With the season coming to a close, many award races seem all but locked up with Nikola Jokic likely being crowned the MVP and Marcus Smart or Mikal Bridges taking home Defensive Player of the Year.
The award that seems most controversial is the Most Improved Player Award. Frontrunners for the award include Ja Morant, Dejounte Murray, and Miles Bridges. Ja Morant being the favorite in his third NBA season has graduated from a budding star to a solidified superstar.
In his sophomore season, Morant averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds improving Memphis to a 38-34 record and securing the 9-seed in the West. They went on to win both play-in games against the Spurs and Warriors respectively giving Morant his first playoff appearance in a 4-1 series loss to the Jazz.
This season Morant has led his Grizzlies to the second-best record in the league currently at 54-23 and has been in MVP talks all season long with his most notable improvement coming on the scoring end of the ball bringing his last season points per game total up to 27.6 and his efficiency jumping from 44% to 49% from the field.
Dejounte Murray, also a first-time All-Star, has emerged as the centerpiece for the Spurs to build their future around. Murray is averaging 21.2 points per game, 9.3 assists, and 8.4 rebounds while having posted thirteen triple-doubles, second in the league only behind Jokic.
These numbers improved from the prior season of 15.7 points per, 5.4 assists and 7.1 rebounds. The Spurs currently are clinging onto a play-in spot with the 10-seed currently in their possession.
While Bridges is also breaking onto the scene this season, neither his nor Murray’s team success is at the same level as Morant, and the Grizzlies as the Hornets also hold a play-in spot at the moment. Bridges’ counting numbers have improved from 12.7 points, 2.2 assists, and 6 rebounds to 20.3 points, 3.8 assists, and 7.1 rebounds now acting as a consistent first or second scoring option on a nightly basis.
Young talent is taking over the league with Morant, Murray, and Bridges currently at 22, 25, and 23 years old respectively.
But there is another young player that has flown under the radar for the award with most analysts and betting boards not having him in their top five to win. That player is Jordan Poole. Poole is a 22 year old point guard/shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors.
Poole joined the team with hefty competition for the starting shooting guard spot with Damion Lee, Kent Bazemore, Mychal Mulder, and Kelly Oubre Jr. all on the roster in the 2020-2021 season. Poole was utilized as a bench guard only making seven starts last season averaging 12 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.8 rebounds per game.
His breakout has been downplayed by the strong backcourt the Warriors have in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson presenting Poole as more of an injury replacement. As the Warriors have continued to deal with backcourt injuries this season Poole has stepped up.
In forty-six starts Poole is averaging 18.2 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.3 rebounds. Through forty-four games Poole’s mentor Steph Curry is third in the league in plus-minus at +658. Plus-minus is a statistic that measures the net gain or loss when a player is on the court. In this case, 658 more points are produced when Curry is on the court versus when he is not. His protegee, Poole has a plus-minus at +549, the sixteenth highest in the league— higher than Bridges at +544, Morant at +171, and Murray at +55.
Poole’s impact on his team is drastic. With a now solidified role on the team, Poole can play his game successfully with an ongoing fifteen-game streak of twenty-plus point games; he joins Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and David Lee as the only players in franchise history to have such a streak of at least eleven games.
In March, Poole led the NBA with 52 three-pointers made. Unfortunately for Poole in terms of becoming the 2021-2022 Most Improved Player, this surge may have come too late in the season.