The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Hayden’s Most Improved Players, one month in

The hardest award to select gets harder with stars like this

The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award is one of the hardest awards to pin down. There are many schools of thought. Sometimes it is given to bench players who cut out a big role in the starting lineup, other times it is given to decent starters who become first-option All-NBA types. There is no clear definition of who that George Mikan trophy should go to, so it has gone to all sorts of players.

The last to win it was Lauri Markkanen, a spot-up shooter who had not lived up to his potential and made the jump to All-Star first option after being traded from the Cavs to the Jazz. The year before that, Ja Morant won it in his third season after making the jump from young up-and-comer to genuine All-NBA star.

Markkanen got more minutes and a bigger role, and he filled that role greatly. Morant already had the role, but he added shooting and increased his scoring and efficiency greatly. All this to say, lots of different types of players can win Most Improved. If you want to know who unquestionably should win it, though, you need to listen to me. I know best. I promise.

Cam Thomas (Nets)

Last year: 10.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists

This year: 26.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists

There is nothing like watching Cam Thomas cook your favorite team. I got to experience that personally on opening night for my Cavs, when he went for 36 in 25 minutes on 61% shooting. He has carried that heat forward into the season and is currently averaging almost 27 a night.

It seems the brass in Brooklyn have finally seen what they have with him, and he’s escaped the bench zone to further success. Last year during his first dip into starting he had four 40+ points games, three of them consecutively, and he already has another one this year. The guy can score, and if he keeps this up he will not just be Most Improved, he will be an All-Star. Unfortunately, a recent ankle injury has sidelined him, but it should not be for long. If he comes back from the injury scorching hot he should be able to stay in contention for this award.

Scottie Barnes (Raptors)

Last year: 15.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists

This year: 20.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists

On the surface, Barnes might not look like he had the biggest improvement. Five more points and a handful more of both rebounds and assists certainly do not match up with some of these other players. Under the hood and via the eye test, however, he has made the jump to first-option stardom.

He is leading the .500 Raptors in scoring and rebounding, and he is second in assists. He is attempting the second-most three-pointers on the team and has looked much more confident in his jumper. While he is only shooting 34% from outside, that is a six-point improvement from last season, and the spacing that he provides by being willing to shoot when left even marginally open is hugely valuable. He proved that spacing is not all his shooting provides when he drained a clutch game-tying three to send a game against the Spurs to overtime. The Raptors ended up winning, and Barnes got his first big Most Improved moment.

Alperen Şengün (Rockets)

Last year: 14.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists

This year: 19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists

You’ve probably heard about Şengün already and you’ve also probably not seen him play more than a couple of games. The Rockets have been pretty terrible for the last couple of years, but seem to be putting it together now. Winners of six straight behind new additions Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, the Rockets are also seeing huge production from their third-year starting center Şengün.

He has seen a nearly identical jump to Barnes as he is leading his team in points and rebounds while being second in assists. It might be a tired comparison, but Şengün really is a Nikola Jokić sort of player. He does not provide the interior defensive presence that you might want from a center, but he is still managing to lead the team in win shares, offensive win shares, defensive win shares, value-over-replacement-player, box plus/minus and assist percentage.

Advanced stats are not perfect, but leading that many of them tells me you are very good, your team is very bad, or both. The Rockets are 6-3, so it seems like he might just be a very good player.

Tyrese Maxey (Sixers)

Last year: 20.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds

This year: 28.4 points, 7.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds

He’s been the guy in Philadelphia with James Harden out, and now that Harden is officially gone and his return contained no serious ball-handlers Maxey’s role has only increased. The position change from shooting to point guard has been successful, as his assists have more than doubled.

After a 50-point outburst just a few nights ago, it has become clear that Maxey is this year’s breakout guard. If he keeps it up he will be living on this list all year. The Sixers could try to make a trade for a third star, which would hurt his chances, but if they stay as they are he will be the second-best player on a very good team. There are not many players with the ability to do that, and he seems to be one of them. It will be hard to get the award out of his hands if things stay the way they are.

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About the Contributors
HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor
Hayden Stinchfield is a senior in Criminology from Washougal, WA. He is considered by some experts to be the greatest to ever spot birds. Hayden began working at the Evergreen in fall 2022, and became Sports Co-Editor in summer 2023.
HYELIM MIN, Evergreen illustrator