The Most Improved Player From Every NBA Team
When the Milwaukee Bucks signed forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to a four-year, $100 million contract before the 2016-17 season, they were banking on the then-21-year-old fulfilling his massive potential. Antetokounmpo averaged 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in 2015-16 and built on those numbers across the board last season. His efforts earned him the Most Improved Player Award, becoming the first Buck to earn the honor.
While it was Antetokounmpo who took home the award, each team had players that made great strides last season from the year before. Stacker crunched the numbers to calculate the most improved player year over year from each team in the NBA. To determine the list, we’ll rely upon win shares (WS), as calculated by Basketball-Reference. The focus will be on how big a jump in win shares a player made from 2015-16 to 2016-17, regardless of whether that player played on the same team both seasons.
For this exercise, we’ll exclude players whose win share improvements last season came as a result of returning to health. If a player missed significant time due to injury in 2015-16, he wasn’t taken into consideration. We’ll start with the team whose most improved player had the smallest jump in win shares, then work our way up to the player who improved more than anyone (spoiler alert — it’s not the Greek Freak).
Note: In the event of ties, the player with the highest win shares in 2016-17 was ranked higher.
#30. SG Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 WS: 3.4
2016-17 WS: 4.2
Roberson was one of only two players (the other being Josh Huestis) to improve on his WS total from 2015-16. Even league MVP Russell Westbrook saw a dip in his WS, from 14.0 to 13.1, despite averaging a triple-double for the entire season. Never a good offensive player, Roberson’s shooting regressed last season, as his true shooting percentage dropped from 56.6 to 51 percent. But he cut down on his turnovers and nearly doubled his defensive win share -, from 1.6 to 3.1 - as he set a new career high with 1.2 steals per game.
#29. SG C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
2015-16 WS: 6.0
2016-17 WS: 7.6
The 2015-16 Most Improved Player Award winner made great strides again last season, setting career highs in WS (7.6), PER (19.9) and true shooting percentage (58.5%). McCollum also ranked ninth in three-point percentage (42.1%) and first in free throw percentage (91.2%), positioning himself as one of the league’s best offensive players.
#28. PG Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons
2015-16 WS: 1.3
2016-17 WS: 3.1
Smith played on his 10th team in seven seasons last year when he suited up for Detroit, but he appears to have finally found a sticking spot. Smith played in a career-high 81 games last season and more than doubled his previous career best in WS (1.3). The three-year, $16 million deal the Pistons signed him to last offseason now looks like a great bargain.
#27. C Alan Williams, Phoenix Suns
2015-16 WS: 0.2
2016-17 WS: 2.1
Williams began the 2015-16 season in the Chinese Basketball Association before signing a 10-day contract with the Suns in March. He impressed enough to make the team the following year, and he carved out a role for himself as a high-energy reserve. Williams averaged 7.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 15.1 minutes per game, appearing in 47 contests. That earned him a three-year, $17 million deal this offseason — not bad for a guy who went undrafted in 2015.
#26. PG Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
2015-16 WS: 2.2
2016-17 WS: 4.4
Payton made a big jump in Year 3 of his career, setting new highs in PER (17.2), TS% (52%), usage rate (21.6%) and points per game (12.8). Perhaps the biggest negative from last season was the step back he took in three-point shooting, as he made just 27.4%t of his 146 attempts. If Payton can improve in that area, he could be in store for an even larger leap in his 4th season.
#25. PG Ty Lawson, Sacramento Kings
2015-16 WS: 0.9
2016-17 WS: 3.2
Lawson looked nothing like himself in 2015-16, his first away from Denver. He posted a miserable 9.7 PER while shooting 39.3 percent from the field. That led to a one-year deal with Sacramento, where he rediscovered his old form. Lawson came off the bench and averaged 9.9 points and 4.8 assists per game, while shooting 45.4% from the field.
#24. C Richaun Holmes, Philadelphia 76ers
2015-16 WS: 1.5
2016-17 WS: 3.8
As a rookie in 2015-16, Holmes appeared in 51 games and flashed potential for the struggling 76ers. He improved statistically across the board last season, particularly on the defensive glass — Holmes’ defensive rebounding percentage jumped from 11.7% to 20.1%. Philadelphia has a talented young core that includes potential stars in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric. Developing them will be the key to the rebuild, but having young, productive role players like Holmes will go a long way as well.
#23. PF Marreese Speights, Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 WS: 1.8
2016-17 WS: 4.2
Speights set a new career high for WS in his ninth NBA season, playing in all 82 games for the Clippers. He shot the ball more efficiently than ever before, with a 58.4% true shooting percentage. Speights also set a new career high in defensive rebounding percentage at 24.1%.
#22. SF Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
2015-16 WS: 4.4
2016-17 WS: 6.9
After two straight years of declining WS totals, Iguodala turned things around last season, posting his highest mark since 2011-12 (7.3). It was great timing for the 33-year-old, who became a free agent after the season and re-signed with the team for three years and $48 million.
#21. PG Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
2015-16 WS: 0.4
2016-17 WS: 3.0
Rose has been chasing his past greatness ever since he tore his ACL in the 2012 playoffs. While he’ll likely never be the same player who won the MVP award in 2011, his 2016-17 season was his best since the injury. Rose set post-surgery highs in minutes per game (32.5), points per game (18.0), PER (17.0) and WS. Perhaps he can continue to improve in his first year with the Cavaliers in 2017-18.2018 All rights reserved.