Taking an extra-early look at five players who could be in the running for the 2016-17 Kia Most Improved Player Award
POSTED: Sep 1, 2016 10:21 AM ET
Second-year Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell should have ample chances to shine in 2016-17.
Summer is for putting your feet up and kicking back. It's warm sunny days and gentle ocean breezes in the night.
Sure. That is, if you're already satisfied with your station in life and have no plans to get better.
Summer in NBA is where foundations are laid, the next step up the ladder is is climbed, where good can become great. There's already room to get better and that's why our annual Summer Dreaming series, looking way ahead at the award winners for the 2016-17 season, tips off with a look at the guys who spend their summer in the gym working.
Here are our top five picks for Kia Most Improved Player (and you can send us your picks here):
• Summer Dreaming: Kia MVP
• Summer Dreaming: Executive of the Year
• Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year
• Summer Dreaming: Kia Sixth Man of the Year
• Summer Dreaming: Kia Rookie of the Year
• Summer Dreaming: Kia Defensive Player of the Year
• Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player of the Year
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: The 6-foot-11 center out of the University of Texas just turned in a rookie season when he averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots (while playing just 22 minutes per game). He stepped into the hole left by veteran center Roy Hibbert and helped the Pacers start the transition to a new era while earning All-Rookie second team honors. Just 20 years old, Turner took another step forward in the playoffs when he made himself a force in the paint at both ends of the floor. Team president Larry Bird is so high on Turner that the plan that is for Paul George and him to be the 1-2 punch going forward. Turner also spent the summer playing for the USA Basketball Select Team that practiced against the Rio Olympic team and impressed many of the All-Stars who make up Team USA. The summer spent getting guidance from the likes of coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Gregg Popovich should accelerate the learning curve and get the Pacers back to being challengers to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: How can anybody forget the TV image of the young Knicks fan who cried when the 7-foot-3 Latvian was taken with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft? Then how could we all forget that young power forward got his feet under himself quickly and wound up averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots and finished as runner-up to Karl-Anthony Towns in Kia Rookie of the Year voting? The second-guessing of team president Phil Jackson on the pick has stopped, but not Porzingis himself. Long, lean, athletic and having already shown versatility, Porzingis has been constantly in the gym since the Knicks season ended back in April, working with assistant coach Josh Longstaff, who used to work in Oklahoma City. It's far too early to make the comparisons to Kevin Durant, but Porzingis has range out to the 3-point line and has been concentrating on improving his shot selection. He's only scratched the surface.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder: Don't think of him as just a sizable change of pace for the Thunder anymore. Adams has progressed way past the point where he gets onto the floor in OKC just to take up space and set an extra hard (dirty?) pick or clobber an opponent who dared try to take the ball to the basket. Adams was so effective as a starter in his third season that coach Billy Donovan had to keep increasing his minutes until Adams became something of a monster in the playoffs. It was the quantum leap forward by the 7-foot Kiwi that enabled GM Sam Presti to shed the big-money contract of Serge Ibaka this summer. You can be sure that Adams will play an even bigger role now in the absence of Durant.
D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers: Is the enduring memory of Russell's rookie season going to be the poorly thought out video posting of teammate Nick Young that brought his fitness as a professional into question? Or will it be the constant verbal beatdowns he got from ex-Lakers coach Byron Scott, who seemed intent on running a season long hazing ritual for his rookie point guard? Scott has been replaced by Luke Walton, the looming shadow of Kobe Bryant is gone from the Lakers and it's time to start again. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft is coming off a summer league stint in Las Vegas where he seemed to rediscover the joy in playing the game again. The confidence and swagger was back. He played free and loose and was often dominant. He pulled up and drilled 3-pointers. He laughed and he smiled. It is a complete reset for the Lakers this season and perhaps nobody will benefit more from that than Russell.
Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks: You'd better believe the Mavericks (and the rest of the NBA onlookers) want to see Barnes improve after signing his $94 million free-agent contract over the summer. After all, a four-year career of averaging 10.4 points and 4.6 rebounds would seem to hardly justify the large payday. However, Barnes' numbers are in large part the result of the system at Golden State, where he was the fourth offensive option, at best. He had o find his opportunities as the ball moved through the hands of all those other All-Stars on the roster. The most shots he's ever averaged were the 9.6 a game -- and that was last season. Barnes has moved to a Mavericks team that has had to rely too much in recent seasons on now-38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, which will get Barnes more chances to show what he can do. He and Dirk should get each other more open looks at the basket and if the Mavericks make another run at the playoffs, recognition and honors could come his way, even if it's more about opportunity than sheer improvement.
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