The best teams develop their players. That is how you win in the NBA. They don’t consistently rely on free agents and in the draft. This year several players have broken out. It seems like more than usual. Young players, older players, players on new teams have all taken giant leaps. It feels unfair to give the most improved player to one player this year. Several players deserve love, praise, and credit. All of these players have worked extremely hard, and their play on the court shows it. Here are the ten most improved players in the league.
Pg- Spencer Dinwiddie
Surprised? We all thought another Brooklyn point guard would win this award in D’Angelo Russell, and he was on his way until an unfortunate knee injury. Since then Dinwiddie has come in and started the past nine games and has crushed it. The third-year point guard from Colorado is averaging a career-high 12.1 points and 6.1 assists per game. This guy was supposed to be an NBA journeyman now he is a solid starter. Dinwiddie is more than just average his PER is 18.04 up from 12.72 last year. So how has he done it?
For one he has improved his passing while cutting down on his turnovers. His assist ratio is a career-high 32.9, while his turnover ratio is a career low 6.0. In only three more minutes per game this season, Dinwiddie’s assists per game has improved from 3.1 to 6.1. His efficiency on offense has improved dramatically. He is attempting a career-best 4.8 threes per game, and he is making them at a 39% clip. His confidence and his handle have significantly improved. He is excellent at getting into the teeth of the defense and making plays for his teammates. Watch this play!
Spencer starts the play on the top right of the key. He hits Raul Neto with two hard dribbles towards the baseline and then a crossover. Then he crosses back over and drives to the paint. Once he draws a help defender, Dinwiddie stops on the dime and feeds a laser to Tyler Zeller for an easy layup.
Dinwiddie has shown he is a solid starter in this league. He still needs to improve on defense, but he has come a long way. Plus, he should be able to play with D’Angelo Russell or back him up when he gets back. Great find by the Nets staff!
Sg- Victor Oladipo
The former 2nd overall pick of the draft came into the league with high expectations. In three years with Orlando and one with Oklahoma City, Oladipo has shown flashes of a good player, but after four years people started to write him off. People thought the Pacers would get a solid starting shooting guard who can get them 15 to 18 points per game. Now Oladipo has taken his game to new heights in Indiana and is playing like an all-star. Oladipo is proof that hard work pays off, Oladipo is a tireless worker and is in incredible shape.
His scoring average has jumped from 23 points per game from 16. He has done it by adjusting his biggest flaw. Three points shooting. Last year Oladipo shot 36% from deep, this year he is shooting 46% on 5.2 attempts per game. Plus, he is combining that with getting to the free throw line. His 5.2 free throws attempted per game are a career best. Add it all up, and Oladipo has a 58.5 true shooting percentage and a 21.82 PER, both easily career bests. The better shooting has helped, but Oladipo is at his most lethal self in transition. He is one of the fastest players in the league. Watch this play!
Oladipo jumps the passing lane and gets a steal. Watch him race past two Magic players easily and finish for a slam. Speed kills!
Sf- Tobias Harris
Harris gets a little better every year, this year he has taken a huge step. He is now playing like an all-star, and the Pistons are benefiting greatly from his excellent play. Like Oladipo, Harris’s most significant jump has come from the three-point line. Last year he shot 34% from deep, this year he is shooting 47% from deep on 6.1 attempts per game. This is the biggest reason his scoring average has jumped from 16.1 to 19.1 points per game.
He is also shooting a career-best 91% from the line. Add it up, and Harris has a 58% true shooting percentage, also a career best. The other critical area in which Harris has improved is cutting down turnovers. His turnover ratio is 3.9, one of the lowest marks in the league especially for a player that has a usage rate of 21.6. Harris because of that has a career-best PER of 19.19.
Now, Harris is versatile from all over the floor. He can score spotting up, in isolation, transition, in the post and off pick and rolls. Defensively he has taken a big jump as well. According to Synergy Sports, he ranks in the 68% percentile overall, an impressive mark. Harris has my all-star vote. He certainly has the confidence of one. Watch this play!
Harris comes jogging down the court, and Stanley Johnson immediately passes to him. Once Harris catches it above the key, he takes a dribble and drains a three in the face of Al Horford.
Pf- Kristaps Porzingis
We all knew this was coming, just no so fast. This guy is the most improved player of the year. He has done the impossible and has made the Knicks relevant. Porzingis is carrying the Knicks offense and dominating. His scoring average has jumped from 18 points per game to 27 points per game. This is only his third year, and it’s terrifying. The most prominent change in Porzinigis is his added strength. No longer can he be pushed around. Now he can finish with contact. Porzingis is 7.3 free throws per game and is shooting 84% at the stripe.
The other part of his game is his three-point shooting. His three-point shooting has jumped from 35 to 40%. Porzinigs carries a ridiculous load for the Knicks. His usage rate is 32.1, but he delivers efficiently. He has a good 57% true shooting percentage and 24.67 PER. Teams know he is getting the ball and they still can’t stop him. On offense, Porzinigs is at his most dangerous in the post. He has a turnaround jumper that is unstoppable with his long arms and high release. That is why he has an excellent 52% score frequency in the post. I mean how do you guard this?
Jarett Jack feeds Porzingis in the mid-post. Porzinigs gets the ball pivots and faces up Noah Vonleh. He then takes a dribble half spins and shoots a turnaround jumper in Vonleh’s face. This guy is going to be unstoppable for a long time. Defensively he still needs work, but he has become a legitimate shot blocker averaging 2.2 blocks per game.
C- Clint Capela
Capela has been a monster this year and is a big reason why the Rockets are one of the best teams in the league. He is averaging career highs across the board. 13.3 points per game, 11.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Capela used to be a dunker, but now he has a little more variety in his game. One he has gotten stronger and improved his stroke from the line. He is shooting 61% from the line on three attempts per game. Capela is shooting a career-best 67% from the field, and his rebounds are up three a game.
This is why he has a ridiculous 67% true shooting percentage and 26.07 PER. He is a force in the middle, his bread and butter are still as a roll man to James Harden. In fact, he may be the most dominant roll man in the game. He has excellent hands and can finish above the rim.
Capela ranks in the 92nd percentile as a roll man with an incredible score frequency of 70.9%. He is in pick and rolls 35% of the time, and his dominance in that area is why he ranks in the 95th percentile overall on offense. Capela is also one of the best screeners in the game. He and Harden have a special chemistry. He is getting it with Chris Paul now as well. Watch this play!
Capela goes to set a ball screen for Paul. Paul goes the opposite way of the screen, and Capela dives to the paint. After Paul takes two dribbles, he feeds Capela for a lob, and Capela finishes with a slam. He is one of the best finishers in the game.
Pg- Shabazz Napier
Before this year Napier was on bust watch. Now he has earned Terry Stotts trust and has become a reliable rotation player for the TrailBlazers. Napier doesn’t put up huge numbers, but he has been steady and has given the Blazers some much-needed depth and shooting. He is averaging a career-best 7.4 points per game on 49% from the field, 51% from three and 81% from the line all career highs. The sample so far is limited, he only takes 5.2 shots per game, but he is making them, and his shot selection has greatly approved.
That is why he is posting an impressive 62 true shooting percentage and an 18.23 PER. The increased shooting percentage has helped, but Napier has also cut down on his turnovers. His turnover ratio has dropped from 13.1 to 8.7, and that is with more minutes. Napier is getting it done as a scoring guard off pick and rolls. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in pick and rolls with a score frequency of 48.9% and an adjusted field goal percentage of 58.1%.
Napier is even getting it done on the defensive end. He ranks in the 66th percentile overall. Pretty surprising considering he used to be a turnstile. Another reason why Portland is a surprising second in defense. He may never be a star, but he has made himself into a terrific player.
Sg- Jeremy Lamb
As a Hornets fans, this one pleases me. Lamb has hit the weight room, got stronger and now is living up to his potential. With Nicholas Batum missing a lot of time to start the season, Lamb has stepped in and played well. Lamb has improved across the board. His scoring average has jumped from 9.7 points per game to 15.9 points per game. He has done it by developing his shot.
Lamb is taking 3.9 threes per game and making them at a 37% clip. Both career highs. He is also using his new muscular body to get to the line 3.8 times per game, and he is making his free throws at an 84% clip. His PER is a career best is 18.38, and his true shooting percentage is 56.4%. Lamb not only has improved his scoring, but his passing has taken a big leap. His assists per game have jumped from 1.2 to 3.4, and his assist ratio is up to 17.6.
You combine those, and now Lamb can run pick and rolls and spot up. He ranks in the 74th and 78th percentile respectively in those departments. Lamb has also improved his most significant weakness of defense. He ranks in the 76th percentile overall on defense. Now, Lamb is a complete player and credit Charlotte for being patient with him.
Sf- T.J Warren
Warren is a unique player. He scores on floaters, push shots and in the post. It’s not always pretty, but this guy gets buckets. He has two forty point games this season. Warren is now averaging a career-best 18.9 points per game. He still can’t shoot threes at all, or pass, so how is he getting this done? One he is getting to the line a career-best 4.1 times a game and shooting a reliable 75% at the stripe. The second is he is getting in done in transition.
Warren looks to run every chance he gets. He is in transition 21% of the time and has a very good 59% score frequency in transition. In the half court, he survives by being a pick and roll ball handler and a cutter. In pick and rolls, he usually drives, shoots a floater or goes for a midrange jumper. As a cutter he is lethal. He has a 70.7 score frequency as a cutter and should look to do it more in the future.
Warren is also getting it done on the defensive end. He ranks in the 74th percentile on that end. So far Warren is rewarding Phoenix for extending him. He has become an above average starter if he can learn to shoot or pass then he could be a star.
Pf- Aaron Gordon
I know the Magic have fallen back to earth after a hot start, but don’t blame Gordon. Gordon has been one of the most improved players in the league. He is averaging a career-high 17.4 points and eight rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from three. Gordon has improved his stroke significantly. He has increased his three-point percentage by 15%, and his attempts are up from 3.3 to 4.9. Gordon is also getting to the line more and shooting a career-best 77% from the line.
That is why his PER is 20.30, and his true shooting percentage is 62.6%. Gordon’s improved shot has opened up his whole offensive game. Now he can spot up and either shoot or dive. HE ranks int he 63red percentile as a spot-up player. What he does best on offense though he doesn’t do enough. He ranks in the 90th percentile as a roll man, cutter and in the post. The problem is he only does each of these around 6% fo the time. Orlando needs to find ways to put him in these situations more.
Right now Gordon is doing well, and he can be even better if used correctly. Gordon has taken a big step this year, but the best is yet to come. Defensively Gordon is also getting it done ranking int he 66th percentile overall. He has been the most consistent Magic player so far.
C- Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis was considered a throw-in for the Pacers in the Paul George trade after a disastrous rookie season in Oklahoma City. In Indiana Sabonis is thriving and playing more at center has undoubtedly helped. He is a whole new player in fact. Sabonis his rookie year averaged 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds on 39% shooting and 32% shooting from three.
This year he is averaging 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds on 55% shooting and 45% shooting from three. Like a lot of players on this list, the most significant difference is his stroke. Sabonis only takes .6 threes a game, so that number is a bit skewed, but his free throw percentage has jumped from 68 to 76%, and he got to the line 4.3 times per game after only .8 attempts per game last season.
This is why Sabonis has a 20.49 PER and a 62% true shooting percentage. Sabonis has also improved his passing with his assist ratio jumping from 12.1 to 16.3. He has developed on the defensive end as well, ranking in the 68th percentile overall. The Pacers are trying to find ways to play Sabonis play with Myles Turner more If they can make that pairing work then they have a good frontline for years to come. Combine that with Oladipo, and they have an exciting young core.