The Washington Post is running down all 10 of the NBA’s major offseason honors for players, coaches and executives over the next several days. Next up is most improved player.
The most improved player award is always an incredibly frustrating one. How do you define improvement? What group of players should be focused on for the award? What is a truly unexpected leap forward, or is a player simply seeing his career progress the way it was scheduled to?
This season though, one player stood out: Stephen Curry. Now, the idea of a player winning both the league’s most valuable player and MIP in the same season will likely explode minds from coast to coast; it’s not the way many people think about this award. In general, it goes to a younger player who takes a significant step forward, going from a non-factor to an impact player, or a rotation player to an All-Star.
But Curry is doing things this season we’ve never seen before. He shot over 50 percent for the first time in his career while shooting more than he ever has before. He shot over 45 percent from three-point range – better than last season – while shooting an astronomical 11 three-pointers per game. He’s led the league in scoring while qualifying for the 50-40-90 club, as well as averaging 30 points per game – becoming the first player to do those things.
In short, Curry has taken a leap unlike any we’ve seen before. He may be the league’s most valuable player, but that leap also makes him its most improved.
Along those same lines, consider what Kawhi Leonard has done this season for the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard has improved his shooting percentages across the board, all while taking more shots from the field overall, behind the arc and the foul line. He’s kept the same number of turnovers and is committing fewer fouls despite handling the ball more and playing more minutes, becoming the focal point of San Antonio’s offensive system after being a complementary piece in the past. He’s done all of that, of course, while keeping his defense at a level good enough to be either the first or second choice on just about every ballot for defensive player of the year.
C.J. McCollum gets the third spot on this ballot (though he’ll likely win the award) by being a typical recipient: one who made a giant leap forward in his third year in the league. McCollum has been terrific, though, averaging over 20 points per game while keeping his percentages in line with what he did in a far smaller role in the past – all while helping Portland become one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
3. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Honorable mention: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets; Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks; Lance Thomas, New York Knicks
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