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

The Most Improved Player race is crowded, but there's one undeniable favorite right now.
Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia 76ers
Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia 76ers / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Center. Alperen Sengun. 3. player. 169. . 3. . Alperen Sengun. Rockets

The Houston Rockets have won six straight games and currently hold sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference. There's plenty of time for Houston to succumb to inexperience, but the Rockets are playing hard, connected defense and unearthing new layers on offense. It all starts with Alperen Sengun.

A relatively small, unathletic center from Turkey has firmly planted his flag as the best player on a potential postseason team. After years of misutilization under Stephen Silas, Ime Udoka has embraced Sengun as the offensive engine he was always meant to be. He is going to draw borderline unfair comparisons to Nikola Jokic, but Sengun is carving out his own, unique perch in the hierarchy of NBA stardom.

Endlessly crafty and clever, Sengun beats defenses with off-beat footwork and sheer ingenuity. He attempts passes that very few NBA players would even think of, much less NBA centers. He doesn't elevate off the ground much, but he's capable of the stray poster dunk or monster put-back. He uses his occasional burst of speed or verticality with a purpose. He can overpower smaller defenders in the post, or dance around slow-footed centers with a dizzying combination of spins, fakes, and hesitations.

Sengun has mastered a nifty one-legged fadeaway and he's starting to earnestly attempt 3s. If that comes around eventually, watch out. Right now, Sengun is second on the Rockets in assists per game (6.0, with only 2.1 turnovers per game) while ranking first in points (19.4) and rebounds (8.2) on .600/.250/.618 splits.

He's on track for All-Star consideration if he (and the Rockets) keep it up.