Tyrese Maxey Is Running Away With the Most Improved Player Award

Aidan McGrath
Aidan McGrath@ffaidanmcgrath
Tyrese Maxey Is Running Away With the Most Improved Player Award

One of the most exciting parts of watching the NBA is following players as they enter the league and seeing their development as pros while they gain experience. Not every player enters the league and hits the ground running like LeBron James did. Even bona fide superstars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic took time to reach their current levels of stardom, illustrating how the best in the game are always working to hone their craft.

So which players have taken their game to the next level in the 2023-24 season, and who are the frontrunners for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award? Let's take a look at FanDuel Sportsbook's NBA Most Improved Player odds and see how things are shaking out.

Most Improved Player Odds

Tyrese MaxeyPhiladelphia 76ers-270
Coby WhiteChicago Bulls+470
Jonathan KumingaGolden State Warriors+1400
Alperen SengunHouston Rockets+1400
Jalen WilliamsOklahoma City Thunder+1900
Scottie BarnesToronto Raptors+9500

At first glance, it sure looks like Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey is running away with it right now. Fifth-year Chicago Bulls guard Coby White is still having a heck of a breakout year, too, though, and can't be counted out.

To evaluate whether Maxey and White should have this much of an edge, I compiled a chart collecting each player's points, rebounds, and assists per game from the current season as well as their differential from those marks a season ago (in parenthesis).

Tyrese Maxey25.8 (+5.3)3.8 (+0.9)6.4 (+2.9)
Coby White19.5 (+9.8)4.7 (+1.6)5.2 (+2.4)
Jonathan Kuminga15.3 (+5.4)4.7 (+1.3)2.0 (+0.1)
Alperen Sengun21.0 (+6.2)9.2 (+0.2)4.9 (+1.0)
Jalen Williams19.1 (+5.0)4.0 (-0.5)4.6 (+3.3)
Scottie Barnes20.0 (+4.7)8.2 (+1.6)6.1 (+1.3)

This isn't an exact apples-to-apples comparison, as a statistical overview like this leaves out a lot of context. For example, White's best-in-class improvement in points scored from last year (+9.8) is heavily related to his increase in playing time -- where most of this group of players have seen their average playing time increase around 4-5 minutes per game, White has been playing almost 13 more minutes per game this year than he was a season ago.

With that in mind, let's add some context to get a better sense of each player's case for the Most Improved Player award.

Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (-270)

Maxey is pretty deserving of his frontrunner spot in this market. He's shown growth in each of his previous three seasons in the NBA, even earning the sixth-most votes for Most Improved Player during his second season. This year, though, he has taken another step entirely and has been a major player for the 76ers, garnering a spot on this year's All-Star team.

Maxey was expected to get a bump in playing time this year after the 76ers parted ways with James Harden, but it's fair to say that few expected him to take this kind of leap. The 25.8 points per game he has averaged rank 14th-best in the NBA, illustrating how he's gone from a capable, starting-caliber player all the way to an All-Star.

The 23-year-old has had to put the team on his back in February, as well, as the 76ers suffered injuries to perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid and De'Anthony Melton. The team has struggled without those two players, but Maxey has done his best to rise to the challenge. The team has gone 4-6 in Maxey's games since Embiid's injury and should be getting Melton back up to full health soon. Maxey's ability to stay productive without other key players could help him solidify his spot as this year's Most Improved Player.

Coby White, Chicago Bulls (+470)

White is a great example of how development in the NBA isn't always linear. After entering the league as the seventh overall pick, he fought for a starting role in his second season before seemingly losing that job over his third and fourth campaigns -- he started in just 2 of 74 games during the 2022-23 season, playing a career-low 23.4 minutes per game.

Whatever the Bulls thought of him after last year, they've come to rely on him as a starter since the start of the 2023-24 season due to injuries to Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine. And White has taken the opportunity and run with it this season.

White's improvements aren't just tied to his increased minutes, though. He has become a more efficient player, as well, with a career-best 19.4 points per 36 minutes and 0.93 win shares per 48 minutes. He has grown as a player, is seeing more work as a result, and is maintaining his solid play while going against other teams' starters.

While he may not have the All-Star nod that Maxey earned this year, White still has a compelling narrative case to be this year's "most improved" player. And he's still getting better -- since the turn of the new year, he has bumped up his points (22.3), rebounds (5.3), and assists (5.8) per game by considerable margins. If he continues trending up, he could give Maxey a run for his money.

Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets (+1400)

There's certainly a gap between Maxey and White and the rest of the field, but I think it's fair to say that Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun deserves more credit than he's getting. The 21-year-old has shown impressive growth over each of his three seasons in the league and is a legit starting center this year -- his 21.0 points per game rank fourth at the position, trailing only Jokic, Embiid, and Anthony Davis.

Sengun's statistical case stacks up pretty well against Maxey's and White's. He is averaging the second-most points among Most Improved Player contenders this season, with the second-largest increase (+6.2) in points per game from last season (only White's role-influenced +9.8-point increase outclasses Sengun's). He also leads the group in rebounds per game (9.2) and barely trails White in assists per game (4.9), making him an extremely well-balanced statistical contender for the award.

Unfortunately for Sengun, his case for the award does not come wrapped in a shiny narrative package. Steadily growing into an impressive player lacks the flair of "breakout All-Star" and "bench-player becomes quality starter". His win shares per 48 minutes (.162) paces the group, and he's the only contender that actually leads his own team in that metric -- he has been more important to his team's success than either Maxey or White, per that stat. But on a losing team like the Rockets, that might not be enough.

Early bettors seem to heavily favor Maxey and White, but I like Sengun's valid statistical case to win the award better than his +1400 odds imply.

The Rest of the Group

Out of respect for the rest of the contenders, we should at least cover their candidacies for the award -- even if they might not have the same chances as the frontrunners.

Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga (+1400) has truly taken an impressive step forward in his third season, rewarding his team for sticking with him amidst recent trade interest and despite the team's previous frustrations with him. While he has shown strong growth on the court, though, Kuminga is still only a contributor for his squad -- rather than a star in the making. He's a tough sell compared to players like Maxey and Sengun establishing themselves as some of the top young talent in the league.

Likewise, Jalen Williams (+1900) absolutely deserves a nod for the improvements he's shown since his rookie season. The versatile Oklahoma City Thunder starter is putting significantly more points on the scoreboard than he was last year, but like Kuminga, Williams is still only the third or fourth most important player on his own team.

Finally, we have to talk about Toronto Raptors All-Star Scottie Barnes (+9500). Barnes has been remarkably productive this season and seemed to be an early frontrunner for Most Improved Player. Unfortunately, as the rebuilding Raptors traded away other important players around the trade deadline, Barnes' production took a hit. He has a lot of work to do to make up ground compared to the rest of his peers in this market, but if he turns it back on down the stretch, he could make a strong case for the award by the end of the season.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author’s advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.