Last season the Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, ran away with the award as the clear favorite. For the 2018-2019 season, the tides may return to the normalcy of under the radar players that make this award difficult to chose from. The criteria to consider is the fact of the player improving their game vastly but also contributing to a winning team. The candidates below would be instrumental in improving their team but also no position logjams exist on their current team.
Markelle Fultz – Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz enters his second year with an opportunity to become the third blooming draft pick for the Sixers. His 14-game appearance last season showed some promising play-making abilities. His postseason run with the Sixers granted him only three appearances. Two of the appearances were in games where the Sixers won by 20-plus points and garbage minutes. As the number one pick in the 2017 draft, Fultz will have some added pressure to perform well for a Philly team that is hungry to prove they can win the Eastern Conference this season. The biggest question mark is, can Fultz finally shoot the ball with a “reinvented jump shot”?
Should Fultz be primed for the season start while Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be enough of a comforting cushion to lead the Sixers in a weakened Eastern Conference. The assumption is that Futlz’s ability to be a play-maker and Simmons deferring to his teammates can open the floor for him to flourish offensively. Again, an easy bar was set for Fultz to accomplish much more this season. If he can stay healthy and bode with his teammates then look for Fultz to be in the conversation for Most Improved.
Last Season: 7.1 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 40.5-percent from the field
2018-2019 Season Prediction: 12.1 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, 6.8 assists per game, 43-percent from the field
Dejounte Murray – San Antonio Spurs
Exit Kawhi Leonard and enter in Murray. While he will not be a main offensive threat for the Spurs this season he will have the ability to potentially start at the guard spot for the Spurs. He made the All-Defensive Second Team last season and in the window as a third-year player that should start to show some growth. While his ability to vastly improved may be hindered by LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan dominating the ball, Murray can serve as the comfortable option for the Spurs on both ends of the floor. Danny Green and Kyle Anderson are both no longer on the roster. Should Manu Ginobili retire it leaves Coach Pop with Brynn Forbes as his only option besides Patty Mills in the back-court.
I expect Murray’s game to take a step forward in the 2018-2019 season for the Spurs and again, trusting the Spurs drafting. Murray became the first player since Kawhi Leonard with 500 points and 300 rebounds in his first 100 games with the Spurs. After taking over the starting point guard spot last season from Tony Parker, there shouldn’t be any surprises that Pop is prepared to start Murray this season from the jump. A good sign is if Murray can play with Aldridge on the floor while DeRozan is on the bench during stretches of the game for a balanced attack. His defense alone will earn him plenty of playing time.
Last Season: 8.1 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 44-percent from the field
2018-2019 Season Prediction: 13.3 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 47-percent from the field
Julius Randle – New Orleans Pelicans
This pick may seem a bit far-fetched, however, a lot of upsides for Randle to potentially start for the Pelicans next season. Even if he doesn’t start he could still see near 30 minutes a game. Alvin Gentry could see his way to keeping the Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic line-up due to its high success towards the end of last season. The expectations for Randle has always been high and his Rookie season was washed by the injury he occurred in the first game of the season for the Lakers. After the injury with the Lakers, he stayed healthy and his production has increased year after year. Should he find himself next to Anthony Davis in the starting line-up this would mean the sky is the limit and he’s doing something right.
Look for Randle’s game to open up since there will be Davis to distract the defense but also set-up Randle down low. He will also serve as a primary focus for the second unit especially when Davis exits the floor. If there is one thing that could set back Randle that would be the three-point shooting. Mirotic will possibly see more time on the floor in smaller line-ups due to this. However, the Pelicans shouldn’t be too disappointed in losing DeMarcus Cousins. Randle next to Davis is a solid defensive force against LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Clint Capela, Steven Adams, and Nikola Jokic out in the Western Conference. These big men all will be competing for a top-eight spot in the conference and a good chance the Pelicans will match-up against them in the playoffs.
Last Season: 16.1 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game, 55-percent from the field
2018-2019 Season Prediction: 19.2 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game, 57-percent from the field
Honorable mentions: Devin Booker (Suns), Harry Giles (Kings), Garry Harris (Nuggets)
Baseline Times Contributor