Generally reserved for a young player who burst onto the scene during the year, the Most Improved Player award goes to the league's most pleasant surprise. In the award's 29 years of existence, only eight players over the age of 25 have been crowned. Darrell Armstrong (1999) is the only player to win the award at the age of 30. This is going to be one of the hardest ones to handicap, because you can't really recycle the previous year's crop. Even if you wanted to do that, 31 players, including the well-established, well-respected Marc Gasol, received votes for MIP last season. This is a largely subjective award, and often times goes to a player who had a good year and has a good story to tell about some kind of triumph in their career. Here are my wild guesses at the top five candidates for this year's Most Improved Player award.
1: Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo made solid improvements across his game last season, adding 5.9 PPG and 2.3 RPG to his averages from his rookie season. He won't make that kind of leap again this year, but I think he can put up a 15 PPG/7.5 RPG/3.5 APG/1.5 SPG/1.5 BPG season with good efficiency numbers. If he does that and the Bucks are a force come playoff time, he seems like as good of a candidate as any.
2: Andre Drummond - C - Detroit Pistons
*flips switch on homer siren* With Greg Monroe off to Milwaukee, Drummond is Stan Van Gundy's only option in the post. He wasn't good on the block last year, but there were flashes that suggested he can be an adequate offensive option. The extra usage, plus a projected increase in reliability suggests that Drummond can tick somewhere between 16 and 18 PPG. If he hits that range efficiently and looks good doing it, he's right in the thick of this race.
3: Dennis Schroder - PG - Atlanta Hawks
Schroder finished 9th in voting last season, thanks to improved efficiency. He should make further improvements this year, and his large role as the anchor of Atlanta's bench unit could lend itself to the large raw numbers that voters like.
4: Nikola Mirotic - F - Chicago Bulls
Mirotic averaged 16 PPG after the All Star break last year, and if he does anything similar, he's going to be in the running for Most Improved. With Jimmy Butler as the reigning MIP, Mirotic could make it two in a row for Chicago.
5: TJ Warren - F - Phoenix Suns
Warren showed signs of coming on late last season, including two 17-point performances and an 18-point game near the end of the year. His role in the Suns offense should be bigger this year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him steal the starting SF gig a few months into the season. I could be a year early here, but I think Warren is in position for a breakout year.