NBA Awards Rankings: New No. 1 in Most Improved Player race

As the Atlanta Hawks' season slips away, one player continues to rise to the occasion.

Mar 5, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) celebrates after
Mar 5, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) celebrates after / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
1 of 5

The 2023-24 NBA season has provided us with no shortage of individual improvement. From league MVP candidates like pre-injury Joel Embiid and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to first-time All-Stars like Tyrese Maxey and Paolo Banchero, we have been blessed with exciting developments across the league.

Of course, the Most Improved Player race extends well beyond the All-Star class. It is perhaps the most interesting award to adjudicate, as it comes down almost entirely to one's personal preferences. That is the case for every award, but few have a field this wide.

What does one value, exactly? The fringe rotation player turned high-end starter, or the high-end starter turned All-Star? What about the All-Star turned superstar? There are endless layers to this debate. One must consider the scope of one's improvement, while also weighing the perceived importance of a specific interval of growth.

Trying to justify it one way or another can quickly start to sound like gibberish, but the end goal is simple — to find the player whose improvement has most impacted his team. That feels like a fair way to gauge it.

Here's our best attempt.

2024 NBA Most Improved Player rankings: March edition

Honorable mentions: Tyrese Maxey, Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Suggs, Paolo Banchero, Donte DiVincenzo

Scottie Barnes. . F. Raptors. 5. 5. . Scottie Barnes. player. 81

19.9 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 6.1 APG | .475 FG% | .341 3P% | .781 FT%

After plateauing in his second NBA season, Scottie Barnes has exploded in year three. He is the Toronto Raptors' central offensive hub, only seeing his role increase with the trades of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Barnes is part jumbo-sized point guard, part connective forward, part small-ball center — he checks a ton of boxes.

That all-around impact landed Barnes his first All-Star appearance. Once considered a shooting liability, Barnes is drilling 34.1 percent of his 3s at a career-high clip (4.9 attempts per game). He has also developed into something of a mid-range maestro, consistently using his gangly 6-foot-7 frame to find angles and shoot over the top of hapless defenders.

It's not always the sexiest, but Barnes' game is strikingly economical. He uses his strength to bully smaller defenders at the rim, he's a tremendous passer off drives, and he's more than comfortable contributing off the ball with screens, cuts, and rapid-fire connecting passes. Then, of course, there's the defense.

Barnes should probably get a few All-Defense votes at season's end. He's averaging 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. That 7-foot-3 wingspan is everywhere. His instincts as a help-side rim protector have popped more than ever, while his versatility at the point of attack and his omnipresence in passing lanes never wavers. He is the Raptors' anchor on both ends, truly. It has been a challenging season for Toronto, but Barnes has cleared up any and all doubt about his status as a franchise pillar.