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Your top three candidates for Kia Most Improved Player this season?
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Steve Aschburner: First, a disclaimer: I’m disinclined to consider second-year players for this award. If you enter the NBA as a 19- or 20-year-old and take a year to properly get your legs under you, that’s on you. You could have waited till you were better prepared to help. So that takes out Sacramento's De’Aaron Fox and Atlanta's John Collins. And leaves me with Fox’s teammate on the Kings, Buddy Hield, at No. 3. Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell is my No. 2, with an All-Star nod as consolation. But my top choice is Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, who has doubled-down as an impact player for the Raptors. Sometimes a guy’s improvement comes from greater opportunity, but Siakam has flipped that -- his handling of the added responsibilities heaped on him has earned the extra minutes and touches. Also, there are bonus points for doing this all as a No. 27 pick vs. No. 2 (Russell) or No. 6 (Hield).
Shaun Powell: Pascal Siakam, Raptors; D'Angelo Russell, Nets and Paul George, Thunder. Siakim on some nights is Toronto's best player and suddenly he's insurance in case Kawhi Leonard leaves this summer. Russell is an All-Star two years after his career and reputation as a leader was in serious question with the Lakers. George is a Kia MVP candidate and somehow has gone "next level" so late in his career.
John Schuhmann: In alphabetical order, because these guys have taken different steps in their careers and I don't need to figure out who goes where on my ballot until April 10 ...
- Paul George -- He was already an All-Star, but George has seen a big jump in usage rate in his second season in Oklahoma City. And with that, he's registering career highs in effective field goal percentage (53.7 percent), true shooting percentage (59.0 percent) and assist-turnover ratio (1.64). Of the 238 players who played at least 500 minutes last season and have played at least 750 minutes this season, George has seen the biggest jump in points + rebounds + assists per 36 (from 30.4 to 40.1).
- Domantas Sabonis -- This guy was on my Most Improved ballot last year (despite being a second-year player) and will likely be on my Sixth Man ballot this year. That doesn't mean he doesn't belong here again. For the second straight season, he's seen a big jumps in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and rebounding percentage. He's also assisting more in the Pacers' offense than he did last season.
- Pascal Siakam -- The improved skill and versatility is obvious. With a big jump in usage rate, Siakam has seen big jumps in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. He was already a good finisher at the basket, but this season, he's been assisted on only 55 percent of his dunks and layups, down from 71 percent over his first two seasons. He's gone from having plays made for him to making plays for others on the league's sixth-ranked offense.
Sekou Smith: Much like the Kia MVP and Coach of the Year races, the top spots for Kia Most Improved are hard to come by this season. There are quite a few quality candidates. That said, I'll go with Toronto's Pascal Siakam at No. 1, Brooklyn's D'Angelo Russell at No. 2 and Miami's Josh Richardson at No. 3 (with Sacramento's D'Aaron Fox right there). You can make a rock-solid case for anyone of the three guys mentioned. Siakam has blossomed into a fantastic two-way player for a contender. Russell has shed the drama from his early days in the league and became an All-Star. And the criminally underrated Richardson has assumed a leadership role in Miami that no one saw coming. There are at least three or four others guys who could easily be added to this list, but you asked for three so I'll stay inside the lines here.