We’re slowly inching closer to the start of the 2020-21 NBA season. As a result, DraftKings Sportsbook is rolling out odds for the upcoming season, including NBA awards. We got Rookie of the Year odds after the 2020 NBA Draft last week. Now, we’ve got the market for NBA Most Improved Player, which is well ... expansive. Obviously the book needs to cover a lot of grounds with so many candidates for the award. You can find the full list of odds here. We aren’t going to go over every players’ odds, just pick out a handful of players we see as value picks.
Jamal Murray, DEN (+1000)
Murray is tied for the best odds to win the award at 10/1 with Memphis Grizzlies C Jaren Jackson Jr. Everyone will remember Murray’s impressive run during the 2020 playoffs, helping the Nuggets advance to the Western Conference Finals. Prior to that in 59 regular-season games, Murray averaged 18.5 points and 4.8 assists on moderate shooting splits. In the postseason, those numbers spiked to 26.5 points and 6.6 assists over 19 games. You usually don’t see a player just turn it on in the playoffs and not have that translate a little next season.
With that said, Murray has been in the league a bit longer than most of the candidates for Most Improved Player. Normally after 3-4 seasons you don’t see NBA players take a huge jump in their development. Still, I do think Murray gained a ton of confidence in his game in the NBA bubble and the Nuggets came close to advancing to the Finals while facing adversity plenty of times the past two seasons.
The Nuggets got rid of Malik Beasley and Gary Harris has seemed to take a step back, more of a defensive specialist. This should make for a clear path for Murray to be the go-to scorer in 2020-21 with Nikola Jokic being his No. 2. Murray needs to improve his shooting a bit during the regular season, though those numbers were insane in the playoffs — 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from distance. If Murray jumps to around his point averages in the playoffs and makes an All-Star team, he’s got a great track to winning MIP.
Tyler Herro, MIA (+2000)
If Murray was the breakout star of the 2020 playoffs, then Herro was runner-up. The rookie our of Kentucky last year showed flashes of All-Star potential. We’ve seen this time and time again with UK products, so Herro taking another step in 2020-21 wouldn’t surprise anyone really. We know the Heat are going to be competitive after the run to the Finals in 2020. Herro was a big part of that run, averaging 16 points per game off the bench in 21 playoff contests. He also only shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc on 6.1 attempts despite playing north of 30 minutes.
The only thing standing in Herro’s way of this award is opportunity. You’d think coach Erik Spoelstra would stick to a similar rotation as the playoffs and Herro will be the 6th man for the Heat. That may not be the case during the regular season with the Heat boasting some serious depth at guard. Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic make up the back court rotation with Herro. So while I can see Herro competing for 6th Man of the Year, it may be hard for him to beat out some of the other candidates for MIP. The opposite end of the argument is Herro is good enough to transcend that line of thinking and he’s too good to keep on the bench for more than like 10-12 minutes per game. Herro also has upside to lead the NBA in 3-point shooting.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC (+2500)
This number is going to get bet down. Pretty quickly, I’d imagine. The Thunder are SGA’s team. OKC pretty much traded away everyone this offseason for picks. Steven Adams is gone. Chris Paul is gone. Then the team got Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. Traded both of them. Danilo Gallinari signed with the Hawks. So yeah, the Thunder are going to be very bad, but for a reason. The only real player on the roster is Gilgeous-Alexander, who could lead the League in usage and has a chance to take a big step.
Like Murray, SGA has a very easy path to winning this award. He should play north of 35 minutes per game with a usage rate in the 25-30 percent range. So maybe that won’t lead the NBA, you know what I’m saying though. Gilgeous-Alexander also has a very easy track to being an All-Star. He was in the conversation last season and we should see his assist totals skyrocket with CP3 not on the roster. So we’re looking at a player who could average over 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game while shooting around 50 percent from the floor and 35 percent from distance.
PJ Washington, CHA (+3300)
The Hornets did a lot to improve their roster so far this offseason. Charlotte drafted LaMelo Ball with the third pick and then signed Gordon Hayward to a long-term deal. Add those two to Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier and Washington and the Hornets are looking like they won’t be miserable again this season. Washington follows the theme of Kentucky players becoming solid in the NBA. Now that I think about it, every player listed here went to UK! Just a coincidence I guess.
Anyway, Washington was one of the more underrated rookies in 2019-20, averaging 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 58 games. Washington has a great inside-out game and should make him the ideal pick-and-roll candidate for Ball/Rozier/Graham. The only thing I’d be concerned about is we generally don’t see players in their sophomore season take a big enough step, at least not compared to the competition. Will Washington make an All-Star team in 2020-21? Probably not. That isn’t always a precursor to winning MIP, but if we look at the past six winners, all of them have made an All-Star team either in the season they won or after.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL). Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ/MI/PA/WV), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-522-4700 (CO/NH), 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA) or Call or Text the TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789. 21+ (18+ NH). NJ/PA/WV/IA/IN/CO/IL/TN/MI only. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for full terms and conditions.