Summer Dreaming: 2017-18 Most Improved Player
Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) tries to drive past the defense of Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar as we await the release of the full 2017-18 NBA schedule, the wishing goes on as we dig into our Summer Dreaming candidates for Kia Most Improved Player in 2018.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Coming off a sophomore NBA season when he averaged 25.1 points and 12.3 rebound per game, you might not see a quantum leap in the numbers, except in the win column for the Timberwolves. And isn’t that what it’s all about? He climbed several rungs on the ladder last season with a toolbox that is full. There’s a gorgeous array of post moves to go with the perimeter shot that is almost a must for today’s big man. Then add in his strong rebounding and you could make the argument that the 21-year-old is already the best big man in the game. Now that he’s got a full year of Coach Tom Thibodeau in the bank with the addition of veterans Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford, Towns will improve most with the knowledge and support behind him that he needs to carry the Timberwolves into the playoffs.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
The versatile big man seemed to plateau in his second season, perhaps from the sheer boredom and nonsense of being stuck inside the dysfunctional Knicks organization. Or maybe being stifled by the presence of Carmelo Anthony. Well, there’s a good chance that 'Melo will be off to greener pastures by the time the season opener rolls around. That means the 6-foot-11 Latvian will be the main man in the offense and finally get a chance to show all that he can do. Porzingis has said many times that likes playing in New York and wants to remain with the Knicks. This will be his chance expand his game and demonstrate that he is worth building around for the long haul.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
This is the year the Pacers may take a step back and out of the East playoff race, but it may also be the season the 6-foot-11 center takes a big step forward in his development. He’s very good on the pick-and-roll, has a nice jumper and can make his presence felt on the glass. At just 21, there is so much time and room to grow and Turner will get all the opportunities he wants as the prime offensive option now that former lead dog Paul George has left town. The Pacers are definitely starting over again. But Turner is a solid foundation to build upon and is good enough to even find his way onto the All-Star team this season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Is it crazy to put the 2017 winner of the Most Improved Award, who also made the Western Conference All-Star team, back on the list for 2018? No, it’s just downright scary for everybody else in the league. "The Greek Freak" doesn’t just take the ball off the glass at the defensive end. He dribble the ball the length of the court on the fast break and finish with the perfect pass or unstoppable dunk. He gets to the basket when he wants, can jump right through the roof and is little an octopus on speed while playing defense, using those long arms to get at everything. Is this the year Antetokounmpo adds a jump shot to his arsenal? If so, you can definitely give him this award and start saving space to put his name on some future MVP trophies too.
Jusuk Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
It was a deal that helped both teams when the Nuggets sent Nurkic to Portland. Denver had to make room for Nikola Jokic to play, but the Blazers hit it big by securing their tentpole for the middle. Nurkic is the perfect complement for the high-scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and is also a great passer. He was a double-double producing monster upon arriving in Portland in February, but broke a bone in his leg and missed the end of the season, then managed just a cameo appearance in a first-round sweep by Golden State in the playoffs. After a disappointing 2016-17 season, a healthy Nurkic could be the reason for a strong bounce back by the Blazers.
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Perhaps lost in all the Summer League hullaballoo surrounding rookie Lonzo Ball was the solid one-game appearance in Las Vegas by the Lakers’ top Draft pick in 2016. Ingram looked poised, confident and like a guy ready to move up to the next level. He flashed some of the things he can do last season. But now that he’s got a point guard like Ball to run the break and deliver timely passes, the thin-as-a-blade Ingram will run the floor and be a top-notch finisher. He’s got the length and ability to also develop into solid defender. On those rare occasions when Lakers fans manage to take their eyes off the Ball, they’ll see another budding star in their midst.
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