Many of the awards races going on in the 2020-21 NBA season are still wide open. Really, the only one that seems to be settled early is Rookie of the Year, where LaMelo Ball is a heavy favorite. So if we take a look at Most Improved Player, we see that Detroit Pistons F Jerami Grant is the favorite to win the award at -230. Despite the line, it feels a lot like there are more names that should be getting consideration in the MIP race. Here we’re going to take a look at Grant and some other names in the convo, plus breakdown odds on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Should Jerami Grant be this heavy a favorite?
My answer is no. Grant has been fantastic this season and likely deserves to be an All-Star. With that being said, he went from a career backup player/decent starter and defender to where he is now. Why the sudden change? Grant was signed by the Pistons in free agency after spending last season on the Denver Nuggets. Grant was generally a starter for the Nuggets but was a defensive stopper and hustle guy, not a go-to scorer. On the Pistons, Grant has flourished into their go-to scorer. Might this be because of opportunity and not because Grant has improved his game dramtically? I think so.
Most of the time we don’t see a player who has been in the League this long win this award. Grant is in his seventh season in the NBA and is 26 years old. Again, he had been a starter in a few stops but mostly a bench player. Now, he’s starting and averaging 23.5 points on 43/37/88 shooting splits. Grant is playing a career-high 36.4 minutes per game and his usage numbers are up all across the board.
If we look at advanced stats they tell a different story. Grant is at his lowest offensive rating per 100 possessions with the increase in usage to a career-high 26.5 percent. Overall, his win shares is at 2.7, way lower than when he was in Denver and Oklahoma City. So in my mind, this jump in production from Grant has more to do with opportunity than anything else. You could argue a lot of players in the NBA would post numbers similar to this given the minutes and usage. Plus, the Pistons are the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Grant isn’t elevating the players around him or the team much. So my feeling is, while Grant has had a great season so far and has a case for Most Improved Player, it doesn’t feel as strong as the line suggests.
So who should be Most Improved Player?
Well, there are plenty of players who have a strong case this season. Behind Grant in terms of odds are Houston Rockets PF/C Christian Wood (+500) and Boston Celtics SG Jaylen Brown (+800). Both have equally as strong cases for MIP as Grant in my eyes. Wood has seen his chances drop due to being out with injury the past month or so. He fits more of the mold of MIP having played fewer games and fewer seasons than Grant.
We saw some potential last season in Detroit and now we’re seeing a potential All-Star in Houston. Had Wood not gone down, he likely would have been a West reserve, averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds with some nutty shooting splits — 55 percent from the floor and 42 from beyond the arc. Perhaps the biggest knock on Wood (get it?) is that while with the Pistons last season, he had similar numbers but just wasn’t getting the opportunity. Looking at per 36 minute stats shows us this. The thing is Wood has really only been playing significant minutes in a lineup the past two seasons, not the past six and change like Grant. Again, no injury and I think Wood is closer to Grant in this race.
Brown has been the player I was backing a few weeks back for MIP. He’s in his fifth season with the Celtics and has always been an above average starter and defender on a contending team. Now, we’re seeing that Brown has All-Star upside and he’s now top 15 in the NBA in scoring at 25.5 points per game. It always looked like the Celtic would be Jayson Tatum’s team and now it feels more like Tatum and Brown’s team. The argument against Brown winning is that he’s really not that much better in the public eye. Usually, a player who wins MIP goes from good starter to All-Star. That’s exactly what Brown looks to be doing this season.
Who are the longshots worth a look?
Take your pick. Most of the players behind those three above still have really strong cases if you took Grant and Wood out of the equation. Julius Randle is 20/1 and he’s turned into Bernard King for the New York Knicks. Randle’s numbers are up across the board in a big way. He’s passing the ball more. His shooting splits are impressive — 48/41/80, something that isn’t easy for a big man. The 3-point shooting has been a revelation for Randle. He’s averaging a double-double with 5.5 assists per game and should be an East reserve for the All-Star Game. Plus, Randle has the argument of being the best player on an improved Knicks team that should compete for a playoff spot.
Behind Randle, you’ve got Chris Boucher (+2500) and Zach LaVine (+3300). I think if LaVine had done this a season or two ago, he would be the runaway favorite for MIP. The issue with LaVine is the Chicago Bulls aren’t that much better and the slight jump in scoring isn’t that surprising. The thing is, LaVine has gone from a good scorer to arguably one of the best scorers in the NBA right now. Not many players average close to 30-5-5. LaVine also has the trend of jumping from above-average starter to All-Star this season.
The other longshot I’d give a look is Sacramento Kings PG De’Aaron Fox, who is +8000 on DKSB. Fox checks a lot of boxes, though the biggest gripe with him being MIP is his stats aren’t that much better than previous seasons. He’s in his fourth year in SacTown and appears to be on course to make the West All-Star team. The big thing for Fox winning MIP is that he’s the best player on a Kings team that may make the postseason for the first time in 15 years. Sacramento is on a long losing streak but had been in playoff position. The Kings are only 3.5 games out of the 8-seed right now. Fox is also averaging 24 points and 9 assists in February after a slow start to the season.
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