While there was no chance he would come away with the trophy, you could at least mention third-year center Jusuf Nurkić as a potential canidate for the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player award. One could argue he improved the most throughout the course of the season, going from riding the bench during his final days with the Denver Nuggets to putting up truly historic statistical performances once traded to Portland, though that run was far too short lived to garner much attention from the MIP voters. Of course, suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right tibia 20 games into his career with the Trail Blazers scuttled the rest of his season and any chance he had to really get into the discussion for Most Improved, which eventually and rightly went to Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, though he did end up garnering one second-place vote.
But his performance over the course of a month and a half with the Trail Blazers was enough to earn the 7-0 center out of Bosnia and Herzegovina a spot on NBA.com’s favorites to win Most Improved Player award in 2018…
It was a deal that helped both teams when the Nuggets sent Nurkic to Portland. Denver had to make room for Nikola Jokic to play, but the Blazers hit it big by securing their tentpole for the middle. Nurkic is the perfect complement for the high-scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and is also a great passer. He was a double-double producing monster upon arriving in Portland in February, but broke a bone in his leg and missed the end of the season, then managed just a cameo appearance in a first-round sweep by Golden State in the playoffs. After a disappointing 2016-17 season, a healthy Nurkic could be the reason for a strong bounce back by the Blazers.
Nurkić averaged 15.2 points on 51 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in 20 games with the Trail Blazers, statistics which are considerably better than his career numbers of 8.5 points on 47 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.2 blocks. If he’s able to play anywhere close to as well for the duration of the 2017-18 season as he did in those first 20 games in Portland, Nurkić could end up being the odds-on favorite to win Most Improved.
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, Pacers center Miles Turner, Knicks center Kristaps Porzingis, Antetokounmpo (that’s just laziness) and Lakers forward Brandon Ingram as the other preseason favorites for Most Improved.