Is Ian Mahinmi The NBA's Most Improved Player?

At shootaround on Tuesday, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was discussing Ian Mahinmi's recent games, lauding his offensive repertoire for scoring in double figures in four of his last five, and having 18 and 19 points in his last two.

"He should be in the conversation for Most Improved Player," Vogel said. "I don't know who the other candidates are, but he's gotta be one of them."

Mahinmi, playing in his eighth NBA season, it undoubtedly having the best year of his career, but does he actually have a case to win the NBA's Most Improved Player award?

Before looking at Mahinmi's stats, let's check out some of his competition for the award.

In Denver, Will Barton has emerged as a force off the bench, and should be in consideration for both the Most Improved and Sixth Man of the Year awards. Barton has upped his scoring from 3 points per game to 14.8 and has seen his minutes increased from 10 per game last season, to 28.6 this year.

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His improvement, however, is not as extreme when factoring in that two seasons ago, he was playing a similar amount of minutes (24.4) and scoring 11 points per game.

Barton's 3-point shooting has been one of his greatest weapons this season. He's shooting a career-best 36 percent from long range.

But the frontrunner to win the award is Portland's C.J. McCollum, who has been scorching the Pacific Northwest along with his running mate Damian Lillard.

McCollum saw both of his first two seasons in the league shortened by injury, playing 38 games as a rookie, and 62 in his sophomore campaign. This year he's played in 73 games to date, and has gone from scoring 6.8 points per game last season to a whopping 20.7 this season. McCollum has been one of the league's most accurate threats from 3-point range as well, hitting on 41 percent of his shots from deep.

Chances are, the Most Improved Player Award will likely land in the lap of McCollum, who has emerged as a key member of the surprising Trail Blazers since the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews.

But Vogel is certainly correct when he says that Mahinmi "should be in the conversation," because Ian's year has unquestionably been his best.

In seven seasons as a pro, Mahinmi recorded three double-doubles (two with the Pacers). This year, Ian has racked up nine of them and matched his career-high for points (19) twice.

He's doubled his scoring output from last season, jumping from 4.3 points per game to 9. He's hitting on 58 percent of his field goal attempts; his highest figure since his second season when he was playing six minutes per game with the Spurs. And he's hauling in a career-best 7.1 rebounds per game.

One of the most notable areas of improvement for Mahinmi has been his free throws. Last year, Mahinmi struggled mightily at the line, connecting on just 30 percent of his free throws. But this season he's turned himself around, hitting on 58 percent of his tries, which is more inline with his career averages.

Even with Ian's career-best year, McCollum is still the prohibitive favorite to win the award, which is more often than not bestowed on players who are in their first four years in the NBA.

Either way, Mahinmi's improvement in all facets of his game has not gone unnoticed.