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NBA Most Improved Player Award Odds Update: Ja Morant Leads the Way Early On

After the first three weeks of the 2021 NBA season, NBA expert Ryan Kirksey breaks down the latest NBA Most Improved Player odds and rankings. He updates us on the latest here.
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NBA Most Improved Player Award Odds Update: Ja Morant Leads the Way Early On

The NBA’s Most Improved Player award is one of the most interesting to track throughout the season. The award can reasonably fit players from several different categories.

First, you have players who take massive steps forward in production. Perhaps they were just a rotational piece but moved into a starting gig with massive minutes. Second, you have stars who are on the verge of becoming mega-stars, so they stand out in our brains more. Think someone like Ja Morant this year. Lastly, you have players who took a dip for whatever reason the season before but are now playing at or above previous levels.

This season, we have players from each of these categories that should make for an entertaining race for the next five months. Let’s handicap the players with the best odds to win the award and also look at a long shot who could make a run.

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NBA Most Improved Player Award Rankings

5. Jordan Poole (+2500)

This season, Jordan Poole has been an absolute revelation for the Golden State Warriors and is exactly what Steph Curry and Co. needed to help get them to a 9-1 record out of the gate.

We saw glimpses of what Poole could do last season when he started seven games. In those contests, he put up 21.4 points and 3.6 assists in 33 minutes per night. Now that he has that role full-time (or at least until Klay Thompson returns), Poole contributes 17.8 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.9 rebounds, even with Curry putting up MVP-like numbers.

The pending return of Thompson is likely the only thing keeping Poole’s odds this long. It remains to be seen if he goes back to the bench in 2022.

4. Dejounte Murray (+2000)

Murray has taken appreciable steps up in every statistical category, including the one that may matter most: minutes. Gregg Popovich was hesitant the first few years of his career to give him more than 25-28 minutes per night.

Now, Murray is top-35 in the NBA in minutes per game (34.8) and has career-highs across the board, including points (18.4), rebounds (7.9), assists (8.2), steals (2.2), and three-pointers (1.4 per game).

There are three players with at least 18 points, eight rebounds, and eight per game this season: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Murray.

3. Tyler Herro (+1600)

Speaking of increased minutes, Herro is now up to 32.5 per night, even though he comes off the bench every night. However, that hasn’t stopped him from contributing almost 21 points per game, five rebounds, and four assists.

Herro may not open the Miami Heat’s games, but he is earning a well-deserved reputation as one of the league’s best and most clutch closers. Herro ranks seventh in the NBA in points per game in the fourth quarter (6.4), and his field goal percentage in that quarter (51%) is significantly higher than his overall number (46%).

I don’t personally believe Herro can do enough to overtake the following two players on this list, but I assure you the Heat don’t care. Instead, they have added a clutch backcourt piece to their championship pursuit.

2. Miles Bridges (+500)

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in Bridges’ camp when they got the four-year extension offer for $60 million from the Charlotte Hornets. Instead, I imagine the response was some form of “I’ll show them how much I’m really worth” with a bit of colorful language mixed in.

Fast forward a month later, and the gamble Bridges made on himself is paying off so far. With PJ Washington out of the way, Bridges’ points per game are up almost nine points from last year (21.3 compared to 12.7). He is at 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, all career highs. He also is 12th in the league in minutes played per game (36.2)

Bridges, for my money, is who will win this award. The Grizzlies have so many offensive pieces and will likely finish as one of the top six teams in the West. The Hornets will seemingly have to scrape and claw all season long to make the play-in tournament this year. Plenty of opportunities should be there for Bridges on a team that is third in the NBA in Pace and seventh in offensive rating.

1. Ja Morant (+350)

The equation that has made Morant so successful to start this year is a simple one:

  • Remove any semblance of a strong defense (Memphis ranks 30th in defensive efficiency).
  • Add some speed to the style of play (Grizzlies are the top half of the league in Pace).
  • Subtract a heavy usage lane-clogger in Jonas Valanciunas.

The result so far is a point guard who is top eight in both scoring (26.5 ppg) and assists (7.3) this season with only a slight uptick in minutes. As long as Memphis keeps playing this fast-paced, defense-is-optional style of play, Morant should remain on a tear.

I still feel Bridges is better as someone who moved from the bench to an integral starting piece, but if Morant keeps playing in the stratosphere, this award could be his to lose.

Longshot to Watch: Anthony Edwards (+5000)

If I asked you to name the top ten scorers through the first three and a half weeks of the season, I bet you could come up with nine of them fairly easily. The tenth, surprisingly, is Anthony Edwards at 25.9 points per game. After his 48-point outburst on Wednesday night, Ant-Man is firmly on the Most Improved radar even at +5000 odds.

Edwards is the clear 1A option in this offense to Karl Anthony-Towns. D’Angelo Russell has taken a backseat to the phenomenal wing player and will continue to do so, considering the scoring chops Edwards has shown in just his first 82 games. Edwards is another player whose stat is up across the board, and he should start moving up this MIP odds list soon.


Proudest husband and dad you will ever find. When I'm not with my wife and two kids I split my time working in higher ed, grinding DFS and season-long, collecting silver age comics, studying behavioral economics, and drinking coffee. I once played Pat Connaughton in an actual NBA DFS lineup for money. Astros, Rockets, and Texans for life.


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