Top 5 Candidates For NBA Most Improved Player

We're at the quarter-pole now of the NBA season. 20 games in for most teams. Which players have made the biggest leaps thus far? Some were expected to take a jump, some have come out of the blue to explode into star status. 

Here now, 5 top candidates for Most Improved Player in the NBA at the 20-game mark:

Bol Bol

Here's one of those cases of a player exploding out of nowhere to become, essentially, must-see TV on an almost nightly basis. And while everyone in the basketball world salivates about the incoming 7'3" Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick next season, we're actually getting a pretty good facsimile of that type of talent right now in Bol.

As his teammate, No. 1 pick in this year's draft, Paolo Banchero says, "Bol’s 7’2, shoots threes, brings it up the court, makes passes, and blocks shots... Bol’s a freak of nature.” 

Indeed, he has been absolutely mesmerizing to watch, jumping from a career average of 2.8 points per game coming into the season, to 13.5 PPG. No one else on this list can say they raised their scoring by over 10 points per game. But that's not all, he really is doing it all:

Tyrese Haliburton

Here's one of those guys that was supposed to raise his game to a new level this season; Haliburton was given the keys to the Indiana Pacers, and coach Rick Carlisle has unlocked a true star. The 22-year-old, obtained at the trade deadline from the Sacramento Kings in February, has bumped his scoring average about five points per game, to 19.9, and his floor-leading skills have the Pacers—who were expected to tank this season—in a Top 4 seed in the East, at 12-8. 

And yes, three straight games of 10+ assists with zero turnovers is an NBA first. 

Lauri Markkanen

The former No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 Draft has been a revelation this year for the Utah Jazz, since they acquired him from the Cleveland Cavalkers in the Donovan Mitchell trade. All he's done is taken on the mantle of "go to" guy in Utah, averaging 22.2 points, up seven-and-a-half from his 14.8 mark with the Cavaliers last season. His usage rate is, of course, way up, and he helped lead the Jazz to a surprising 12-6 start to the season (though that's come to earth a bit now after a 5-game losing streak).

Devin Vassell

The trading of Dejounte Murray this past offseason has opened up a tremendous opportunity for San Antonio Spurs teammates Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell. And while Johnson has slowed a bit of late, Vassell, the No. 11 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, has made himself into the Spurs' go-to scorer, now averaging 20.4 points—an eight-point jump from last season.

Desmond Bane

Honorable mention has to go to Bane, who's only played in 12 games unfortunately due to injury, but before he went down he was on an incredible run for the Memphis Grizzlies, raising his scoring by more than six points, to 24.7 per game, while shooting a blistering 45% from three, and adding career highs in assists (4.8) and rebounds (4.9). If he can jump right back to form when he returns, he'll certainly be in this race as well. 

Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports