The Early Verdict on NBA's Most Improved Players in 2012-13

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterNovember 2, 2012

The Early Verdict on NBA's Most Improved Players in 2012-13

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    It's never too early to set the stage for the NBA awards...right?

    Right?

    OK, so maybe any attempt to narrow the field for even the least memorable of honors (i.e. the Most Improved Player award) is a futile endeavor at this point, seeing as how there are still teams that have yet to play this season.

    That being said, there were plenty of performances from the first few nights of the 2012-13 season that portend bigger and better things for some of the league's brightest young talents in the months to come.

    Who knows? Maybe this year's winner will go on to be the next Kevin Love or the next Tracy McGrady.

    Or, at the other end of the spectrum, the next Boris Diaw or the next Bobby Simmons.

    In any case, the Association is chock-full of rising stars poised for Emeril Lagasse-like seasons on account of increased playing time, big-money motivation, natural progression or some combination therein. So far, these five youngsters sit atop the list.

Kyrie Irving

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    A select few in the basketball world went out on a limb and pegged Kyrie Irving to be the 2012-13 NBA MVP prior to the start of the season.

    That prediction didn't seem quite so far-fetched after opening night. Uncle Drew was spectacular in his sophomore debut, scoring 29 points, ripping down six rebounds and dropping three dimes while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a win.

    Granted, Irving's efforts came opposite a John Wall-less Washington Wizards. Nonetheless, the reigning Rookie of the Year has been a sexy pick to fly to Houston in February for his first All-Star Game. That, in itself, should put Kyrie in the conversation for the MIP.

    No, not "Minor In Possession," though he doesn't turn 21 until March. Rather, he'll be in the mix for Most Improved, if not an All-NBA nod—especially if he leads the Cavs closer to respectability.

    And dribbles his way around the rest of the NBA in the process.

James Harden

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    What a difference a starting role makes.

    James Harden was a phenomenal, All-Star-type talent before the Oklahoma City Thunder opted to trade him, but man, did he open some eyes in his debut with the Houston Rockets.

    The ink had barely dried on his five-year, $80 million extension by the time The Beard was done torching the poor Detroit Pistons for 37 points, a career-high 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block.

    It took all of one game for the former OKC Sixth Man of the Year to steal all of Jeremy Lin's thunder in Houston. Imagine what he'll do with a full schedule ahead of him...

Darren Collison

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    James Harden is hardly the only new face in Texas making waves across the NBA.

    Darren Collison seems to be enjoying his new-found role as a full-time, unencumbered starting point guard with the Dallas Mavericks. For his debut in blue, the former UCLA star torched his hometown Los Angeles Lakers for 17 points, four assists and three steals in a surprising win for the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs.

    Dallas wasn't so fortunate in Game 2 of the young season, suffering a 113-94 road loss to the Utah Jazz on Halloween. Collison, though, was once again pleasantly productive, posting another 17 points along with seven assists, four rebounds and a steal.

    Collison has had considerable success as a starter in the past, but with free agency approaching and scant competition at the position in Big D, he's poised to compile a career year in 2012-13.

Kyle Lowry

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    Once upon a time, Kyle Lowry called Texas home. The Houston Rockets traded him to the Toronto Raptors this summer for a pick that now belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the Harden bounty.

    As mentioned earlier, the Rockets made out well from that whole situation, as did the Raptors. Lowry's Toronto debut saw him drop 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals in a near-upset of the Eastern Conference-contending Indiana Pacers on Halloween.

    Lowry showed some serious star potential with the Rockets over the previous two seasons. He'll have every opportunity to take his game to the next level while north of the border and prove that, contrary to popular belief, the Raptors front office can get something right from time to time.

Nicolas Batum

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    If you thought Darren Collison did a number on the Lakers, you should've seen the numbers Nicolas Batum put up in his season debut. The 23-year-old Frenchman rewarded the Portland Trail Blazers with an encouraging first return on their four-year, $44.6 million investment, chipping in 26 points, six rebounds and three steals in a 116-106 victory for PDX.

    It was more gut punch than nut punch, which must have the Blazers feeling better about Batum. He's long been touted as a versatile talent on the wing, and if Game 1 of the 2012-13 NBA season is any indication, Batum might finally be ready to show the world what all the fuss has been about.