Pascal Siakam was a slam dunk to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. So much so, it came as no surprise when he took home a whopping 469 points to run away with the crown.
Siakam had a nice season in which he improved his scoring average (from 7.3 points to 16.9), rebounds per game (4.5 to 6.9), free-throw percentage (62.1% to 78.5%), field goal percentage (50.8% to 54.9%), and 3-point shooting percentage (22.0% to 36.9%).
All of which is why I’m not here to beef with the selection of Siakam as the league’s MIP. Instead, I’d like to point out that a very important member of the Chicago Bulls received recognition for stepping his game up during the 2018-19 season.
Zach LaVine drew one 3rd-place vote in Most Improved Player balloting won by Toronto’s Pascal Siakam. My ballot: Siakam, Sabonis, Russell. pic.twitter.com/zqvb24ap6E
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) June 25, 2019
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune makes note of Bulls guard Zach LaVine earning one third-place vote on the ballot. I used the word “earned” because LaVine certainly played his way onto the ballot, and did so while playing on a team mired in turmoil and landed the bottom third of the league standings once again. Sometimes improvement is something that can hide under our noses because we are too close to the situation, so let’s take some time and check out where LaVine made his hay.
LaVine made significant strides as a shooter last season, improving his field goal percentage (from 38.3% to 46.7%), 3-point percentage (from 34.1% to 37.4%) and 2-point percentage (from 40.5% to 50.4%). And if you’re digging advanced shooting metrics, LaVine’s eFG% (which and effective field goal percentage (adjusts for 3-point buckets being more valuable than 2-point shots) went from 44.2% to 52.0% from last year to this one. All of those things piled up to help LaVine bump his scoring average from 14.0 PPG in his first four years in the league to 23.7 PPG in 63 games in his age 23 season. Not too shabby!
For all the things that went wrong last season, it’s encouraging that one of the Bulls’ most important players was also one of its biggest risers last year. It could very well be a positive sign that LaVine had something of a mini-breakout when things could have easily gone south for him as things took a tumble for the team around him.
Between drafting Coby White and this mini-dive into LaVine’s numbers, there are legitimate reasons to feel good about the Bulls right now. Optimism is fun! To be clear, the Bulls still have a lot of work to do before they turn this rebuild into a competitive window. But that LaVine’s development took a positive step in the right direction is noteworthy, and I can’t wait to see how he looks in the backcourt with White or how all of these other pieces fit around this young core of players the Bulls are going to battle with in 2019.