NBA

NBA players to look out for most improved next season

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 29: RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks celebrates after drawing the foul in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on January 29, 2021 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The NBA has a ton of talent and plenty of players that will take big leaps next season. In addition, more players are in new places where they should have more opportunities to showcase their skills. With that in mind, let’s look at some players that could win Most Improved Player next season.

Plenty of stars have won the award. Julius Randle won it last year and players such as Pascal Siakam and Victor Oladipo have won it in past years.

The NBA offseason usually goes one of two ways. First, teams are going all-in to acquire star players so they can compete for a championship. In contrast, other teams are unloading star players to acquire the young talent they can build around.

Sometimes the young talent can have just as much impact as the star player they were traded for. For example, Victor Oladipo made huge strides in his game once he got to Indiana in the Paul George trade. He won Most Improved and was an all-star.

That should still be the case this year. As a result, more players will have more opportunities to play. In addition, some of the young talents should make huge strides as they now have a few years of NBA experience.

The NBA season will be here before we know it. So, now it’s time to look at those players I think could be Most Improved next season.

Michael Porter Jr.

Jun 11, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) reacts before the game against the Phoenix Suns during game three in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Porter Jr will be a focal point on offense for the Denver Nuggets. Jamal Murray is probably not going to return from injury until 2022 at the earliest. With that in mind, Porter Jr will be called upon to put up numbers if Denver wants to compete in the Western Conference.

Porter Jr increased his scoring by 10 points from year one to year two. In addition, his scoring and overall efficiency began to increase after Murray’s injury.

This is Porter Jr’s opportunity to solidify himself as a star in this league. We already know he can score when given the opportunity. However, I expect him to improve in all aspects of his game and potentially be an all-star this next season.

Following on the theme of Porter Jr, let’s take a look at the next player I think will make a big leap in 2022.

Kevin Porter Jr.

Apr 29, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. (3) reacts after making a basket during the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Porter Jr is off to an interesting start to his NBA career. The Cavaliers traded Porter Jr to the Rockets following an incident between him and the team. He spent time in the G-League before finally getting a chance to play towards the end of the season.

Porter Jr averaged close to 17 points per game, including a 50-point game against Milwaukee. Regardless of Porter Jr’s NBA journey, he is a certified bucket. He should see an increase in chances during his second season in Houston.

Houston doesn’t have a team ready to compete in the Western Conference. However, this is Porter Jr’s chance to showcase his offensive talent for a full season. We’ve seen glimpses in both Houston and Cleveland.

Sticking with the theme of Hoston Rockets, this next person is also one of the players who could be Most Improved next season.

Christian Wood

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 30: Christian Wood #35 of the Houston Rockets shoots against the New Orleans Pelicans during a game at the Smoothie King Center on January 30, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Christian Wood was making a strong case for the award last season. However, an ankle injury got in the way of that. As a result, Wood only played in 41 games last season.

However, in those 41 games, Wood averaged 21 points and close to 10 rebounds. In addition, he shot over 50 percent from the field.

Wood is a unique big man. He can score from all three levels and has the potential to be a great defender as well. All Wood needed was the opportunity, and he took full advantage of that.

If Wood can stay healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t take another leap in his second year with the Rockets.

Kyle Kuzma

Apr 24, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kuzma is going to be intriguing to watch this season. He’s getting a fresh start in the Nation’s Capital after four years in Los Angeles. As a result, he should have a more consistent role night in and night out.

Kuzma believes he can average 25 points per game and become an all-star if he gets the opportunity. Well, now he does have that opportunity because there isn’t much offense outside of Bradley Beal.

Kuzma can score, and he has the ability to put up points in bunches. He averaged close to 19 points per game before Anthony Davis became a Laker. As a result, his production definitely took a hit.

Now Kuzma is in a position to just hoop. I believe he’s capable of averaging over 20 points in the league. With all of the attention usually on Beal, we’ll see if Kuzma is capable of taking on that challenge.

If we see an improvement in Kuzma’s game and the Wizards compete for a playoff spot, I see him as a Most Improved candidate. However, this might be Kuzma’s only chance to prove that.

RJ Barrett

Apr 20, 2021; New York, New York, USA; RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks reacts after scoring during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Stier/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports
POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett is set to have a big year three. Barrett saw an increase in nearly every single statistical category during his second season. As a result, he should be able to take that next step.

If Barrett wins the award, the Knicks will have back-to-back winners. Julius Randle won the award last year and was a first-time all-star. The same should be the case for Barrett, especially if New York wants to continue making noise in the east.

The Knicks are returning most of the team from last year, so Barrett’s role shouldn’t change. As a result, Barrett and the Knicks should be able to carry the momentum into next season.

If Barrett continues to improve, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be averaging over 20 points a game and representing New York in the all-star game.

Barrett is definitely one of the players that could win Most Improved next season.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

May 23, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) warms up before the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Jaren Jackson Jr was going to win the award last year. He had a good second season, and I thought he and Memphis would make huge strides in year three. However, Jackson was hurt and only appeared in 11 games.

Regardless of last season, Jackson has the skill set to be a dominant force in this league. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason he doesn’t average more than 20 points and shoot over 40 percent from deep.

Jackson’s development will be huge if the Grizzlies want to continue to compete. Unfortunately, Memphis isn’t a popular market for free agents. However, the team has something special with Jackson and Ja Morant that can make noise in the Western Conference.

If Jackson can stay healthy, I expect big strides in his overall game. That is why I have him as one of the players that could win Most Improved next season.

Caris Levert

May 15, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Caris LeVert (22) shoots the ball in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Caris Levert is going into his first full season in Indiana. Levert was traded to the Pacers but had some unexpected medical issues. However, he still averaged over 20 points in 35 games with the team.

Levert knows how to score the basketball. He was one of the primary scorers in Brooklyn before they assembled their trio of superstars.

Levert has the opportunity to take his game to the next level. Indiana doesn’t have too much offense outside of Domantas Sabonis. As a result, Levert should increase his scoring average even more.

It is unclear if Levert fits the Pacers’ long-term plans. However, he should up big numbers next season regardless.

Lonzo Ball

May 9, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) brings the ball upcourt against the Charlotte Hornets in the first half at Spectrum Center. The New Orleans Pelicans won 112-110. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Lonzo Ball is coming off of his most efficient season in the NBA. In addition, he is also joining a new team on a large deal. As a result, I see Ball taking even more strides with his game.

Ball’s biggest question mark has always been his shooting. However, last season he had career highs in field goal, free throw, and three-point percentages.

Ball should have a similar role in Chicago. The Bulls now have a trio of Ball, Zach Lavine, and Demar Derozan. As a result, Ball will be counted on to facilitate and knock down open shots. Ball is on a brand new contract and in a city that wants him there. That is why I see him as a player that could win Most Improved Player next season.

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