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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Alperen Sengun. 1. . Rockets. Alperen Sengun. player. 169. 1. Center.

The No. 1 spot — for now — belongs to Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun. It's difficult to quantify the best correlation between scale and importance of a player's improvement, but Sengun went from a misunderstood and poorly situated oddity under Stephen Silas to a legitimate competitive engine under Ime Udoka. We're only a fifth of the way through the season, and Sengun has the look of a perennial All-Star and the Rockets' undisputed best player.

Houston is 8-8 with the NBA's No. 16 offense and No. 6 defense. Youth will continue to limit the Rockets' ceiling in the short term, but it's easy to buy the culture changes under Udoka. Sengun isn't the only young player to show marked improvement. He is, however, the only Rockets player leading the team in points (21.0) and rebounds (8.9) while averaging 5.6 assists to 2.7 turnovers. Sengun is scoring efficiently at all three levels (.563/.308/.667) while embracing the interior playmaking hub role he was always meant to play.

It's easy to draw comparisons to Sengun and fellow European import Nikola Jokic. Both are endlessly creative 7-footers with preternatural instincts for playmaking. Jokic is more practical and workmanlike. He's not immune to the occasional behind-the-back dime, but Sengun can match LaMelo Ball in the flare department. Sengun loves to embarass the defense and put together a highlight reel. He's also nowhere close to Jokic's level, obviously, but it is fun to see this new age of playmaking centers take over.

Sengun can read passing angles better than just about any center not named Jokic. Combine that with balletic footwork, rollicking strength, feather-soft touch, and the occasional well-timed burst of explosiveness at the rim, and he's one of the best offensive bigs in the NBA. He is the head of the snake in Houston, and a very worthy candidate for this award.

NBA AWARDS RANKINGS. Nikola Jokic still leads pack in hotly contested MVP race. Nikola Jokic still leads pack in hotly contested MVP race. dark