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Dejounte Murray has a case for Most Improved Player

Award season is here and the PtR staff takes a look at who should get MVP, Coach of the Year, and Most Improved Player.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is over. Award season approaches, and while some of the hardware seems to have clear favorites, other categories appear to still be undecided, so let’s take a look at those.

Who do you think is the league’s MVP for the 2021/22 season?

Marilyn Dubinski: This is going to be one of those years that it will depend on which interpretation of the award gets viewed the most. Best player on best team = Devin Booker, case against being he has a lot of help around him. Most impressive stats is Nikola Jokic, but is his team good enough? Player who has done the most with less, dealt with the most distractions, and made some history with the Scoring Award? Joel Embiid. Best combination of all would be Giannis Antetokounmpo, but maybe the voters are looking for someone new. Honestly, if I had to vote right now, I’m not sure who I would pick.

Mark Barrington: Giannis is my choice. I think an argument could be made for Jokic who has kept the Nuggets in the playoffs despite multiple injuries, and Embiid who is having a remarkable season, but Antetokounmpo is just an amazing player—he’s unstoppable and makes everyone around him better. While I think there have been several players that have had incredible seasons this year, Giannis is clearly the best and most important to his team’s success.

Bruno Passos: I’ll preface this by saying the 3 7-footers headlining this race have all been excellent, and it’s wild that they’ve been so good that Devin Booker, the best player on easily the best team in the league — who’s putting up 27, 5 and 5 on solid efficiency — is looked at as a distant 4th. I’ll take Nikola Jokic, who has the advanced and raw statistical edge, has made big strides defensively and does so much to improve the weak roster around him.

Jesus Gomez: It’s Jokic for me, but it’s extremely close. The Joker has had an extraordinary season while leading his team to 48 wins flanked solely by role players and guys who might not be in the league soon, which is too impressive for me to ignore. The mess in Philadelphia and the fact that he led the league in scoring makes Embiid worthy, and Giannis is probably the best player in the league, so I can’t blame anyone for picking either of them, but I’m going with Jokic.

J.R. Wilco: It’s one of this seasons that you can’t go wrong. And also one in which the standard predictors of who’ll be chosen (player-with-best-story, and best-player-on-best-team) don’t seem to help much. I like Embiid’s chances because of his “new guy” status in this conversation, and the compelling nature of his performance in the middle of so much Philly turmoil. But it’s really a case of an abundance of riches; there’s no way to make a bad choice.

Who do you think is the coach of the year for the 2021/22 season?

Dubinski: Monty Williams would be an easy choice, and he arguably got robbed of it last year because (waiving crazy hands) TOM THIBODEAU LED THE KNICKS TO ONE DECENT SEASON!!!, but despite leading the Suns to franchise best regular season, they did go to the Finals last year, so is the jump big enough for him to get the vote this season? (Pop would have a lot more awards if voters just went with the coach of the best team.) If you want the coach whose team made the biggest leap (and despite his star missing over a quarter of the season), it would be Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins.

Barrington: My homer choice is that I think that Pop deserves consideration for taking a young team to the play-in, despite sending off his best player at the start of the season, and then trading away another key piece in the middle of the season. But the clear winner this year is Monty Williams, who took the team that lost in the finals and led them to the league’s best record this year. It reminds me of another team with a similar trajectory in 2014, but the ending for that story isn’t written yet.

He has a history as a Spurs player and executive, and you can see that influence in the way he coaches and and interacts with his players. It’d be incredible to see Monty get credit for what he’s done with the Suns this year.

Passos: I go back and forth between two guys with Spurs ties in Monty Williams and Taylor Jenkins, but Memphis’ 20-4 or whatever record without Ja Morant is too difficult to ignore. Add to that the leap the Grizzlies have made in the standings, the lack of lottery-picked talent on that roster, and that the Suns were already in the elite conversation last season and I think the Austin Toros alum deserves the award just a little more.

Gomez: Taylor Jenkins deserves it, but I’m fine with going with Monty Williams because he got robbed last year. The Suns are so well coached that it’s crazy he didn’t get the award. So let’s do what the Oscars did with Spike Lee, when they snubbed him for Do The Right Thing but then made it up to him 30 years later, but let’s just give it to Monty now instead of making him wait. (Yes, in this scenario, Tom Thibodeau is Driving Miss Daisy).

Wilco: Pleasantly surprised that I get to be the first to mention Ime Udoka’s stellar job in his rookie year at the helm of the team I grew up hating. If Boston had been able to adjust to Udoka-ball during the preseason instead of needing until January, they’d: a) be the East’s 1-seed, b) have a record at least as good as Phoenix’s, and c) occupy rent-free space in the heads of every East-centric media personality in the NBA. That said, Ime can wait — I want Monte to win this year too.

Should Dejounte Murray win Most Improved Player?

Dubinski: He’d get my vote, and not just because I’m biased. I don’t believe anyone had him making the All-Star leap, leading his team to the play-in when most had them falling to the bottom of the league, and becoming the first player ever to average 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. (Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan accomplished 20-8-8-2 stat lines.) And to show my truly unbiased opinion, Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl would be runners up.

Barrington: In my opinion, yes. He’s gone from being a pretty good complementary piece to becoming the team leader and a legitimate All Star. I can’t even think of another player in the league that’s made a similar leap this season. You could make an argument for Ja Morant, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s was already clear last season that he was this good, so I don’t think he’s necessarily the ‘most improved’ player.

Passos: Vegas has just 2 guys ahead of him (Ja Morant and Darius Garland) which means there’s no wrong answer here. I like rewarding Murray because he’s reached a level few would have put him at, compared to Morant and Garland who are both early lottery picks still on rookie deals, and because his offensive leap, both as as shooter and focal point of an offense, feels more substantial.

Gomez: Morant made the hardest leap any player could make, going from star to superstar, so he’ll probably get it. Which is fine. He deserves it. And I’m sure Dejounte will be happy getting an All-Star nod this season and hopefully more in the years to come. The hardware is great, and a late-first rounder like Murray would surely appreciate to be acknowledged for his progress, but he seems mature enough to understand that team success is more important than rather minor awards.

Wilco: I mention it every season at this time, so why should I make this year an exception? These are awards are popularity contests voted on by media who vote for what they know. In this case, that means teams who’ve been playing nationally televised games. Because of that, I can’t imagine a more surprising result than Murray getting the MIP, but he has a great case for it and I wish him the best. As one of those who have watched him progress since before his first NBA game, I’ve been continually surprised at his continual improvement. He had a high-dribble and gave up the ball too often; now he’s the main ball handler for a team that set the record for best assist-to-turnover ratio in a season. He had the league’s worst field goal percentage inside 3 feet; now he’s money at the basket. His jumper was shaky; now his left-to-right move into a pull-up is one of the NBA’s most reliable shots. He made questionable decisions in the pick-and-roll, now he’s comfortable and hands out 9+ dimes a game. His three-point shooting still isn’t league average, but his average is better than last year’s on an 25% increase in frequency. Whether he wins or not, he’s won me over.