s love. Favors has a slight advantage in the race to win this award, mainly because of NBA experience, he’s been a starter in Utah for a while now and you really can’t throw much at him he can’t handle. Favors averaged 16 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 74 games. Favors probably doesn’t have his eyes set on this award, what he really wants is an All-Star appearance. That can only help him win if he achieves his true goal.
Elfrid Payton – Point Guard – Orlando Magic
Elfrid Payton did not miss a single game of his rookie season. Now that is what the Orlando Magic were looking for, when they acquired him from the 76ers at the draft. Payton has been a player who I’ve always enjoyed watching and have always believed he could be a success in the NBA, and last season proved that to be correct. Payton is a future all-star; Payton’s only real weakness is his shooting, and that should improve with age and experience. Elfrid Payton averaged 8.9 points and 6.5 assists per game. These numbers are sure to go up; I’m thinking upward of 10 points and at least 8 ssists per game. Payton is a great talent and with players like Oladipo, Hezonja, Harris and Nikola Vucevic, Payton is in good company going forward.
CHICAGO, IL – MAY 7: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls receives the 2014-15 KIA NBA Most Improved Player Award on May 7, 2015 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)