One of the most exciting NBA honors at the end of each season is the Most Improved Player Award.
In recent seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic have taken home the trophy and en route to successful years ahead.
This year, Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers is the obvious choice through the first part of the season, but there are also a few other players who have made drastic improvements.
Although these three guys most likely won’t be All-Stars and have generally gone under the radar so far for a variety of reasons, they’re deserving of respect.
Each has either expanded his range, changed his approach or has taken on a new role entirely (or some mix of the three).
E’Twaun Moore (New Orleans Pelicans)
Although Moore is generally overshadowed by the two-headed frontcourt monster of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and even the backcourt duo of Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, he has quietly turned in a solid start to the year, averaging 13.3 points per game, well above his former career-high of 9.9 per contest last season for the Pelicans.
Moore broke out with a career-high 36-point performance on Monday night in a loss to the Houston Rockets. In that game, he went 15-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three. In the month of December, Moore has been unconscious from beyond the arc, going 25-for-37 (67.6 percent) from three-point range, thus improving his season three-point mark to 47.3 percent which ranks fourth in the NBA as of Tuesday night.
If he can keep his hot shooting up and prove to be a viable scoring threat all season, the 14-14 Pelicans have a chance to become a low-level seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.
TJ Warren (Phoenix Suns)
Taking on an increased role for the rebuilding Suns, Warren is averaging 18.8 points and 5.7 rebounds over 31.4 minutes per contest, all of which are career-highs. Last year, he averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 boards per game for the Suns.
Warren’s aggressiveness has been one of the keys to his improved scoring mark. Last season, he converted 119-of-154 free throw attempts. This season, he has already gone 86-for-113 as he will likely blow his previous mark out of the water at this pace. While he’s a prime trade candidate due to his future free agent status, he’s been able to individually thrive for Phoenix.
With Devin Booker out for another couple weeks with an injury, Warren should be able to make the most of his expanded usage over that span and should be a go-to scorer for Phoenix all season long.
Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
Now in his 13th NBA season, Williams has made his entire living off of being a sixth man, starting just 95 of 807 career games. However, due to a number of notable injuries (including Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley among others), “Sweet Lou” has been thrust into a primary scorer’s role for the Clippers.
Averaging 19.6 points and 4.7 assists in 30.5 minutes per game (all career-highs), Williams is also shooting 44.9 percent from beyond the arc while attempting 6.2 three-point shots per game, both of which are also career-highs. Although he might be on the move if the Clippers decide to sell before the trade deadline, Williams is proving that he has the chops to be nearly a 20-plus scorer on a nightly basis.
While there are more players who have made clear improvements since last year, these three in particular deserve a lot of recognition.