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Christian Wood, Jerami Grant in Two-Man Race for NBA Most Improved Player Award

Christian Wood, Jerami Grant in Two-Man Race for NBA Most Improved Player Award

The NBA has now reached the quarter pole of the 2020-21 season and there may not be a closer award race to sort out this year than the race to crown the Most Improved Player of the year.

A season ago, Pelicans’ forward Brandon Ingram (42 first-place votes) edged out Miami Heat bubble star Bam Adebayo (38 first-place votes) for the 2020 honors, and the 2021 race looks like it will be just as razor-thin.

Here’s where all of the candidates stand as we wrap up the first week of February NBA action.

Collin Sexton, G, Cleveland Cavaliers (+1600 to Win NBA Most Improved Player Award)

2019-20 Statistics: 20.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, 47.2% FG%, 38% 3PM
2020-21 Statistics: 24.3 PPG, 4.1 APG, 50% FG%, 44.4% 3PM

The Cavs have flown under the radar for much of the season, but this is a team that is showing signs of no longer being known as the team that LeBron James used to play for, and the biggest catalyst behind Cleveland’s surprising 10-12 start to the season is that of 22-year-old guard Collin Sexton.

Sexton has improved in every season of his young career, but his first 22 games for the Cavs this season have been nothing short of spectacular, headlined by a 42-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets including a stretch where Sexton scored 20 straight points for the Cavs.

In fact, up until recent action sank some of these numbers slightly, Collin Sexton’s third-year in direct comparison to Atlanta Hawks phenom Trae Young is impressive, to say the least.

While Sexton has a way to go to catch up to Christian Wood and Jerami Grant, if the Cavs stay in the Eastern Conference playoff mix his candidacy to be named the NBA MIP will only grow stronger.  At 16/1 odds, he could be quite the flier with a lot of games left to play.

Chris Boucher, F/C, Toronto Raptors (+1600 to Win NBA Most Improved Player Award)

2019-20 Statistics: 6.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 32.2% 3PM
2020-21 Statistics: 13.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 44% 3PM

The former G-League product Chris Boucher has made an enormous leap in production when looking at what he’s done in the first quarter of this season compared to what he did all of last season.

Boucher is not only in the mix to win the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, but he checks in at 16/1 to notch the NBA MIP award thanks in large part to him essentially doubling up his scoring and defensive numbers from a year ago while shooting a blistering 44-percent from distance.

Unfortunately, Boucher is essentially competing directly with the output of Christian Wood who has been spectacular for the Rockets this year.  Despite Boucher making noticeable improvements across the board, until Wood starts to give voters a reason to look another way, he’s probably unlikely to unseat the Houston big atop the odds board.

With that said though, Boucher has played very well this season and deserves recognition if nothing else.

Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics (+750 to Win NBA Most Improved Player Award)

2019-20 Statistics: 20.3 PPG, 2.1 APG, 48.1% FG, 38.2% 3PM
2020-21 Statistics: 26.4 PPG, 3.6 APG, 51.8% FG, 42.4% 3PM

It took five seasons, but Jaylen Brown has finally arrived as a legitimate superstar in Beantown for Brad Stevens’ Celtics.

The former 3rd overall pick from the 2016 NBA Draft is currently 12th in scoring in the NBA with just over 26 points per game while posting the 11th highest PER (player efficiency rating) in basketball.

Brown has improved in every statistical category this season but rebounding and has paired with fellow star Jayson Tatum to give the Celtics one of the most potent guard/forward duos in the league.

Through the first 20-games of the season, the Celtics currently sit at 11-9 and 4th overall in the East.  Should Boston go on a run and surge up the standings even further, Jaylen Brown could very well be this season’s version of Brandon Ingram.

Jerami Grant, F, Detroit Pistons (+145 to Win NBA Most Improved Player Award)

2019-20 Statistics: 12.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 38.9% 3PM, 75% FTM
2020-21 Statistics: 23.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 40.2% 3PM, 86.7% FTM

When you’re 5-16 through your first 21 games and co-owners of the worst record in basketball, finding a bright spot could be a challenge.

For the Pistons, that bright spot is none other than Jerami Grant, who has finally gotten a chance to log real minutes and get a lot of shooting opportunities for a Detroit roster that is extremely barren of talent.

Now playing for his fourth team in seven seasons, Grant is considered the essential co-favorite to be named the NBA Most Improved Player through the quarter junction of the season, in large part because of his career-high 23.7 points, and roughly six rebounds per game.

If there is reason to worry about Grant’s viability in winning this award, however, it’s that Pistons are downright awful this season, but on an individual basis, it’s hard to find a player that has improved this season more than Jerami Grant.

Christian Wood, F/C, Houston Rockets (+125 to Win NBA Most Improved Player Award)

2019-20 Statistics: 13.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 38.6% 3PM
2020-21 Statistics: 22.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 39.7% 3PM

The Houston Rockets took a big risk in the offseason when they gave Christian Wood a three-year, $41-million contract in late November.

Now it appears they have one of the biggest bargains in all of basketball, as Christian Wood is your odds-on favorite to secure the 2021 NBA MIP Award, and for good reason.

Wood has emerged as one of the best big men in the entire league, as he’s averaging career-high numbers across the board and is the lynchpin for the surprising Rockets in the post-Harden era.

To pour a little more salt in the wounds of Pistons fans, the Rockets acquired the services of Wood in a sign-and-trade deal for Trevor Ariza.  All Wood has done since joining the Rockets is post a double-double average of 22 points and 10 rebounds per night while shooting nearly 40-percent from three-point range.

After unloading Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the trade market few people expected the Rockets to compete for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference, but at the quarter-point of the season, the Rockets find themselves right in the mix to get back to the postseason.

That alone figures to give Wood the edge over the likes of Grant and Brown and his odds reflect this with being just a hair above even money for him to be named the NBA Most Improved Player this season.

Odds to Win NBA Most Improved Player (as of 2/3/21)

Christian Wood (HOU)+125
Jerami Grant (DET)+145
Jaylen Brown (BOS)+750
Chris Boucher (TOR)+1600
Collin Sexton (CLE)+1600
Michael Porter Jr. (DEN)+3600
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)+3600
Julius Randle (NYK)+4900

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