Much has been said and written of late about the play of Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum and it’s pushed him onto the NBA Most Improved Player Ladder.
While he may not win the NBA Most Improved Player award in 2019-20, Jayson Tatum — the third-year forward for the Boston Celtics who is enjoying a breakout season — is making one heck of a late push to be in the hunt for the honor.
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Tatum, a first-time All-Star earlier this month, had been lurking on the fringes underneath the MIP Ladder most of the season, but his play over the last four weeks has propelled him firmly into the race.
The ladder for the Most Improved Player race includes seven rungs — one each for the average number of players to gain first-place votes over the last five seasons — and the top five spots on that ladder remain unchanged.
But Tatum has taken one of the last two rungs as both Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks and Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham have tumbled off the ladder since it was last published four weeks ago.
Brooks, a former second-round pick by the Houston Rockets who was dealt to Memphis in a 2017 draft night trade, landed a lucrative second contract on Feb. 5 when he inked a three-year, $35 million extension with the Grizzlies that will take effect once his initial three-year contract expires at the end of this season.
The former University of Oregon All-America has started all 59 games for Memphis this season, but hit a bit of a wall over his last 10 games, averaging 13.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 29.4 minutes per game while shooting just 33.8 percent overall and a dismal 25.0 percent on 5.2 3-point attempts per game. The 12-for-19 from the foul line is similarly ungood.
Graham has also been frigid despite a small uptick after he was rested for the first time this season on Tuesday at Indiana. Over his last 10 games, Graham has averaged 15.2 points, 7.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 34.3 minutes per game while shooting 37.1 percent overall and only 29.8 percent on 8.4 3-point attempts a game.
Graham was held out against the Indiana Pacers after scoring six points on 1-of-17 shooting a road win at the Chicago Bulls and a home blowout loss to the Brooklyn Nets. He has still made remarkable progress for a second-year pro taken in the second round in 2018. As a rookie last season, Graham only played in 46 games and logged 676 minutes — totals he has blown past already this year.
He did play an additional 13 times and 441 minutes at Charlotte’s G-League affiliate in Greensboro last season, where he showed some offensive prowess while averaging 23.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game on .441/.383/.793 shooting.
So let’s start the trek up the ladder.