By Mark Strotman | | 7 mins
Tips to Consider When Betting NBA Most Improved Player
We're beginning to see a trend with the Most Improved Player award. Once handed to older veterans who made a significant and unexpected jump in production, the most recent winners have been young players who made the jump from good to great. The last seven winners have been 26 or younger.
The crop of young talent in the NBA is as good as it has been since the LeBron-Carmelo-Wade era took over the league in the early 2000s. That makes this prop a difficult one to handicap for fans of NBA betting, but also one of the more exciting races to watch this season.
2022 NBA Most Improved Player Odds
|Kevin Porter Jr.||+900|
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||+1500|
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There’s no denying he’s talented and should only get better at 23 years old, but he averaged 19.0 points and more than 31 minutes per game last season. Unless he makes a major leap toward super stardom, there will be lesser players who make bigger jumps that translate to earning consideration and votes for this award.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander falls into a similar category as Porter after averaging 23.7 points and nearly 34 minutes for the Thunder last season. So does De’Aaron Fox, who averaged 25.2 points and 35 minutes per game a year ago. Zion Williamson averaged 27.0 points in his first full season, so he may have overqualified himself, too, for this award.
We’re looking at some younger players like Kevin Porter Jr., who should thrive with the Rockets moving on from John Wall. Collin Sexton could be a candidate if he can make the Cavaliers a respectable team in the East, while bigs like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Christian Wood could also shine. This one is a tough award to handicap, but when looking at NBA odds on your favorite popular betting apps, check out players who aren’t as established right now who could make a leap. That’s usually where the best value lies.
Our Pick to Win the 2021 NBA Most Improved Player Award
Would it surprise anyone if Jamal Murray truly turned a corner in the Orlando Bubble and is the NBA's next superstar? The budding Nuggets star averaged 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists during the postseason and seems primed to make the jump to stardom on a loaded Denver team that will be in the national spotlight early and often in 2021. He's the early favorite for good reason.
Deandre Ayton has posted excellent numbers through two NBA seasons with the Suns but has been overshadowed in his class by Luka Doncic and Trae Young. However, Ayton will get the spotlight this season with Chris Paul in town, and he's a good bet to improve on his already-impressive 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks from a season ago. Paul could allow him to turn the corner to All-Star status, and the combination of Paul and Devin Booker helping him along is the reason he's our pick to win the award.
Looking for value in the Most Improved Player odds? Celtics guard Jaylen Brown is no Jayson Tatum, but he's quietly been putting up impressive numbers for Boston. He averaged 20.3 points and 6.4 rebounds last season and will be in line for a bigger role with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker's knee less than 100%. Brown is incredibly talented, and the league is about to find out.
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NBA Most Improved Player Betting Tips
There's no real definition from the NBA on what constitutes the Most Improved Player despite its simple title, making to one of the tougher NBA awards to handicap. Is it simply for the player who improved the most on a year-to-year basis, usually a younger player blossoming into his prime like Alvin Robertson was when he won the inaugural MIP award in 1985? Or is it for an older player who finds the right fit and comes seemingly out of nowhere to become more than just a rotation player?
Both types of players have recently won the NBA Most Improved Player Award. In 2007, 21-year-old Monta Ellis took home the trophy in his second NBA season as he went from a little-used bench player to the second leading scorer on a playoff team. The following year the MIP winner was 28-year-old Hedo Turkoglu, playing in his eighth NBA season for a 52-win Magic team. A 30-year-old Darrell Armstrong won the MIP award in 1989, and two years later his Magic teammate, 21-year-old Tracy McGrady, took home the honors.
All shapes and sizes have won the NBA Most Improved Player Award. Because of the number of voters who think differently on what exactly the award means and which types of players should be eligible, it can be difficult to pinpoint the winner when wagering on the award.
Look for a Giant Leap in Points Per Game
Any Most Improved Player is going to increase his numbers from the previous season across the board, but it's especially true for points. Offense is on the rise in the NBA and is showing no signs of slowing down. NBA MVPs score among the greatest in the league, and Sixth Man of the Year winners are routinely among the NBA's top bench scorers. So, it isn't surprising that those same voters look for a massive uptick in scoring when determining the Most Improved Player.
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From 2001 to 2021, the 21 winners of the award increased their scoring by an average of 7.7 points per game. That might not seem like a lot, but it's significant when you look at some of the league's top scorers, which these award winners are.
You probably won't want to target a player who was apt at scoring the previous season, even if he's young. The two biggest outliers of the last 16 seasons were Danny Granger in 2009, when he went from 19.6 to 25.8 points per game, and Julius Randle in 2021 going from 19.5 to 24.1 points. Outside of Granger and Randle, no player has averaged 17 points or more the previous season before winning Most Improved Player.
Find someone who's going to make that leap as a scorer. Perhaps they're in a larger role or a player ahead of them in the lineup left in free agency. But a player expected to take a major leap in scoring is an obvious indicator of a potential Most Improved Player.
They Should Make an All-Star/All-Pro Leap Too
The league's best players certainly improve year-over-year. There was a legitimate case for Stephen Curry to win Most Improved Player in 2016. He had been a two-time All Star and averaged 23.8 points the previous season, but he went into a different stratosphere that season, averaging 30.1 points and setting the NBA record for most 3-pointers in a single season.
And yet, Curry wasn't even close to winning Most Improved Player (he'd take home MVP honors as a consolation).
Maybe that's because no player has ever previously been an All-Star and then become an MIP winner. These are players still on the come-up and just entering the primes of their career.
That being said, we are looking for stars here. From 2009 to 2021, eight of the 13 Most Improved Player winners were All Stars that same year. No winner was an All-Star from 2003 to 2008, but the requirements for Most Improved Player seem to be increasing.
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Winning Games is Also Important
It's an individual award, yes, but team success comes into play with this award. Perhaps the best indicator of a player's improvement is leading the team to victories. It shouldn't be surprising, either, since we've seen this trend in just about every major award other than Rookie of the Year.
From 2006 to 2015, the 10 winners' teams averaged 43.4 wins. True, that's barely above .500 but it's still a winner and that's significant. In that same timeframe seven of those 10 teams went to the playoffs. That playoff trend has been even more evident recently, with all but one winner from 2012 to 2021 making the postseason while averaging 45.7 wins.
A leap in points, an All-Star future and contributing to a winner. It's what has created the majority of Most Improved Player winners the last two decades.