The MVP is the most anticipated award to be given during the NBA’s third Annual Award night which will be held on June 24, 2019 at Barker Hangar in Los Angeles, California. But aside from the MVP, the NBA will also honor the year’s top rookie, best defensive player, best sixth man, best coach and the player who has shown the most dramatic improvement during the season. The latter is known as the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award.
Since its inception, the NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award has been given to a total of 31 different players with no player ever winning the award more than once. The most recent winner of the award is Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers. Of the previous winners, only Boris Diaw and Kevin Love have won an NBA title during their careers. Rony Seikaly, Gheorghe Muresan, Diaw, Hedo Turkoglu, Goran Dragic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only foreign-born players to become recipients of the Most Improved Player of the Year award.
Oladipo and Antetokounmpo are two of 10 previous winners to be named to the All-Star team during the year they won the award while Dragic leads six former winners to be named to an All-Star team later in his career. Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal, Paul George, Dragic, Antetokounmpo and Oladipo were the only past winners to be named to the All-NBA team on the same year. T-Mac is the only former winner to be named to the Hall of Fame.
This season, the three finalists for the 2019 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award have been announced by the NBA. Here they are:
De’Aaron Fox ( Sacramento Kings)
De’Aaron Fox was the Sacramento Kings 1st round pick and 5th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft out of the University of Kentucky. The 21-year old from New Orleans, Louisiana missed just one game this season and increased his scoring average from 11.6 points per game during his rookie season to 17.3 during the 2018-season. The 6-3 point guard also improved his assists average from 4.4 dimes per contest last season to 7.3 per outing this year. Fox also averaged 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this year as he emerged as the point guard of the future that Sacramento has been looking for. Last November, he became only the second player ( after LeBron James) in NBA history to record a 30-point triple double before the age of 21.
D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets)
D’Angelo Russell was the Los Angeles Lakers’ first round pick and 2nd overall during the 2015 NBA Draft. When the Lakers won the 2nd overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft lottery and had point guard Lonzo Ball in mind, they traded Russell to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the draft rights to the 27th overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft which became Kyle Kuzma. While Kuzma became the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, Russell blossomed into a superstar in Brooklyn. D-Lo averaged 21.1 points per game for the Nets during the 2018-19 season, surpassing his previous career-best of 15.6 points per game. He also set career-best numbers with 3.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Russell also set personal best stats with his 43.4% field goal shooting and 36.9% three-point shooting last season. To top it all, he was selected to the 2019 Eastern Conference All-Star team, his first ever All-Star selection. Russell also broke Allen Crabbe’s single season mark record of 201 three pointers and more importantly, he was the catalyst in the Brooklyn Nets’ rise from a bottom team to a playoff team this season. Brooklyn finished the season as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference although they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)
Pascal Siakam was the Toronto Raptors’ 1st round pick and the 27th overall selection of the 2016 NBA Draft. Born in Douala, Cameroon, the 25-year old forward played college basketball for the New Mexico Aggies where he won Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors in 2016. He became the first Raptor rookie to start the season since Jonas Valanciunas in 2012. During his rookie year, Siakam spent time with the Raptors 905, Toronto’s D-League affiliate. He would win NBA D-League Finals MVP in 2017 after leading the Raptors 905 to the title. Siakam was one of the biggest surprises of the season as he literally came out of nowhere to average 16.9 points per game after averaging just 7.3 points per game the previous season. Siakam also averaged a personal-high 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as he developed into a consistent scoring threat for the Raptors during the 2018-19 season. Siakam is the 11th player in Raptors history to score at least 40 points in a game and only the 8th player in franchise history to be named as Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Siakam is currently averaging just 6.6 points per game during the playoffs after he suffered a calf injury in round 2 of the playoffs.
Who Will Win The Award?
Unlike last season where Victor Oladipo was a clear winner, this year’s race is interesting because we have two point guards who have evolved to a team leader ( Russell and Fox) and we also have two players who helped their respective teams make the playoffs ( Russell and Siakam). But when you look at those two situations, the player consistent is D’Angelo Russell and when you take a look at all three finalists, Russell is the only one who made the All-Star team. Likewise, Russell’s contributions helped Brooklyn go from a non-playoff team to the 6th seed in the East this season. While Siakam was key in Toronto’s run as the team with the 2nd best record in the league, it was Kawhi Leonard who led the Raptors this year.
Truly, D’Angelo Russell has gone a long way from being someone who was once considered a draft bust in Los Angeles to an All-Star in Brooklyn. He had the last laugh in his rocky stay with the Lakers because while the Lakers missed the playoffs this year with LeBron James and Lonzo Ball hurt, Russell led the Nets to a playoff run while making his first All-Star game appearance. Although he played no part in it, Lakers President Magic Johnson also stepped down at the end of the Lakers’ disappointing season. It can be recalled that it was Magic who drafted and then gave up on Russell after drafting Lonzo Ball in 2017. For me, D’Angelo Russell wins the 2019 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award.