Final B/R Staff NBA Most Improved Player Rankings for 2021-22 Season

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2022

Final B/R Staff NBA Most Improved Player Rankings for 2021-22 Season

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    With the 2021-22 NBA regular season about to wrap up, it's time to give out awards, including the one for Most Improved Player.

    This has always been an award that's tough to pin down. Sometimes, it has gone to a future superstar who made the leap, and other times, it has gone to a role player who had a career year. There are always a lot of candidates, and every voter has different criteria or things they value, even more so than other awards.

    Before we get to the results of B/R's Most Improved Player voting, let's first explain our process. 

Our Process

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report asked 11 NBA experts to vote for their top five Defensive Player of the Year candidates from this season.

    Each first-place vote was worth five points. A second-place vote was worth four points; that pattern continued down to fifth place, which was worth one point.

    At the end, we tallied the votes, calculated the points and established our definitive top-five ranking.

    This is one part of a B/R staff series ranking the top five most deserving candidates for major NBA awards this season. Special thanks to the following for their votes: A. Sherrod BlakelyAndy BaileyDan FavaleEric PincusGrant HughesGreg SwartzJake FischerJonathan WassermanMo DakhilSean Highkin and Zach Buckley.    

5. Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The one silver lining of a lost season in Portland has been the emergence of Simons as a starting-caliber lead guard. With Damian Lillard missing most of the season with an ab injury and CJ McCollum and Norman Powell both traded at the deadline, Simons had a major opportunity to take a step forward—and he fully embraced it.   

    Simons' usage increased dramatically in his fourth season to 24.8 percent from 18.3 percent last year, and his production didn't fall off with the increased workload. His three-point percentage stayed above 40 on 7.8 attempts per game (up from 4.4 last season), and his shooting from the rim to the mid-range ticked up. He became more confident as a playmaker as well.

    Simons will be a restricted free agent this summer and looks to be in line for a major pay bump, likely from the Blazers as they look to pair him with Lillard for the foreseeable future.

    Total Voter Points: 16

         

    *Also receiving votes: Robert Williams III (11), Tyler Herro (6), Cameron Johnson (5), Tyrese Maxey (5), Desmond Bane (4), Isaiah Hartenstein (3), Caleb Martin (2), Miles Bridges (2)

4. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Since being drafted in 2016, Murray has been perpetually viewed as one of the Western Conference's most promising up-and-coming guards, but his development was hurt by injuries (including missing the entire 2018-19 season with a torn ACL) and inconsistent playing time early on. This year, he finally put it all together.   

    Following DeMar DeRozan's offseason departure, Murray's playmaking duties increased as he became the first option in the Spurs' offense. He's averaging career highs in nearly every major statistical category, including leading the league in steals at two per game. He was named an All-Star for the first time—granted, it was as an injury replacement, but he was deserving nonetheless for how he took advantage of his increased responsibilities and kept the Spurs around the postseason picture in the West.

    Total Voter Points: 23

3. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    One of the hardest leaps to make in the NBA is the jump from good to transcendent. That's what Morant did in his third season.

    Right from the beginning of the season, Morant established himself as the must-see young star and a League Pass favorite, putting up 37 points on opening night and 40 later that week against the Lakers. The Grizzlies quickly ascended from fun story to legitimate contender thanks to a mix of depth and great coaching, but it all starts with Morant.

    The fact that Morant got fringe MVP buzz in his third season—and has a good shot at making first-team All-NBA—is enough to put him here when he entered the season as just one of a crowded crop of promising young guards. Now, they're all looking to him as the standard.   

    Total Voter Points: 27

2. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Garland was one of two first-time All-Stars on the Cavaliers along with center Jarrett Allen, and a major factor in the franchise having its first winning season not involving LeBron James in over two decades.   

    Through season-ending injuries to fellow guards Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio, Garland stepped up as the Cavs' lead ball-handler and put up his best statistical season, maintaining his efficiency with an increased workload.

    Garland also proved adept at running an unconventional offense, with Cleveland starting three bigs in Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen for much of the season. It was a radical shift in role and system for a third-year point guard, and he showed he was very well up to the task.

    Total Voter Points: 30

1. Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    With Klay Thompson missing the first part of the season, the Warriors needed Poole to step up in a major way in his third season, and he did just that.

    Poole began the year as a starter alongside Stephen Curry in the backcourt, then moved back to the bench in January when Thompson returned and then back to the starting lineup when Curry went down. All the while, he established himself as a reliable scorer and outside shooter, a new cog in the Warriors' machine that now has greater hope of continuing to be competitive as the Hall of Fame core ages out of its prime.

    Poole was just as good coming off the bench as he was as a starter, shooting slightly better from three-point range as a starter but better overall as a reserve. With the injuries the Warriors' core players suffered, it was important that the supporting players provided some consistency. Poole fit that bill better than anyone, and he now looks to be a part of that core for years to come.

    Total Voter Points: 31

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