Lauri Markkanen

NBA Most Improved Player: Ranking five leading candidates at the All-Star break

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With the All-Star break already upon us, most analysts, and fans are already making their picks for the season awards. Of course, that includes the NBA Most Improved Player race 2023, which has been one for the ages this season.

NBA Most Improved Player race 2023

The league continues to get younger every year, and as such, rookies are, ironically, given a shorter leash. That means we rush to call young players busts after just a couple of seasons, but some may need more time before finally tapping into their true potential.

Some players need to bulk up and get more muscle to deal with the physical burden of a full NBA season. Others need to mature and make mental adjustments to realize their new role, while others just need the game to slow down for them, and that only comes with more playing time.

That’s why the league wants to honor them by recognizing all the hard work they’ve put in the offseason and over the course of the campaign. And, considering that, we’re going to make a case for the top five leading candidates to win Most Improved Player this year.

5. Nic Claxton

Not many guys are considered NBA breakout players because of their defensive contributions. However, Nic Claxton‘s surge as a lockdown defender has made him not only a candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year but also one of the undisputed most improved players this season. He was a catalyst behind the Brooklyn Nets’ rise under Jacque Vaughn.


Claxton had already shown glimpses of his outstanding rim protection and defensive skills. But he’s taken things to a whole new level this season, even holding his own in the perimeter and in switches. He’s averaging career highs all over the board, with 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and a league-best 2.6 blocks per game in just 29.6 minutes. He also ranks first in field goal percentage (72.4%).

4. Jalen Brunson

Just a couple of months ago, the New York Knicks were the league’s laughing stock for failing to land Donovan Mitchell and seemingly overpaying for Jalen Brunson. People claimed it was all due to his ties to the franchise, and predicted that he’d have a tough time living up to such a massive deal. Now, he’s one of the top candidates for NBA Most Improved Player this season.

Brunson has been box office since arriving in Madison Square Garden. He’s been the point guard they desperately needed for years, pulling the strings of the offense and knocking down huge shot after huge shot. Brunson is averaging a whopping 23.9 points per game, ten more than his career average. On top of that, he’s handing out 6.2 dimes, grabbing 3.5 boards, and knocking down nearly two triples a night on 48% from the field.

3. Tyrese Haliburton

The Indiana Pacers struck gold when they traded for Tyrese Haliburton. He’s earned the first All-Star nod of his career and should finish the season near the top of the NBA Most Improved Player race for 2023. He’s been the best playmaker in the league this season, trailing only James Harden (10.8) in terms of assists per game (10.1). Also, he’s proven to be a walking bucket over and over.

Haliburton is just getting started, and he’s already an unstoppable scorer. His size allows him to be a disruptive defender, even if he’s still a work in progress in that aspect of the game. He’s currently averaging a double-double at 20.0 points, 10.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 2.9 three-pointers per game on 48/39/85 shooting splits in just his first season as the main guy leading an offense. The sky is the limit for this young man.


2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a guard, yet he’s one of the most dominant scorers in the paint this season. He’s seemed to take a page out of Michael Jordan‘s book, taking defenders all the way to the rim with all kinds of acrobatic finishes and also dominating the long-lost art of the mid-range jumper.

But hey, make no mistake, he can also light it up from beyond the arc, set the table for others, and play lockdown defense.

Gilgeous-Alexander is sure to make the Los Angeles Clippers regret giving up on him so early, as he’s played more games than Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. He’s a rising two-way star and the reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder might even make the playoffs.

Right now, the Canadian stud is averaging a career-best 30.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 0.9 three-pointers per game on 50.8% shooting.

1. Lauri Markkanen

Just when we thought the Utah Jazz would only focus on Victor Wembanyama’s scouting report, Lauri Markkanen‘s shocking surge made them one of the most surprising teams in the early stretch of the season.

They’ve understandably regressed to the mean, and won’t win many more games after trading away some valuable assets, but Markkanen’s production is only likely to go up with all the extra shots available.

Markkanen failed in Chicago and was a solid role player in Cleveland. Now, he looks like a future superstar in Utah, and one that should’ve been named an All-Star starter over Zion Williamson, who barely played this season.

Throughout his breakout campaign, the former seventh-overall pick has impressed with averages of 24.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 3.0 three-pointers per game on 51/41/87 shooting splits, falling just short of the exclusive 50/40/90 club.

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