Find Out Which NBA’s Most Improved Players Fell Off Or Continued Striving

Basketball | 6/10/19

The NBA introduced the first Most Improved Player award in the 1985-86 season. That year, Alvin Robertson of the San Antonio Spurs took home the trophy. Some of the players that have won this award have gone on to have pretty successful careers and even have some championship under their belt. Winning the award doesn’t always translate to superstardom, though. While some do accomplish that others stay stagnant and end up falling off. Here is what happened to the careers of players who took home this distinguished award.

Dragic Strikes Magic In 2014

Goran Dragic playing for heat wearing number 7
Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat is a former Most Improved Player of the Year. He started his career with the Phoenix Suns in 2008, played with the Rockets next, then back to the Suns between 2012-2015. It was his second stint with Phoenix when he won the award before heading to his current destination, Miami.

Dragic played behind all-star point guard and two-time MVP Steve Nash for a few years early in his career. After Nash left the Suns, Dragic had learned more than enough from the veteran. He converted that knowledge to high-level basketball and thus took home the trophy in 2014.

Paul George Steps Up

Paul George showing emotion in thunder uniform
Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Before teaming up with triple-double machine Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Paul George played with the Indiana Pacers. That’s where he became the George we all know and love. George played alongside another player that won the Most Improved award (more on THAT player later), so his load wasn’t as heavy.

In the 2012-2013 season, said player became injured, forcing George to step up to the plate and boy did he ever. Not only did he win Most Improved, in 2013, but that was also the same year he made his first all-star team.

The Wild Scott Skiles

Scott Skiles playing for the Orlando Magic in 1993
Mike Cooper /Allsport
Mike Cooper /Allsport

It makes sense that Scott Skiles is currently a coach; he was a magician on the court during his playing days! He knew when and where every player was going to be on the court even before they were there!

That can explain why he set and still holds the record for most assists in an NBA game. During the ’91 season which was his fifth year in the league and second with the Orlando Magic, Skiles dished out an NBA record 30 assists in one game. He then went on to claim the Most Improved title.

Shoot For The Stars!

Ryan Anderson after made shot against the Lakers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ryan Anderson has played for six NBA teams during his career. His first stop was in New Jersey in 2008, and now he’s on the Miami Heat. Somewhere in that decade, Anderson managed to win the Most Improved Player award thanks in large part to his shooting abilities.

In the lockout-shortened season (2011-12), Anderson played 61 games and averaged 16.1 points, and 7.7 rebounds while leading the NBA in three-point shots made and attempted. He quite literally shot his way to the trophy.

A Rose Grew From Concrete

Jalen Rose playing for the Indiana Pacers
Tom Hauck /Allsport
Tom Hauck /Allsport

Jalen Rose is a face you can catch all over ESPN these days. He regularly pops up in different segments, and he currently co-hosts Get Up!, which is a morning sports talk show on the network. As great as Rose is at talking sports, he used to be even better playing.

Here’s why Rose’s Most Improved season from 2000 was so special. He became the first Indiana Pacer in eight years to lead the team in scoring since Reggie Miller. He also led the team to the NBA Finals.

T-Mac Attack

Tracy McGrady holding the ball playing in China
VCG/VCG via Getty Images
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

“Tracy McGrady was the single hardest match-up I had in my career, he could just do about everything on offense,” wrote Kobe Bryant, per ESPN. When Bryant says you’re the hardest to guard, you’re doing something right. In the 2000-2001 season, “T-Mac” did everything right.

That year he instantly launched himself into the discussion of who the best player in the NBA was. Sadly, injuries slowed him down by 2010, which led to the exceptional talent taking his talents overseas for a while. Now, officially retired, you can catch him on ESPN talking sports!

Receiving Tons Of Love

Kevin Love playing for the cleveland cavs
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

There’s a reason LeBron James adamantly wanted Kevin Love to come to play alongside him after going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Love’s Minnesota years were iconic. The big man was a rebounding machine and in the 2010-2011 became the first player since 1996 to record 33 rebounds in a game.

That same season Love saw an increase of 44 percent in points and 38 percent in rebounds compared to the season before. There was no way he wasn’t going to win Most Improved that year.

Oladipo Proves His Worth

Victor Oladipo celebrating a shot for the pacers
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Victor Oladipo has had a very intriguing career. Drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2013, many thought he would blossom into a franchise player for the team. Three years later, they shipped him to Oklahoma City where he would play for only one season before getting traded once again to the Indiana Pacers.

We say all that not to bash Oladipo, but to tell you that it wouldn’t be until his first year with the Pacers (2017-2018) that he’d win Most Improved Player. He set career highs in nearly all statistical categories that season. He even almost knocked LeBron James out of the playoffs that season after forcing a game seven in the first round.

The Frenchman Wins

Boris Diaw backing down a defender as a Spur
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Boris Diaw was one of those players fans didn’t know about until he went to the San Antonio Spurs. Diaw started his career with the French basketball squad Élan Béarnais. He finally made his way to the NBA where he would bounce around a few teams before heading back overseas.

The year he won Most Improved, Diaw played with MVP Steve Nash who was exceptionally talented at making the players around him ten times better. The Frenchman benefited from Nash tremendously and won the award in 2006. Diaw’s now officially retired.

The Greek Freak

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunking the ball for the Bucks
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that there is no one on this list like Giannis Antetokounmpo. “The Greek Freak” won the Most Improved Player award in the 2016-2017 season, and since then he’s only separated himself further from top talents in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo came into the league as a skinny international player that many teams passed on in the draft. No one knew how high his ceiling would be. The Milwaukee Bucks are grateful they selected him, and the rest of the NBA has at least ten more years to gameplan for The Greek Freak.

One Year Was All He Needed

Gilbert Arenas smiling while playing for the Washington Wizards
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

It still tickles us that Gilbert Arenas or “Agent Zero” elected to wear number zero to signify how many minutes experts projected he would play in the NBA. He proved them all wrong in the best way possible. The Golden State Warriors drafted him in 2001 in the second round.

The Warriors finished in last place of the Western Conference that year, but things would get better. One season later, Arenas improved vastly and took home the Most Improved Player award. It wouldn’t be until his years with the Washington Wizards when he became the stone cold shooter that earned him the Agent Zero nickname. By 2014, Arenas ended his tenure with the NBA and now has a podcast.

Granger Danger

Danny Granger waiting during a dead ball while playing with the Indiana Pacers
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Danny Granger is the other player on the Indiana Pacers that we referenced earlier in regards to Paul George. It’s wild that the one team had two players win the same award while still playing together (Paul George 2013, Granger 2009).

Granger definitely deserved Most Improved when he won. In the 2008-2009 season, he became the first player in NBA history to raise his scoring average at least five points over three consecutive years. Unfortunately, injuries prevented Granger from getting even better, and he slowly fell out of the league by 2016.

No, Not The Football Player

Aaron Brooks playing for Timberwolves in his warmup gear
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Whenever you’re talking sports, and you mention Aaron Brooks, people automatically assume you’re talking about the football player. They put no respect on Brooks the basketball player who won the Most Improved award in 2010 with the Houston Rockets.

Brooks was on a tear that year and scored his career high of 43 points. The small guard even shot 7-7 from the three-point line, which set a franchise record. To top it off, this was also the season he became just the sixth player in history to make over 200 threes and dish 400 assists in one season.

Jimmy G Buckets

Jimmy Butler practicing his shooting form with the 76ers
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

One of the better players on this list to receive the Most Improved Award is Jimmy “G” Buckets and the “G” stands for Gets. Jimmy Butler had the pleasure of being on a team led by MVP Derrick Rose, so he’s seen first hand what it takes to be great.

Butler won this award while playing with the Chicago Bulls, the same team that traded him two years after he claimed the title. Butler felt betrayed by the organization and now only wants to play on teams that can win. He’s currently on the Philadelphia 76ers.

A Scrappy Warrior

Monta Ellis celebrates during a Golden State Warriors game
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Before there was the splash bros., there was Monta Ellis and a young injury-riddled Steph Curry. Much like Gilbert Arenas from earlier, Ellis managed to capture the Most Improved Player award in just his second season while playing with the Warriors (2006-2007).

It makes sense because he helped Golden State return to the playoffs after a 12-year absence thanks to some stellar defense and increasing his scoring average by 9.7 points. Soon enough, the Warriors felt Curry was the player to keep, and they dealt Ellis to the Bucks. Ellis’ career would end in 2017.

A Different O’Neal But Still A Big Deal

Jermaine O'Neal looking off into the distance while playing with the Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There’s was only one O’Neal that people cared about until Jermaine O’Neal came along and changed that narrative. O’Neal was a force for the Indiana Pacers and helped lead them to playoffs while leading the team in scoring and rebounding during the 2001-2002 season.

That was the year he won Most Improved, but his team didn’t make much noise in the postseason. His stint with the Pacers ended in 2008, and that’s pretty much when his career did, too. He would bounce around on several teams for the next six years before calling it quits. O’Neal currently plays in Ice Cube’s Big 3 league.

C.J. McCollum Isn’t Easy To Guard

CJ McCollum stares while playing with the Portland Trailblazers
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If the 2019 playoffs were any indication that C.J. McCollum still has many years left to torch defenders, the Portland Trailblazers should be in good hands. Not only is McCollum one of the most underrated players in the NBA, but he’s one of the most humble as well.

During the 2015-2016 season, McCollum ended the year with an average of 20.8 points per game while his backcourt partner Damian Lillard averaged 25.1. That made them the first backcourt in Trailblazers history to average 20 or more apiece.

One Of The Better International Players

Hedo Turkoglu bringing the ball up court for the Magic
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Hedo Turkoglu might find himself in the Hall of Fame one day. He was a key piece of several teams during his playing time but did most of his damage with the Orlando Magic. He joined the Magic in 2004 but wouldn’t win Most Improved until 2008 after helping Orlando secure 52 wins.

He was a valuable player again a year later when the Magic went all the way to the NBA Finals only to get stopped in their tracks by the Lakers and Kobe Bryant. After that season, he went on to play for three different teams before retiring in 2015.

Z-Bo The Monster

Zach randolph celebrating with the fans of Memphis
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph is the original bully in the modern NBA. He isn’t a player guys usually want to mess with thanks to his fierce reputation. He’s a two-time all-star and the winner of the Most Improved award in 2004 where he won it with the Portland Trailblazers.

The year he won, Z-Bo’s averages spiked like no other from his previous season. He saw his points per game rise from 8.4 to 20.1, and he also increased his rebounding by six. Currently, Randolph plays with the Sacramento Kings where he provides his veteran intellect to the young core.

Mr. Bobby Simmons

Bobby Simmons receiving tips from his head coach at the time
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

You might be asking yourself who Bobby Simmons is, and that’s fair. Simmons began his career in 2001 when the Washington Wizards drafted him 41st overall, and then he ended his career in 2012 after playing with the Clippers.

He was a Clipper on two occasions during his playing time, and it was the first time he was in Los Angeles that he won the Most Improved Player Award (2005). He had a breakout year in which he averaged 16.4 points a game, more than doubling his previous year’s stats.