The NBA’s Most Improved Player award wasn’t as much of a toss-up as originally thought. Portland Trail Blazers’ guard C.J. McCollum won the award in decisive fashion, garnering 559 total votes (101 first-place votes), which left runner-up Kemba Walker at a distant second with 166 total votes.
Here’s NBA.com‘s press release on his win and the numbers that back it up.
McCollum averaged a career-high 20.8 points (18th in the NBA) in his third season since being selected by the Trail Blazers with the 10th pick of NBA Draft 2013 presented by State Farm. He raised his scoring average by 14 points from last season’s 6.8, the largest increase (minimum 40 games each season) since Tony Campbell improved by 17 points from 1988-89 (6.2) to 1989-90 (23.2). McCollum established career highs in field goal percentage (44.8), three-point field goal percentage (41.7, eighth in the NBA), assists (4.3 apg) and rebounds (3.2 rpg), helping Portland make the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Normally, we’d be a bit wary of a third-year player receiving the award (especially since McCollum’s essentially a sophomore, given how much time he missed his rookie season). Those players are expected to make the jump, and normally their improvement is really just a product of increased playing time. Yet McCollum is an exception, as minutes alone can’t explain his dramatic rise in production. He’s become a more well-rounded scorer, and is a threat from just about every spot on the floor. More than that, he’s also a much more capable and confident ballhandler, able to take some of the pressure off of Damian Lillard from time to time.
This is the McCollum the Blazers knew they were getting when they drafted him three years ago. Any concerns about him not reaching his potential have clearly been erased by this season.