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NBA Most Improved Player Candidates: Tyrese Haliburton to make late run

The NBA's Most Improved Player award is the most versatile of the regular season awards and we have picked out some candidates to win the latest accolade.

In the past, it's been given to rising stars, players who made the leap into the league's elite or role players who made a big leap.

Last season it was dished out to the Memphis Grizzlies' Ja Morant, in part for the team's rise to the second seed in the Western Conference. Team performance is a crucial part, alongside year-on-year improvements by a player.

Below is a look at the current frontrunners for this season's award, alongside an outsider who has made a big impact.

Lauri Markkanen

The Chicago Bulls waited four years to see Markkanen hit the heights he has reached this season, with Utah an unlikely backdrop for his rise. He was seen to have been snubbed for an All-Star starting spot in the West's frontcourt, with a place in the reserves seemingly guaranteed.

Markkanen is the -125 favorite to pick up the Most Improved award in the Regular Season Awards, having helped the Jazz to postseason contention in the midst of a rebuild.

Having shipped out many of their biggest names and their coach, it's a shock that they're sitting inside the top 10 at this point of the campaign.

The Finn has seen his numbers leap, going from 14.8 points per game to a career-high 24.8 average in Utah. He's also posting career-best numbers in terms of field goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists.

The only issue for Markkanen is that his side approaches the trade deadline as likely sellers, so his case could take a hit if his team drift further down the standings and miss the Play-in tournament completely.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Hot on his heels is the Oklahoma City Thunder's rising star. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been seen as a guy with huge potential for a long time, but the Thunder was tanking so hard that we didn't get to see it.

He missed over 60 games in the two previous seasons, largely to push the Thunder closer to the number 1 pick.

It's a tight race between the top two, with SGA priced at +110 after an incredible year. The Thunder are still a bad side, but their star man is posting 30.9 points per game alongside 5.7 assists. He's forced them into the mix for the Play-in without much help.

There's little doubt that SGA has taken a step up this term, but could the fact that he only played 56 games last term – while still averaging 24.5 points per game – count against him? Having seen the Canadian steadily improve year-on-year in Oklahoma, he may get overlooked for this award.

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Jalen Brunson

On paper, Brunson has stepped up this season, averaging 22.5 points per game with the New York Knicks. He was their marquee offseason signing after playing second-fiddle to Luka Doncic in Dallas during last season's playoff run.

However, that last play-off campaign saw Brunson average 21.6 points per game during a tough run for the Mavs. If anything, that's where Brunson made the jump. He's picked up this year where he left off last summer, he just has more room as the main man in New York. He is someway behind the top two at +220 and he's a hard sell for the award.

Tyrese Haliburton

At the time of writing, the Indiana Pacers have slumped to 11th in the Eastern Conference after a brilliant start. They've lost nine of their last 10 games to fall out of postseason contention. Tyrese Haliburton missed every single one of those games and his team looks lost without him.

Haliburton is +2800 to win Most Improved Player but he's got a brilliant case. He seems set to make this season's All-Star game, as a key part of the Pacers' postseason push.

The guard took an immediate leap after landing in Indiana midseason in 2022, going from 14.3 points per game for the Sacramento Kings to 17.5. He's improved again, with 20.2 points per game and he leads the league in assists per game with an average of 10.2.

Once Haliburton returns and the Pacers bounce back, his influence will be clear to see. While he's the fourth favorite, he looks like the best value option in the running.

Bol Bol

One man who deserves an honourable mention at least is the Orlando Magic forward Bol Bol. The 7ft 2 big man was largely an unused, cult-hero during his three years on the Denver Nuggets. He averaged 2.7 points per game in 53 appearances across his time in Colorado.

This year, Bol Bol has posted 11 points per game and he's played a key part in making the Magic a nightmare to play against, as Jaylen Brown recently attested to. While considered an outsider at +15000, he's made major strides this year.

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