One of These Four NBA Players Will Win Most Improved Player in 2020

After running through a list of the best duos in the NBA, which team could land a “Big 3” next and what NBA statistics matter when it comes to winning, we’re going to try to predict the pool of players to win awards when the 2019-20 season concludes.

Let’s start with Most Improved Player of the Year.

It’s given to a player who unexpectedly breaks out during the season, making it seemingly impossible to predict. After all, we can’t look into the future and see which player will have a surprisingly tremendous year. Or can we?

In the last nine seasons, players to take home this award have gone on to become perennial All-Star candidates. Some have reached MVP potential. Winning this award doesn’t guarantee those accolades, but it’s a good predictor of which players will have future success in the league. Here are the past nine Most Improved Player winners.

Season Player Experience (Years) Age
2010-11 Kevin Love 3 22
2011-12 Ryan Anderson 4 23
2012-13 Paul George 3 22
2013-14 Goran Dragic 6 27
2014-15 Jimmy Butler 4 25
2015-16 CJ McCollum 3 24
2016-17 Giannis Antetokounmpo 4 22
2017-18 Victor Oladipo 5 25
2018-19 Pascal Siakam 3 24

 

If we take the average age and year in the league of each player to win the award, we get 23.7 and 3.8 respectively. That means the most probable 2019-20 Most Improved Player will be in either his third or fourth year in the league and will be 23 or 24 years old.

This narrows our pool of contenders to freshmen from the 2015 draft, freshmen and sophomores from the 2016 draft and freshmen, sophomores and juniors from the 2017 draft. No player has actually won the award in his second season, so we can eliminate the 2018 draft class entirely for this argument, for now. That doesn’t mean Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Deandre Ayton couldn’t feasibly win, but they aren’t statistically likely to.

We can further narrow the list by looking at the statistics put up by the past nine winners the year before they won the award. Here are those numbers.

Player PPG APG RPG FG% 3-pt%
Kevin Love 14.0 2.3 11.0 45.0 33.0
Ryan Anderson 10.6 0.8 5.5 43 39.3
Paul George 12.1 2.4 5.6 44 38.5
Goran Dragic 14.7 7.4 3.1 44.3 31.9
Jimmy Butler 13.1 2.6 4.9 39.7 28.3
CJ McCollum 6.8 1.0 1.5 43.6 39.6
Giannis Antetokounmpo 16.9 4.3 7.7 50.6 25.7
Victor Oladipo 15.9 2.6 4.3 44.2 36.1
Pascal Siakam 7.3 2.0 4.5 50.8 22.0
Average 12.4 2.8 5.3 45.0 32.7

 

If we sort for players with that exact average stat line for 2018-19 adjusting for draft class, this is the list: Karl-Anthony Towns, Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis. Ben Simmons checked in for four of the five categories, but his 3-point percentage was non-existent. We’ll include him on the list of candidates anyway.

Obviously, this is too simplistic of an approach. As Ryan Anderson, Paul George, CJ McCollum and Siakam showed, there is no wholistic measure to account for which players could make a leap in 2019-20. Here are the numbers for the past nine winners in the season they won the award.

Player PPG APG RPG FG% 3-pt%
Kevin Love 20.2 2.5 15.2 47.0 41.7
Ryan Anderson 16.1 0.9 7.7 43.9 39.3
Paul George 17.4 4.1 7.6 41.9 36.2
Goran Dragic 20.3 5.9 3.2 50.5 40.8
Jimmy Butler 20.0 3.3 5.8 46.2 37.8
CJ McCollum 20.8 4.3 3.2 44.8 41.7
Giannis Antetokounmpo 22.9 5.4 8.8 52.1 27.2
Victor Oladipo 23.1 4.3 5.2 47.7 37.1
Pascal Siakam 16.9 3.1 6.9 54.9 36.9
Average 19.7 3.8 7.1 47.7 37.6

 

Some players, like McCollum, took a quantum leap across every category. Others, like Antetokounmpo, improved on their already steady numbers. Here is the average percent change in each category for the past nine winners.

Statistical Category Statistical Improvement (Percent-Wise)
PPG 60.2
APG 33.9
RPG 32.2
FG% 6.0
3pt% 15.0

 

As expected, points per game is the primary statistic used to determine the winner of the award. A 60 percent change is a massive jump. Assists and rebounds are important, but not to the level of points. The shooting percentages, especially field goal percentage, are almost negligible and won’t be taken into account in the final player pool.

With that additional information at our disposal, we sorted the players from those respective draft classes again, but used the average in each category as a minimum barometer. For example, a freshman from the 2015 draft class qualifies as a candidate for the 2019-20 award if he averaged at least 12.4 points per game in 2018-19.

We took the same approach with each category individually to add players to the pool, except for the shooting percentages.

There are some exceptions. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play last season, but he meets the requirements for the award. So does Dejounte Murray.

Here are the 2019-20 candidates for Most Improved Player by draft class.

2015 Draft Class: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner, Justise Winslow, Kelly Oubre, R.J. Hunter, Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones

2016 Draft Class: Ben Simmons, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Jamal Murray, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Jakob Poeltl, Ivica Zubac, Ante Zizic, Dejounte Murray

2017 Draft Class: Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox, John Collins, Frank Ntilikina, Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Thomas Bryant, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Kuzma

Of the 34 candidates for Most Improved Player entering 2019-20, we can make some eliminations off the bat. There have been zero repeat winners, meaning Siakam gets axed. Though several Most Improved Player winners were All-Stars in the season they won the award, they didn’t make an All-Star appearance prior to winning it. This eliminates Towns, Russell, Porzingis and Simmons.

Of the remaining 30 candidates, 17 meet the minimum requirements in two of the three statistical categories measured. Those 17 are Booker, Turner, Winslow, Mudiay, Sabonis, both Murrays, Ingram, Tatum, Markkanen, Mitchell, Smith Jr., Fox, Collins, Ball, Bryant and Kuzma.

The final component of the Most Improved Player award is winning. Aside from Love’s 17-win team in Minnesota and Dragic’s 48-win squad in Phoenix, every team with the MIP on their roster made the postseason. The average win total for the nine teams comes out to 43.6, but take out Love’s 17-win campaign and extrapolate Anderson’s 37 wins in a lockout year and the number goes up to 48.1. We’ll use this number to evaluate potential teams.

Using the Vegas over/under for 2019-20 wins, we can predict which squads are expected to win a certain numbers of games and make the postseason. Of the 17 remaining candidates, only four teams are expected to fit the bill for the player to be considered for the award in both expected wins and a playoff appearance. That’s the Celtics, Jazz, Lakers and Nuggets.

This means the list of players is down to Donovan Mitchell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jayson Tatum, Jamal Murray and Kyle Kuzma. Since Mudiay and Mitchell are on the same team, it’s unlikely that both remain in contention for the award. Based on past production and expected future roles, Mitchell gets the nod over Mudiay.

Statisically, this narrows the pool to four candidates to win Most Improved Player in 2019-20: Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Jamal Murray and Kyle Kuzma. Expect one of these four to lift the hardware after the season.

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