The NBA season has reached its midpoint, and it’s time for sports writers everywhere to present their midseason award winners and act as if people actually care, so I guess I’ll do the exact same thing. Now, while most writers focus on every award, I’m going to focus on an award race that is very compelling yet not covered much because of the insane race for MVP between Harden, Westbrook, Lebron, KD, and several others. This year’s MIP race is extremely interesting and a case could be made for several players, but I have trimmed my list down to four. There’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and his meteoric rise to stardom, Harrison Barnes’ rebirth after an embarrassing finals performance, Nikola Jokic’s transition to mid-second round pick to budding star, and Jabari Parker’s steady comeback from a torn ACL sustained during his rookie season. Now that we’ve got that lengthy intro taken care of, let’s get into each player’s case for being the most improved.
The Greek Freak is one of the most exciting players in the NBA. The man is leading the Bucks in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and steals. Per 100 possessions, he’s scoring 9.2 more points, which is due largely to his field goal percentage, which jumped up three percent to 53%. He’s grabbing nearly two more rebounds and dishing out almost two more assists per 100 as well. To go along with those numbers, he’s swatting three shots and getting nearly three steals per 100 thanks to his 7’3″ wingspan. Overall, he’s averaging 34.2/12.7/7.9 to go along with 3.0 blocks and 2.6 steals per 100 possessions. All of his numbers improved dramatically, and at this point he has to be the favorite.
Oh, Harry B. Barnes is my personal favorite on this list, maybe it’s because I’m a biased Mavs fan, maybe it’s not (it definitely is). But seriously, Barnes has made tremendous strides in a situation where many people thought he would fail, especially after that terrible, terrible finals performance. That being said, let’s get to those stats! Per 100 possessions, Barnes has made a giant leap in scoring, improving by 11.2 points. However, after the scoring comparison, The Black Falcon starts to fall back in the race. Harry B’s rebounding numbers have barely increased, and his assists have actually gone down! While that may look awful, consider this: Barnes went from alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to playing with an out-of-prime D Will, Seth Curry, Wes Matthews, and a 38-year-old injured Dirk Nowitzki. Nevertheless, Barnes is still averaging a solid 29.6/7.9/2.1/ plus .4 blocks and 1.2 steals per 100 possessions on 47% shooting. Barnes’ argument is really based more off of his transition to being a number one option than his numbers.
Nikola Jokic wasn’t supposed to be a great NBA player. He obviously had potential, as he averaged 15/9/4 in 30 minutes a game as a 19-year-old in Europe. However, I don’t think many people saw him becoming the player he already is, let alone the player he will become. With his flashy passing and good offense, Jokic is transforming into a future star before our very eyes. Per 100, he’s improved his scoring by 5.6 points and has increased his shooting percentage by eight percent, jumping from 51% to 59%. While his rebounding numbers decreased by just under half a rebound, his assist numbers have increased by nearly two more per 100. He’s averaging a very balanced 28.6/15.8/7.2 per 100 on 59% shooting. To tag along with those numbers, he’s also swatting 1.4 shots and making 1.4 steals per 100 as well. If his usage rate was higher, he could easily be producing larger numbers than these. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this season pans out for the big Serbian.
Giannis’ sidekick in Milwaukee is quietly having a season worthy of an MIP award. Some people didn’t know what the future held for the rookie out of Duke after he tore his ACL 25 games into his first NBA season. After having basically the same statline as his rookie season last year, this year his numbers have shot up. Last year, the young Buck averaged 22.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per 100 possessions. He also added 1.5 steals and a little over half a block to those numbers as well. This year, Parker’s three point shooting percentage and his scoring increased exponentially. He is currently shooting 40% from deep (a 15% increase) and is averaging nearly eight more points per 100. This season his statline is 30.3/8.7/4.3 plus half a block and 1.6 steals. While his steal and block numbers barely moved, his scoring took an incredible jump as did his three point percentage and assist numbers. Jabari and Giannis both have legitimate cases for being the Most Improved Player and have a bright future together in Milwaukee.
Well, there you have it. My top four players in the MIP race, as if my opinion matters. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how this race turns out as well the race for MVP, which one player on this list could have a legit argument for at least being considered (hint: it’s Giannis). All four of these players are having phenomenal seasons and no matter who wins the award, that shouldn’t be discounted.