NBA 2021/22: Five early contenders for the Most Improved Player award

47 days into the 2021/22 NBA season with each team having played at least 21 games, it’s still early days but enough time for players to make lasting impressions.

Some players have impressed more than others and outperformed expectations thus putting themselves in contention for recognition at the end of the season.

Here are five players making early cases for the Most Improved Player of the year award in alphabetical order. 

DEJOUNTE MURRAY

I was only going to focus on players who have helped their teams achieve a winning record so far but Dejounte Murray stood out so well I had to make an exception.

The Spurs are 8-13 and three games behind a play-in spot but Murray has provided a rare cause for optimism. The point guard finally started to look like an NBA point guard last season and the progression hasn’t stopped.

Now in his sixth season, Dejounte Murray is averaging a career-best in all major stats. 19 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.2 assists across 21 games.

Dejounte Murray this season: 19.1 PPG 8.5 RPG (1st among guards) 8.1 APG (7th in league) 2.0 SPG (5th in league) All career-highs. pic.twitter.com/qx2UsPPvCO — StatMuse (@statmuse) November 30, 2021

He’s also earning league-wide recognition for his efforts as he ranks in the top 20 for multiple stats. Murray has the 16th most defensive rebounds in the NBA and if you consider that impressive, there’s more.

He’s sixth in assists, seventh in assists per game, sixth in steals, and fifth in steals per game.

JA MORANT

After winning rookie of the year and leading the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season, Ja Morant has stepped up a notch this season.

His ability is no secret but Morant seems to have made the jump from a good young player to being one of the best players in the league period.

He’s currently out with a knee injury which has kept him out of the Grizzlies’ last four games. But Ja Morant did more than enough in the 19 games he played to earn an early MIP consideration.

24 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds across 19 games is impressive, helping the Grizzlies to a 13-10 record.

At some point in the season, Morant (a 6’2 point guard) led the league in paint points. Despite missing the last four games, Morant is still top 20 in the NBA in so many categories. 

Points per game (13th), assists (17th), assists per game (12th), and steals per game (14th) are some of the categories.

JORDAN POOLE

Jordan Poole started a total of 21 regular-season games in his first two seasons with the Golden State Warriors. In less than two months, he has started all 23 games for the joint-best team in the NBA right now.

Not only is Jordan Poole starting, but he’s also been leading Steph Curry’s support cast. Poole has deputized adequately for the injured Klay Thompson at Shooting Guard by playing differently. His 35% from three-point range is far from Klay Thompson’s level of efficiency but Poole has proven useful in Steve Kerr’s system.

MILES BRIDGES

Something good is happening in Charlotte and beyond LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges is the driving force of the 14-11 record. Miles Bridges played his first three NBA seasons mostly as a role player on a poor team.

He now leads his team in scoring and ranks in the top 20 of major stats in the league.

His 509 points are the 12th highest total in the NBA, also 12th for field goals and 19th for steals. 

Miles Bridges has also gone from starting just 19 of 66 regular-season games last season to now leading the league in minutes played after 25 games.

With 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, Bridges is one of only 14 players averaging 20/7 this season. The forward has also 30+ points in six of his 25 games this season. For context, he managed just three 30-point games in his previous three seasons combined.

Miles Bridges 30-point games: 6 — This season 3 — First 3 seasons combined He is averaging 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds — one of only 14 players averaging 20/7 this season. pic.twitter.com/DiNfRjPezY — StatMuse (@statmuse) December 6, 2021

The improvement in Miles Bridges is undeniable and I have to say, he’s my personal favorite on this list.

TYRESE MAXEY 

After making the jump from rookie backup shooting guard to starting point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers within a year, Tyrese Maxey is a MIP candidate. 

Tyrese played 61 regular-season games last season but only made eight starts and averaged 15 minutes per game. This season he has started all 23 games, playing 35.4 minutes per game.

The promotion is a result of Tyrese Maxey stepping up and filling a Ben Simmons-shaped hole. The sophomore has helped the Sixers cushion the effects of Simmons’ absence.

Tyrese Maxey was a nominee for Eastern Conference player of the month for October and November, NBA says. Kevin Durant was the winner of the award — Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) December 2, 2021

And Maxey has done well to justify his increased responsibility with improved stats. He has more than doubled his points, assists and rebounds average from last season and has become the driving force of Doc Rivers’ offense.

#DejounteMurray #Philadelphia76ers #MemphisGrizzlies #GoldenStateWarriors #SanAntonioSpurs #MilesBridges #CharlotteHornets #TyreseMaxey #JordanPoole #NBA #JaMorant

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