1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Even last season Giannis Antetokounmpo showed his versatility and potential with 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. But this season Antetokounmpo, known as the Greek Freak, breaks all the limits and boosts his game to another level.
Although he is having difficulties with his three-pointers averaging just 29 percent from the line, other stats have improved – averaging 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.2 blocks with 53 field goal percentage makes the Greek Freak not only solid candidate to win the Most Improved Player Award but even creates quite good opportunity to compete for the league MVP title.
Speaking about Giannis Antetokounmpo progress we can not forget one circumstance – the Bucks forward Khris Middleton’s injury. The lack of Middleton gives an extra shooting to Antetokounmpo. And immediately the question arises: what will happen when Middleton will be ready to come back on the floor. It could limit the Greek Freak’s time with the ball and make him just the second man offensively like it was past season.
But here is also another scenario which already happened several years ago in the Indiana Pacers team. Before his left knee injury Danny Granger was the unquestionable Pacers leader and Paul George was just the second man in a row. In the 2012-2013 season Granger suffered injury and played in five total games. During his absence Paul George’s star has risen up. There are a lot of possibilities that we will see the same situation in the Bucks team.
2. Jabari Parker
During this season the Milwaukee Bucks small forward Jabari Parker has made considerable improvement in his stats sheet – 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2 assists from the last season to 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from the 3-point range this season.
We should separately mention Jabari Parker’s physical shape which due to the decreased weight looks much better than a year before. The best thing about him is his ability of making plays, tremendous mobility, first explosive step and being great in the post herewith enormous strength and power forward body.
“He’s demonstrating the things we all thought he could do,” – says the Bucks coach Jason Kidd – “and that’s, for one, score the ball at a high rate right now.” And that puts him into consideration as one of the front-runner candidates to win Most Improved Player Award.
At the beginning of 2014-2015 season the pupil of Coach K at Duke University Jabari Parker was a young and promising talent along with another rookie Andrew Wiggins and was credible candidate for his first professional-individual trophy – Rookie of the Year Award.
But suddenly everything went wrong – on December 15 Parker took a season-ending injury. In his debut year Jabari Parker overall played just 25 games. As sport analyst Ti Windisch noticed, if voters treats Parker’s first year as hardly significant, then it seems like Parker now is playing his second season, not the third one. According to the NBA history, there are just several exceptions when a sophomore won the Most Improved Player Award. So if Jabari Parker succeeds it will be even bigger accomplishment.
3. Kristaps Porzingis
At the moment when Kristaps Porzingis was taken with the fouth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft the New York Knicks fans underwent some kind of shock therapy: that evening the crowd in Barclays center filled the arena with buzz immediately after Knicks’ decision was announced.
One moment was especially memorable – the young Knicks fan was crying when Latvian talent was picked. But just in several months the same disappointed fans were witnesses to the birth of a new NBA superstar from Latvia. Twenty-year-old and 7-foot-3 tall rookie quickly conquered the Knicks fans’ hearts.
From the beginning of his NBA career Porzingis showed great confidence on the floor and promptly found common language with the team leader Carmelo Anthony. In his first season he was averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game and finished as a runner-up to Karl-Anthony Towns in the Rookie of the Year vote.
His mobility and shooting skills from the floor and the 3-point range makes young Latvian athlete a Dirk Nowitzki type of player. As a sophomore Kristaps Porzingis has made tangible jump in scoring from 14 points last year to 19 points per game this year.
Last season Porzingis shot 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from the 3-point range, meanwhile this season he has improved to 45 percent and 38 percent. But not all his stats are growing, for example shooting percentage of free throws compared to 2015-2016 season even decreased from 83 to 80 percent, and there has been no improvement on his assists skills.
According to NBA rumors, there are a lot of possibilities that Carmelo Anthony will leave the Knicks franchise. And if it happens Kristaps Porzingis’ will be number one on the Knicks roster.
4. Devin Booker
During his first season in the NBA the 19-year-old Kentucky product Devin Booker showed all the potential he has. He averaged 13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game while shooting 42 percent from the field, 34 percent from the three point range and 84 percent from the line. These numbers look quite impressive knowing that he had to share minutes with another talented shooting guard Brandon Knight.
As a newcomer Devin Booker reached dazzling achievement – while he was 19 years and 162 days old he became the fourth youngest player to reach 1,000 points after Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. His solid start in the league indicated that Devin Booker would be a major part of the Suns’ organisation in the present and future projects.
As a sophomore Booker is averaging 21 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists while shooting 42.3 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from the three point range. All of his second season’s numbers, except points, remain the same.
Speaking about his present and last season’s low shooting percentages there is some inconsistency because while he played in the Kentucky university he was taught to be a sharpshooter and there Booker showed quite solid numbers – 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from the three point range.
Despite mediocre shooting percentages Devin Booker’s main advantage – the capability to score in different ways against any defender – is growing in every game. This season the youngest Phoenix Suns star has already taken Brandon Knight’s starting place – just this detail prompts his future potentials. We can easily imagine that in the next season Booker will be number one player of the Phoenix Suns.
5. Seth Curry
In this list of players Seth Curry candidacy holds a special place – he is the only player who came to the NBA undrafted in 2013. The beginning of his professional career was not smooth at all – over the first two seasons Curry migrated between three different NBA teams with 10-day contracts and the NBA Development League.
During that period he played a total of just four NBA games. His fourth NBA team became the Sacramento Kings. In Sacramento Curry was Rajon Rondo’s backup and solid bench player averaging 7 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 45 percent from the three point range in 16 minutes. At the end of the season Seth Curry even started nine games in a row and finally showed his all potential. In his last seven games he averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 48.9 percent from beyond the arc.
After the 2015-2016 season Curry became a restricted agent and signed a two-year 6 million dollars contract with the Dallas Mavericks. With 11.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 42.3 (better than his brother) percent from the three point range in 27 minutes Curry strengthened his reputation in Dallas as a prolific scoring and shooting guard.
To sum up, if we want to precisely characterize Seth Curry’s basketball skills we should cite the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban words – “He’s getting better defensively, offensively he can shoot the ball. He’s more comfortable where he’s going to get his shots, which helps. He’s only played 87 games in 3 1/2 seasons – he’s going to get better.”