One of the most coveted awards each season is the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. The award was first handed out during the 1985-86 season when San Antonio guard Alvin Robertson earned the honor. There is another Spurs guard that could take the award home this year.
There has only been one Hall of Fame player that has won this award (Tracy McGrady) but that will change over the course of time with recent winners Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George still building their resumes. The Pacers and Magic have had five players each win this award while ten franchises have never had a player take home this trophy.
Five players stand out among the rest, but there are certainly more names to monitor as the second half of the season plays out. Jarrett Allen deserves much of the credit for Cleveland’s success this year. Guards make up the majority of this list, and many more just missed the cut. Guys like Cole Anthony, Tyler Herro, Jalen Brunson, and Grayson Allen all deserve an honorable mention.
Dejounte Murray, Spurs
There may not be an All-Star on San Antonio’s roster this season, but that could soon change. Murray has gone from a lengthy defender with some real potential to the focal point of this franchise going forward. After struggling at the start of the season, the Spurs have turned things around, in large part due to the incredible play of their 6’4″ floor general. He has been stuffing the stat sheet all season, and his six triple-doubles trail only former MVPs, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
“I’m just happy to get back on the winning side. It’s hard watching your team lose and we did this together.”@DejounteMurray has 22 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds in his first game back. 💪😤👏 He talks about the @spurs thrilling win over the Celtics. #PorVida pic.twitter.com/d0Xn9k0zUx
— Bally Sports San Antonio (@BallySportsSA) January 6, 2022
Murray is one of only two players (Luka Doncic) averaging 18 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds this season. He has flashed his potential since he was drafted 29th overall in 2016 but has made serious strides on the offensive side of the ball. The Spurs guard is averaging career-high numbers in scoring and assists while also shooting a solid percentage from downtown. Murray continues to be an elite defensive player and should be the favorite to win this award if he continues to play at this level.
Desmond Bane, Grizzlies
Golden State, Phoenix, and Utah continue to be the darlings of the West but Memphis headlines the next tier of teams. Much was made about their success when Ja Morant went down with a knee injury. The thought was that the Grizzlies would tail off with his absence but this team had other ideas. Bane has been playing tremendous basketball this season, but not many people realized it until Morant was gone. The 23-year old from TCU was the final pick in the first round of the 2020 draft, selected by Boston and traded to Memphis.
What a finish to the half for Desmond Bane. And this is nothing new for the Grizzlies. Bane is a bucket. Averaging 17/4/2 on 41% from 3. Great with and without the ball. Good passer too. Bane and Ja Morant have been one of the NBA’s five best backcourts. Don’t sleep on Memphis. pic.twitter.com/fCeOaJNPPF
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 4, 2022
While he may look more like a football player, Bane uses his large frame to get to any spot he wants on the floor. He is an excellent defender and is exceptional in transition with the ball. The scoring is great but the efficiency that he does it with is even better. He is shooting better than 92 percent from the free-throw line and is a career 42 percent three-point shooter. Bane is the sixth player in league history to make 200 threes and shoot 40 percent from deep in his first 100 career games. Memphis has an elite backcourt that is extremely young and talented.
Darius Garland, Cavaliers
The Cavs have been the most pleasant surprise in the league this year, but their rise towards the top of the East cannot be pinned to just one player. This is truly a team with talent up and down the roster. Cleveland has been using a jumbo-sized lineup that has thrived together, but they have had two serious losses at the guard positions with Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio both suffering season-ending injuries. That has put even more pressure on Garland.
Darius Garland in his return to the court:
— Mack Perry (@DevaronPerry) January 5, 2022
Going back to last season, the Vanderbilt guard made some serious improvement as a scorer and assist man. Those numbers have increased even more in his third year but this is not a product of volume scoring. The field goal attempts are nearly the same as last year but his efficiency has been outstanding. He is the lifeblood of Cleveland’s offense and is one of only six players that are averaging 19 points, 7 assists, and 2.5 three-pointers per game. The other five players on that list are legitimate MVP candidates. As good as Allen and Evan Mobley have been, Garland deserves most of the praise for Cleveland’s success.
Miles Bridges, Hornets
From the drop of the gate, Bridges has been playing at an elite level. The fourth-year pro out of Michigan State is averaging career highs across the board, and obliterating his previous best numbers in scoring, rebounding, and assists. This is not a situation where a good player on a bad team is just putting up stats. Bridges is part of a very good Charlotte team that has some serious depth on their roster.
— Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) January 4, 2022
In his first three years, most of Bridges’ points came on the receiving end of lobs at the rim. This was especially true last season when LaMelo Ball was making that connection with him multiple times per game. The progression of his individual game has led him to become a more self-sufficient scorer. Last year 72 percent of Bridges’ two-pointers came from assists. That number is down to 57 percent this season. His defense remains rock solid and his strong play has him in serious contention for this award.
Jordan Poole, Warriors
The Warriors knew they would be getting Klay Thompson back at some point this season, but who would be able to fill in for him until that happened? Poole has done that and much more this season. The third-year shooting guard from Michigan has been a sensational piece to their offense, lessening the offensive burden for Stephen Curry. His supreme scoring and ability to play a similar role for Golden State is a major reason why they continue to be the best team in the league.
Jordan Poole tonight:
That’s the most points by a Warriors off the bench since Ian Clark in 2017. pic.twitter.com/sN3h422mW1
— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 4, 2022
The big question going forward is what his role will be once Thompson does make his return, which could come this weekend. Poole started just seven games last season and spent some time playing in the G-League as well. His role has been greatly increased and he is making the most of it. He may not win the award but the Warriors have found yet another lethal scoring option on their roster.