Most Improved Player award: three candidates

Speaking about individuals achievements – it doesn’t matter who you consider will win the league’s MVP, Most Improved Player or Sixth Man of the Year award – there is always some uncertainty which influence is the most important to value a player. Certainly, first of all the statistical information is the most important index.

But how to compare statistically a player who comes off the bench and scores less points or rebounds, but plays with a championship level crew with someone who is the leader on his team, but his team doesn’t overpass playoffs mark. It is always not an easy task. Let’s look at the players who will be likely under consideration to win the Most Improved Player award this year.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Without any doubts the biggest surprise of this season is the Indiana Pacers newcomer Victor Oladipo. Just year ago he was a regular role player in the Oklahoma City Thunder and witnessed how his teammate Russell Westbrook became the league’s MVP.

Last season Oladipo scored almost 16 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists – all these stats didn’t impress OKC managers and in June they traded Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George.

Looking from Pacers perspective these trades seemed as a bad deal – anyhow Paul George was the league’s superstar and many asked whether the Pacers have got enough for their leader and future Hall of Famer.

We can guess that not only bigger muscles, but also these skeptics fueled Oladipo for his tremendous 2017-2018 season achievements. This year he improved almost in all stats – 23 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3assists per game. His shooting stats are also higher – field goal percentage increased from 44.2 percent to 47.4 percent, 3-point from 36.1 percent to 37.1 percent and his free throw percentage from 75.3 percent jumped to 80 percent.

This season Oladipo showed incredible numbers not only playing offence but also defence. With 2.36 steals per game he was a leading player all regular season long (Paul George was second in this category). The best illustration of what Oladipo did this ongoing season is not a discussion about his possibilities to win the Most Improved Player award, but his real chances to compete with other NBA top players for the MVP award.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 9, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) reacts after scoring a basket during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets center from Switzerland Clint Capela is constantly growing into an elite NBA player. During 2017-2018 regular season Capela became one of the leading Rockets members.

He is scoring almost 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks per game with 65 field goal percentage (the highest field goal percentage in NBA during 2017-2018 regular season). Despite the fact that he is playing alongside two NBA superstars – James Harden and Chris Paul – this season Clint Capela has quite easily became the third-best player on the roster which won 65 games in regular season.

Interestingly, the Rockets don’t really need Capela to do a lot – it is enough that he “sets hard screens, rolls to the basket, makes himself available for drop-off passes in the paint and attacks the offensive glass” (Scott Rafferty).

Speaking about Capela’s defence, here he has done a significant improvement as well. Firstly, 2 blocks and 0.8 steals are the highest stats during his four-year career, secondly, Capela was a major player who helped Houston Rockets in regular season become the sixth team in defensive ratings (103.8 points).

These factors allowed him to get into the list of players (successively, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Joel Embiid and Capela) who made a step forward in advanced defensive category this year. To sum up, if Clint Capela continues to progress with rim protection, he could easily win the Defensive Player Of The Year award in years to come and guarantee max or near-max contract for himself when free agency period begins.

Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images

Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

During 2017 midseason alongside Russell Westbrook the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired two NBA superstars – Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The plan of the Thunder was simple – to form their own Big-Three and win NBA championship as soon as possible.

At the beginning of the season it looked like the Thunder’s stars would overshadow other team members, especially knowing that both Russell and Anthony are pretty selfish players. But now it is obvious that at least for one the Thunder members playing beside the Big-Three was a step forward in his career. And that player is Steven Adams.

These circumstances created much wider space for the Thunder’s center to boost his main offensive skills – post-up moves and cuts towards the rim in the pick-and-roll – to the new level.

Even the NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon prized Steven Adams speaking about his abilities to cope with the new challenges, he sad: “He’s playing with three players that demand the ball and he’s managed to maintain his presence,” – Olajuwon also added – “That’s very tough to do” (pressreader.com).

Speaking about Adams individual stats – they have increased almost in all categories – last year he was averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds with 57 field goal percentage, meanwhile this year – 14 points, 9 rebounds, 63 field goal percentage.

Although Adams finished regular season with 9 rebounds (19th result in NBA), but 5 of them were offensive (he was runner-up in this category just after Andre Drummond). The latter achievement enrolled his name into NBA history – he become the first player who averaged at least 5.0 offensive rebounds per game and at the same time less than 10.0 total rebounds per game (nba.com).

In summary, despite the fact that season for Oklahoma Thunder was mediocre and the team’s Big-Three as a unit played quite humbly, we can be sure that at least for one Thunder player, namely Steven Adams, the 2017-2018 season was solid and promising even if he doesn’t win the Most Improved Player award.