Every season the league sees growth not only in its teams but in its players. A new crop of players start to make headlines and become household or barbershop names. With the half way point of the NBA season just around the corner here’s a look at some of the players in the early running for Most Improved.
Although he’s bounced around a few teams it looks like Victor Oladipo has not only found a home in Indiana but a place in this league. Up until this point Oladipo was looked at by some as a bust. Drafted 2nd overall by the Magic, Victor was supposed to pair with Aaron Gordon to help spark the youth movement in Orlando. However that wasn’t the case and the 6’4 guard out of Indiana was shipped to Oklahoma City. He played 67 games for them starting alongside Russell Westbrook before being traded to Indiana during the off season for Paul George. In his brief stint with OKC Oladipo averaged 15.9 ppg, 4.3 rbg and 2.6 assists. These were his lowest totals since his rookie year, however one has to take into account who he was paired with in the backcourt. It would be difficult for anyone to shine offensively with the year Westbrook was having and numbers he was putting up.
This year is definitely Victor’s breakout year and could be the turning point of his career as he’s back in state where he played his college ball. So far this year he has upped his scoring average by almost 10 points to 24.2 ppg. Victor dropped a career high 47 points against the Nuggets in December as well as multiple 38 point games. He’s also averaging 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists on the season. The Pacers are a perfect fit for him as well. A group of young talent with the likes of Myles Turner as well as some savvy veterans like Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson. Oladipo’s strong play has been noticed around the league and he has his team standing solid at 2nd in the Central Division and 6th overall in the east.
Arguably one of the better feel good stories in the NBA, Spencer Dinwiddie has emerged as a legitimate starting point guard in the league. A literal soldier of fortune, Dinwiddie’s season can be credited to the Nets plethora of injuries at the start of the season. Jeremy Lin went down for the year in the 1st game of the season and D’Angelo Russell had to get surgery on his leg only 14 games into the season. That opened the door for Dinwiddie and he went running through it. The 6’6 guard out of Colorado spent a year with the Pistons before being traded to Brooklyn last season. The Nets released then guard Yogi Ferrell much to the chagrin of many Brooklyn faithful to make room for Dinwiddie. It didn’t take long for Dinwiddie to change the minds of these fans however. In 59 games with the Nets in 2016-2017 he started 18 of them and averaged just over 7ppg and 3 assists.
Fast forward to 2017-2018 and Dinwiddie has started 36 of the Nets’ 46 games. He’s averaging 13.4 ppg along with 6.4 apg. It’s not so much the stats that jump out at you for Dinwiddie but how he plays. If you watch him he looks like a guy in control of the team on offense and he plays smart. Spencer is top 3 in the league in assist/turnover ratio. Just to put into perspective how impressive that is, he is 7 spots ahead of Chris Paul and 6 spots ahead of Rajon rondo. Two guys considered elite point guards. He’s also been clutch for the Nets. Dinwiddie is the team’s late game go to guy and has multiple game-winning shots on the year. Spencer’s play has also helped keep the Nets rebuilding years on track. Although expectations weren’t that of a playoff team coming into the year, there was excitement with the addition of D’Angelo. Once he went down there may have been some uncertainty among some fans but Dinwiddie has essentially calmed some nerves and if anything brought about some more excitement. As Russell gets acclimated back into the rotation it will be interesting to see how the two play off each other however Dinwiddie has proven he deserves ample minutes and touches.
The best thing to happen to Kris Dunn so far in his time in the league was being traded to Chicago. Dunn was drafted 5th overall in last year’s draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the hope of pairing him with the already star studded young guns the team had in Andrew Wiggins, Zach Lavine and Karl Anthony-Towns. However that wasn’t the case as Dunn’s play had him relegated to the bench for the majority of the season. He averaged only 3.8 ppg and a little over 2 assists in 17 minutes off the bench. With all the hype that there was over the 6’4 guard from Providence, needless to say his rookie campaign was a bust. Then the Timberwolves pulled off a block buster trade on draft night this year sending Dunn, Lavine and the #16 pick (Justin Patton) to Chicago for Jimmy Butler and the #7 pick (Lauri Markkanen).
Now on a rebuilding Bulls team, Dunn has shown he is a piece to definitely build around. He’s bumped his scoring up 10 points to 13.7 and is averaging 6.4 assists as well as pulling down 4.6 rebounds per game. This type of play is exactly what everyone was expecting from the former Friar. One of the key things to his success this year is his shot selection. Kris is shooting just over 43% from the field this season which is 6 percentage points higher than what he did last season. His free throw percentage is also up to 71% which is 10 percentage points better than last year. If there is one thing that’s plaguing Dunn however, it’s his turnovers. He is averaging 3 turnovers per game. Something that nobody wants to see out of their starting point guard. Zach Lavine’s return from injury should help open the floor for Dunn as well as give him an athletic wing player to get the ball to. Dunn has been out the last few games as he’s recovering from a concussion suffered against the Warriors after slipping off the rim on a dunk attempt.