Winners of the NBA's Most Improved Player award in the last decade include multiple All-Stars and an eventual MVP. Taking home MIP isn’t a guarantee of success to come, but it’s a huge endorsement of a player’s individual growth.
Some of the league's top emerging talents, like Zion Williamson and Michael Porter Jr., are among the betting favorites to win the award this season.
SI Betting will make the case for each of the favorites for the NBA’s season-long individual awards leading into the season opener.
You can find the latest NBA futures odds from SI Sportsbook here. Let’s get into the favorites for Most Improved Player:
Denver’s young forward made an impressive leap in his sophomore season. Porter upped his scoring average nearly 10 points from his rookie year to 19.3 points per game, third-best on the Nuggets. As a result, he had the third-most votes for Most Improved Player behind Julius Randle, who won the award, and runner up Jerami Grant.
That year-to-year improvement is great for Denver and, of course, Porter. However, it makes it difficult for the betting favorite to win the award after coming so close the year prior.
So what kind of season does Porter need to continue his ascent and claim Most Improved honors? An All-Star appearance is a good start. He wasn’t particularly close to making the team last year, but a scoring bump into the consistent 20-plus points per game realm would go a long way.
Porter, standing at 6-foot-10, can also grow as a rebounder. His rebounding averages increased to 7.3 boards per game last season and now Porter gets a full season playing alongside the undersized Aaron Gordon at power forward.
Other than that, keep shooting the lights out. Porter is a career 44% three-point shooter and that aspect of his game was key to his scoring bump last season, and will be instrumental in a potential increase this year as well.
Porter certainly has the stage to make his campaign heard, playing for one of the better teams in the NBA, he just needs to show his growth on both sides of the ball is far from over.
Poole played the ninth-most minutes per game for the Warriors last season and finished as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 12 points per game. He found his way into the starting lineup seven times and scored 10 and 19 points in Golden State’s two Play-In Tournament losses.
Of these four betting favorites, Poole probably has the most room to grow as a player, which is what you want in a potential Most Improved Player bet—unrealized potential. The flashes were there last season, and now the opportunity is, too.
Kent Bazemore and Kelly Oubre, both guards who played more often than Poole last season, left the Warriors in the offseason. That opens the door for Poole to start at shooting guard next to Stephen Curry, until Klay Thompson returns from injury. That means lots of open shots for Poole, whose three-point percentage jumped up to 35% last year after a poor-shooting rookie season.
Emerging as a legitimate scoring option alongside Curry, and doing so while often on national television—thanks to the Warriors’ schedule—an argument for Poole to win Most Improved Player is relatively easy to make.
Help bring Golden State back to the playoffs and hit the countless open threes that Curry will manufacture for him, and Poole has a strong case.
Porter only appeared in 26 games last season, but had he played more he would likely have garnered some Most Improved Player buzz. He increased his scoring average from 10 points as a rookie to 16.6, and his assists per game jumped from 2.2 to 6.3.
Porter accomplished this while playing less than half the season for the Western Conference’s doormat, the Rockets, so the lack of hype is forgiven.
In his third season in the league, Porter is now paired with the No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft, Jalen Green. Houston has the makings of a long-term tandem in the backcourt if these two work out.
Green’s arrival could spur Porter’s development as a playmaker and take some scoring pressure off of him. Porter shot the ball more in his second season and his shooting numbers dipped accordingly.
A Most Improved Player season for Porter involves Houston being interesting and avoiding being tabbed the unquestioned worst team in the conference. Porter can help the Rockets get there with better defense and taking better care of the ball.
Very few players in recent history have won MIP while averaging less than 20 points per game (three players have done so since 2011). Those who did made their case while stuffing the stat sheet, something 6-foot-4 Porter is capable of.
Williamson will not be on the court to begin his third NBA season. That’s bad news for the Pelicans’ hopes of making the playoffs, Williamson's development, and his long-term future with the franchise.
Similar to Michael Porter Jr.'s case, but to an even greater degree because of how good Williamson was a season ago, it’s hard to find much room for improvement—or at least a case to be deemed “most improved.”
Williamson poured in 27 points per game and made the All-Star team while playing in 61 of 72 games last season. A vast improvement from logging only 24 games as a rookie.
Bad health keeping the franchise player sidelined for any significant period hurts Williamson's case. So what does an MIP season look like for the former No. 1 overall pick?
Williamson would need to drag New Orleans to the playoffs and make another All-Star team. His rebounding numbers could improve and his defense isn’t what it was at Duke. Increases in one, or both, of those facets, along with maintaining his uber efficient scoring could land a healthy Williamson on an All-NBA Team, the only logical way up from here.
THE PICK: Poole.
This is just as much an indictment of the other favorites as it is an endorsement for Poole. Williamson is injured, Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t figure to exponentially improve enough to garner the award, and Kevin Porter Jr. is going to be hidden on what will still be a bad Rockets team.
Poole gets the benefit of playing alongside Curry on what’s expected to be a playoff team.
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