2022-23 NBA Awards

Stats Breakdown: Making the leap

Comparing the finalists for the Kia Most Improved Player with interactive stats visuals.

Lauri Markkanen’s 10.8 points per game scoring increase from last season is the second-largest of the past 15 years, topped only by CJ McCollum (14.0) in 2015-16.

With the Kia Most Improved Player award set to be announced on Monday, we break down the stats for each of the three finalists – New York’s Jalen Brunson, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Utah’s Lauri Markkanen – and compare how they stack up against one another.

Both Brunson and Markkanen shined with new teams as Brunson signed with New York after spending his first four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, and Markkanen was traded to Utah from Cleveland as part of the Donovan Mitchell deal that delivered All-Stars for both teams. Gilgeous-Alexander is the only finalist to make the leap without changing teams as he improved from a top 20 scorer to a top five scorer in the league with six 40-plus point scoring games this season.

When we focus on year-over-year improvement, Markkanen’s leap in scoring is among the best that NBA has ever seen. His 10.8 points per game increase in scoring average from last season in Cleveland (14.8 ppg) to this season in Utah (25.6 ppg) is the second-largest increase of the past 15 years among qualified players, exceeded only by CJ McCollum in 2015-16 (14.0 ppg increase). Markkanen’s scoring leap is the 28th-highest of all time, seven points per game shy of the all-time mark held by Dale Ellis (17.8 ppg increase) in 1986-87.

Both Gilgeous-Alexander and Markkanen earned their first All-Star selection this season, while Brunson just missed out in a competitive field of Eastern Conference guards. Gilgeous-Alexander finished the season ranked fourth in the NBA in both points (31.4 ppg) and steals (1.6 spg) while only seeing his minutes rise by 0.8 mpg – the smallest increase of the three finalists. Gilgeous-Alexander finished third in the league with 15.9 points in the paint – the second-highest for a guard during the play-by-play era, trailing only Ja Morant from last season (16.6 ppg).

Markkanen finished 12th in the league in scoring (25.6 ppg) and 24th in rebounding (8.6 rpg) as his game flourished in Utah after showing potential for years in both Chicago and Cleveland. Markkanen set career highs across the board, not only with more points, rebounds, assists and 3-pointers, but all of his shooting percentages hit top marks in his sixth season. Below we see how he improved his shotmaking and percentage on both catch-and-shoots and pull-up jumpers.

Brunson was one of six players to rank in the top 20 in both points (24.0 ppg) and assists (6.2 apg); the other five players on that list all have multiple All-Star selections and at least one All-NBA selection: Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Memphis’ Ja Morant and Atlanta’s Trae Young. Below we look at the amount of points Brunson creates with both his scoring and his playmaking; he either scored or assisted on 34.9% of New York’s points this season, up from 26.9% last season in Dallas.

When it comes to this year’s field for the Kia Most Improved Player award, there is a finalist that has made the jump from star to superstar in Gilgeous-Alexander, a player that seized a new opportunity following a trade to a new city and became an All-Star in Markkanen, and a player that elected to change teams to move from secondary scorer and playmaker to the lead role, thrived in the role and has his team in the postseason holding a 3-1 lead in the first round in Brunson.

Tune in to the NBA on TNT pregame show on Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET to find out the winner in this competitive race.