Who will be crowned the league's Most Improved Player in the 2021-22 NBA season?
With training camp around the corner, our NBA.com Staff shares their predictions for the end-of-season award.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): This is always the hardest award to predict, but Kevin Porter Jr. feels like a safe bet to me.
The No. 30 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Porter Jr. has had an up and down start to his NBA career, but he put his potential on full display in the 26 games he played with the Houston Rockets last season, averaging 16.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds on .425/.311/.734 shooting splits.
He scored 20 or more points in nine of those games, headlined by a record-breaking 50-point performance in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks near the end of the season.
Kevin Porter Jr. (career-high 50 PTS, 11 AST, 9 3PM) had himself a night 🔥 pic.twitter.com/nYMn1XpCcR- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 30, 2021
Other than his undeniable talent, one thing Porter Jr. has going for him in Houston is opportunity, especially in wake of the report that John Wall's time with the Rockets could be coming to an end. He'll share a backcourt with Jalen Green, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft who is a popular pick for Rookie of the Year, but it shouldn't prevent him from putting up big numbers.
Even if it doesn't translate into many wins, it's not hard to imagine Porter Jr. being the front-runner for the award if he picks up from where he left off last season and continues to add to his game.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): There's a little bit of a buzz around his name, so I'm going with Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
At 23, Alexander-Walker is headed into his third NBA season, where he stands to have a bigger opportunity to contribute than ever before. His role fluctuated throughout the 2020-21 campaign, but he was always ready when his number was called, posting averages of 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 13 games as a starter, including three 30-point performances.
The most impressive was a 37-point, eight-rebound showing in a five-point road loss to the LA Clippers on a night where Zion Williamson and Eric Bledsoe were sidelined.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 14, 2021
Nickeil Alexander-Walker | vs. @LAClippers
5 THREE POINTERS
8 REBOUNDS pic.twitter.com/4ztk47DUYt
Bledsoe is no longer on the roster, opening up a position in New Orleans' starting backcourt, and the team has brought in a new head coach in Willie Green who knows how to work with guards, having spent time with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul and Devin Booker over the last few seasons.
Couple the increase in opportunity that is sure to come for Alexander-Walker with the fact that he built his confidence as a member of the Canadian Senior Men's National Team this summer, and you've got the recipe for a very solid MIP campaign.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): He finished third for the award last year, but I think this year Michael Porter Jr. will take home Most Improved Player of the Year.
While being a finalist for the award last season certainly makes things tougher on him this season, Porter Jr. is in a unique spot where the Denver Nuggets will need him to step up and fill the No. 2 role while Jamal Murray recovers from injury if they're going to remain among the top teams in the West. That means he'll have the opportunity to build upon his impressive stat line from last season, in which he averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting a blistering 54.2 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from 3-point range.
I expect Porter to have that scoring average up above 20.0 points per game and while that may cause a slight decrease in efficiency, those open looks on the 3-point line off of Nikola Jokic dimes aren't going anywhere any time soon.
If he fills Murray's void until he returns, and the Nuggets remain in a playoff spot because of it, MPJ will be hard to ignore for the award this year.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): This player is going into his fourth season but going by past winners, there's clearly no age limit. My pick for the Most Improved Player is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
There's no debate that the Oklahoma City Thunder is going through a rebuild, and the Canadian guard, given his few years in the league, is expected to lead that. In the 2020-21 season, he was limited to 35 games due to injury but was putting up All-Star level numbers of 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game on .508/.418/.808 shooting splits.
Coming off substantial time off, I expect the 6-foot-6 guard to not only take a leap but also maintain that elite level on both ends of the floor all through the upcoming 82-game season.
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): He missed the bulk of last season, but I'm expecting big things from Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson Jr. played just 11 games last season coming back from a meniscus tear, and the stage is set for him to have a breakout campaign in his fourth season.
The Grizzlies traded away Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams in the offseason, leaving a big offensive void that they trust Jackson Jr. to step into. While Adams sets screens, grabs rebounds and protects the paint, Jackson Jr. will be relied on as their second option offensively in tandem with Ja Morant.
In 2019-20, he averaged 17.4 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He has all the makings of a prototypical modern NBA big man with his ability to score inside and out.
Memphis will have its sights set on the playoffs and a healthy Jackson Jr. reaching his potential will be the key to take it there.
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