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

There's a new sheriff in town for the Most Improved Player race.

Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Pacers. 2. player. . Tyrese Haliburton. . 2. Guard. Tyrese Haliburton. 100

Tyrese Haliburton made his first All-Star appearance last season. It was clear the Indiana Pacers had a foundational piece — a locker room leader whose on-court style benefitted all. He's a singular teammate booster, with a selfless approach to offense and a 3-point shot to match any in the league in efficiency and volume, if not aesthetic value.

Still, there was no telling Haliburton would be this good. He has made essentially the same scoring leap as Maxey (20.7 last season to 27.0 this season) on better efficiency (.519/.447/.880) and in fewer minutes (33.9). He also leads the NBA in assists per game (11.8). This award should have belonged to Haliburton last season. Now, instead of going from high-end starter to All-Star, he's going from All-Star to MVP candidate. It's time to restart the awards campaign.

The Pacers are 9-8 for reasons largely beyond Haliburton's control. He is helming the NBA's No. 1-ranked offense, but Indiana also owns the NBA's 29th-ranked defense. Haliburton could stand to improve on defense, but he's legitimately on the shortlist of most impactful offensive engines in the NBA right now. It's too early to float comparisons to Steph or Jokic, but that's where Haliburton's shooting numbers are. He's starting to feel like a walking top-five offense.

The importance of the leap should be weighed equally to the size of the leap. Haliburton has ascended to the level of legitimate No. 1 option on a title contender. The Pacers need to improve the team around him, but there should be no doubt that Haliburton can influence winning at the highest level. He deserves a lot more love in this race.