The NBA recently announced that seeding games played in the Orlando bubble will not count for end-of-season awards voting.
The NBA’s annual performance awards (MVP, Rookie of Year, Sixth Man, Defensive Player, Coach of Year, etc.) will be based upon regular season through March 11, when the season suspended, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 17, 2020
That means the races for those respective awards are done and finished. One of those is of particular importance to Hornets fans.
Devonte’ Graham should win the league’s Most Improved Player award. There are other players with strong cases, especially in a season that saw ten players make the All Star team for the first time. Graham wasn’t one of those players, but that doesn’t make his improvement any less significant. Many of those other player like Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis, etc., had shown steady growth in the seasons leading up to this one. Their leap to All Star status was not overly surprising or unprecedented. Devonte’ Graham’s leap was different.
As a second round pick, Graham wasn’t expected to contribute much for the Charlotte Hornets when he arrived in 2018. He played sparingly behind Kemba Walker and Tony Parker and never found a rhythm during his time on the court. He finished his rookie season averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists per game while shooting just 34.3% from the field and 28.1% from three.
The Hornets thought so highly of Graham coming into this season that they went out and spent $57 million to make Terry Rozier the starting point guard. Graham started the season on the bench, and you’d be hard pressed to find any fan or expert that pegged Graham as an exceptional contributor to this team this season.
Graham blew that all up right away. He topped 20 points in each of the first two games of the season and hardly let up from there. He finished the season averaging 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. He went from shooting 28.1% from deep as a rookie to one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the entire league (sixth in 3-pointers made per game). His 13.5 point per game improvement in scoring was far and away the best in the league and is possibly one of the largest jumps the league has seen. He finished the season sixth in assists per game.
Graham didn’t just put up empty box score stats for a bad team either. He helped carry a hopeless Hornets team to significantly more wins than projected. The Hornets were 11.3 points per 100 possessions better with Devonte’ Graham on the floor than when he sat, which ranks in the 96th percentile league wide.
Graham went from a bit player with role player aspirations as a rookie to a rising star with All Star aspirations in just his second year. That level of improvement is more impressive than any other player’s in the league this past season, and that’s why Devonte’ Graham is deserving of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.