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NBA Most Improved Player best bets: Finding value in a wide-open field

Tyrese Maxey

The race for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award is always exciting and usually comes down to the wire. With that said, let's take a gander at the player profiles of the winners. 

Out of all the awards, this one has the most value because most of the top-20 favorites don't fit the criteria to win, so we could see some long shot with odds +1000 or even higher. 

So, who usually wins the award? 

Let's take a look at the winner's player profile over the last 10 years:

  • players in their third or fourth year (the last sophomore winner was back in 2007)
  • scored 17+ points per game
  • increase the points per game by at least five (6.5 points on average over the last 10 years)
  • eight of the last 10 winners were 25 years old or younger
  • nine of the last 10 winners made the playoffs

Now that we have a profile, let's look at our options. We'll begin with the top-20 favorites and rule out guys who don't meet our criteria. 

Ruling out sophomore players:

  • Cade Cunnigham (+3800), Scotty Barnes (+3800), Jalen Green (+4600), Evan Mobley (+4900), Josh Giddey (+4900)

Ruling out players on teams who are unlikely to secure at least a play-in tournament:

  • Tyrese Haliburton (+2500), Lamelo Ball (+3200), Keldon Johnson (+4600), Devin Vassell (+4600), Colin Sexton (+4200), Shai Gilgeous - Alexander (+4900)

Ruling out players who already had high-scoring seasons (unlikely to improve by 5+ points):

  • Zion Williamson (+1800) had 27 points per game in his last season before the injury. Now, with the Additions of CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas, it's improbable for him to increase the scoring average by 5+ points, especially considering his problems with injuries. 
  • Anthony Edwards (+1100) had a 21.3 ppg last season, and it's difficult for me to see a five-plus points increase this year. The Minnesota roster is stacked.
  • Jalen Brunson (+2400) and R.J. Barrett (+2500). I don't see it happening because there are "too many mouths to feed" on the Knicks roster. Plenty of high-offensive usage players like Randle, Fournier, Quickley, Toppin, and Rose. Brunson had 16.3, while Barrett had 20 points average last season, and I expect them to stay close to it.
  • Micheal Porter Jr. (+3300) is returning from the injury, and his health is always uncertain. The season before the injury, he scored 19 points on average, which will be difficult to improve by five points with the return of Murray and the additions of Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and Hylland.
  • Jordan Poole (+4200) had a great season last year, with 18.5 points a game average, but it came with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry missing 70 games combined. His points average goes from 16.4 with Curry playing to 25.6 without him. So unless Curry or Thompson misses out on many games again, I don't see Poole scoring 20+ points on average.
  • Anfernee Simons (+4600) already made a giant leap last season, and most of his high-scoring games came on a G league roster without Lillard and CJ McCollum. He scored 17.3 points per game on average, and I expect him to stay under 20 points with the return of Lillard and the addition of Jeremi Grant, Josh Hart, and Shaedon Sharpe. 

Most Improved Player best bets

Tyrese Maxey (+1400 at MGM)

Even though Tyrese Maxey had a great season last year, he still has much room for improvement. In the preseason, he averaged 17.3 points in just 20.3 minutes per game while shooting 52.2% from the field, and that would set up Maxey on pace to average 30.1 points per game this season based on his 35.3 minutes from the last season, which of course, won't happen, but it does show us his talent and value. Maxey scored 17.5 points a game last season, and I can see him improving to 22+ points, especially with how injury-prone Embiid and Harden are. 

Desmond Bane (+6500 at Fanduel)

Desmond Bane is one of my favorite young players in the league. He had the 2nd highest 3-point shooting percentage with 43.9%, was great on drives, and had a decent mid-range efficiency. He scored 18.2 points a game and added 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists while playing under 30 minutes a game. With the loss of Melton and Anderson via trade and Jaren Jackson Jr.'s injury, Bane could play more minutes and take way more offensive responsibility. Additionally, Brooks and Morant are prone to injuries, so Bane's numbers could increase significantly if they miss some games. His numbers could improve to 23-5-4, and he would meet every MIP winner's player profile criteria. It would also make him a borderline all-star on a good Memphis team, and he would have a great shot at winning the MIP award while being a 65-1 underdog. Great value.