The NBA Most Improved Player award is historically difficult to understand. What are the criteria, exactly? It differs from voter to voter. That is the case for every award, yes, but with Most Improved, it truly is a question of what a specific voter values most. Is it who makes the biggest leap? The most important leap? Is there more value in jumping from good to great, or from bad to good?
Simply put, no award casts a wider net across the league and features so many viable candidates. The 2023-24 season is shaping up to feature another competitive race. There are myriad factors at play (Should second-year players be excluded because it doesn't fit the "spirit" of the award? Does a player going from top-25 to top-10 matter more than a player going from top-75 to top-25?) but here's how the landscape stands.
We will update these rankings throughout the season, so expect plenty of movement as narratives shift and new data arise.
NBA Most Improved Player power rankings: Week 3
Honorable mentions: Anthony Edwards, Cam Thomas, Shaedon Sharpe, Jalen Duren
Jalen Johnson's ascent has been a treat to watch. The John Collins era mercifully ended over the summer when he was dealt to the Utah Jazz, opening the door for Johnson to swiftly establish his presence as not only a rotation regular, but the Atlanta Hawks' starting power forward.
For the season, Johnson is averaging 14.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on .611/.469/.682 splits. The 3-point percentage will dip eventually, but he's shooting well on a low volume and finishing at an elite level at the rim. He's an active cutter and a willing connective passer who happens to be Atlanta's best overall defender most nights. He can switch all over the floor, using his 6-foot-11 wingspan to suffocate ball-handlers and his 220-pound frame to stonewall drives.
He's already an upgrade for Atlanta, and he's a significant reason for the Hawks' fast start despite Trae Young's offensive struggles. There's a good chance the Hawks explore roster changes in the weeks and months to come, especially if the win-loss split goes south, but Johnson is a staple.