SI.com's NBA midseason awards: Most Improved Player
There's a diverse field for Most Improved Player this season...
Lee Jenkins: Andre Drummond, Pistons
This award usually goes to somebody who made the leap from good player to star player, so while many have improved dramatically, only one has shot into the upper stratosphere. Like Jimmy Butler and Paul George before him, Andre Drummond is now a star, thanks to his incessant double-doubles and uncanny rebound totals. Drummond is in the right place with the right coach—at the center of Stan Van Gundy’s five-out one-in offense—and he has emerged as a reasonable facsimile of Dwight Howard. Drummond has much work left to do offensively, but you won’t find a more natural rebounder or a more solid building block for the Pistons’ future.
Ben Golliver: Andre Drummond, Pistons
Detroit’s mammoth starting center was already on the map last year, as he averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds with a strong 21.4 Player Efficiency Rating, but he’s ascended to truly rare air in 2015-16. Entering Friday’s action, Drummond was averaging 17.6 points and a league-leading 15.4 rebounds; 2011 Kevin Love is the only player to match those averages since 1992. There are signs of improvement everywhere: His offensive game is showing a little more diversity, his Real Plus Minus has jumped from +0.7 last year to +3.8 this year, Detroit’s defense has jumped from No. 21 last year to No. 10 this year with Drummond as its main interior stopper, and the Pistons are tracking to what could be their first season above .500 since 2008. Yes, he needs to keep working on the free throws, but even that glaring weakness is unlikely to hold him back from his first All-Star selection.
Rob Mahoney: Kent Bazemore, Hawks
Of all the realistic candidates for this award, I went with a player who didn’t look qualified to be a full-time starter as recently as a year ago. Bazemore has always held intrigue; an athletic wing with a seven-foot wingspan tends to bring basketball people to daydream. Atlanta’s coaching staff, however, has taken that vision and made it something tangible. This year’s Bazemore is a fully realized role player—not as much of a scorer as some of the other MIP candidates, but a solid all-around player maturing nicely.
Matt Dollinger: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
This is the most arbitrary decision of all the annual awards, so I'm going to get creative with my answer. Sure, the Knicks star is scoring fewer points and attempting less shots this season, but he's improve in the sense that he's become the Carmelo Anthony we’ve all dreamt about for years. He’s sharing the ball, he's making smart decisions, he’s making his teammates better and his team is winning. Carmelo doesn’t need another scoring title to boost his legacy—he needs playoff appearances, postseason runs and, ultimately, a title. Carmelo’s taken a huge leap in that regard this year and is worthy of recognition. Sometimes less is more.
DeAntae Prince: C.J. McCollum, Blazers
McCollum is an improved player by every measurable metric. After fighting off foot injuries for two years, he’s thriving with a clean bill of health. The sizable increase in shot attempts doesn’t hurt, either. McCollum’s quick trigger has resulted in a career-high 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He’s paired with Damian Lillard to fortify the Blazers’ backcourt and provide a glimmer of hope to a team that was expected to plummet in the Western Conference standings after losing four of its starters over the summer.
Jeremy Woo: C.J. McCollum, Blazers
The Blazers not being a dumpster fire post-team exodus comes largely thanks to this guy, who has lived up to his lottery-pick status in his third season and become a borderline All-Star. McCollum has found shots and been highly effective alongside one of the league’s highest-usage players in Damian Lillard, given Portland a new one-two punch. No team lost more than Portland in the off-season, and no player has stepped up more to keep his team afloat.