One of the most surprising aspects of this NBA season as we approach the first 20 games has been the emergence of Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges.
Last season, the 23-year-old was an energy player off the bench for the Hornets, renowned more for his highlight dunks and instant connection with point guard LaMelo Ball over being a natural scorer.
He played in 66 games for the Hornets last season, starting just 19 times and few would have predicted the leap that he has taken in the first quarter of this season.
The former Michigan State player has increased his scoring numbers from 12.7 to 20.3 points per game, making him the team’s leading scorer over Ball, while he has gone from taking 9.4 shots per game to 17.2. His efficiency has taken a dip as a result, though that is to be expected of a young player in just his fourth season taking on a significantly bigger role in the offense.
It is clearly working for the Hornets too, who currently sit fifth in the Western Conference standings after getting off to a positive 12-8 start and have won seven of their last eight games. Their only defeat in that time came on the second night of a back-to-back against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, who themselves have won six in a row and look more like the team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
Bridges started off the season as a +8000 shot to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, but has since dropped down to +350 given his electric start to the year. His main contender is currently Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, who has taken a big leap himself.
Morant is widely expected to be an All Star this season after crashing out the gate averaging more than 25 points per game and seven assists, while also showing a significant improvement in his shooting.
He is the current betting favourite at +160 with DraftKings and would be the obvious selection to some, although his early career trajectory would’ve projected him reaching this level sooner or later. As for Bridges, it looked as if he would be an energy role player with plenty of dunking highlights, but he has shown there is much more in his bag than that.
Those two are the overwhelming favourites at this moment in time, with the next closest contender being the Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro at +1400. Herro is currently the favourite to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award and it is unlikely that he will get both awards handed to him.
San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray has had an excellent start to the year after being handed the keys to the franchise in the wake of DeMar DeRozan’s departure for Chicago. He is averaging an impressive 18-8-8 and impacts the game in a number of facets, but is playing on a team in San Antonio that doesn’t get anywhere near as much exposure as Bridges or Morant being in the lower embers of the Western Conference and is currently priced at +2000.
Bridges reportedly rejected the Hornets’ four-year, $60m contract extension offer in the summer and it is a decision that could pay huge dividends to him come the end of the season when he enters restricted free agency. Should he keep up this current level of play, don’t be surprised to see him sign a deal that exceeds the $20m-per-year mark.
NBA Most Improved Player Odds
- Ja Morant +160
- Miles Bridges +350
- Tyler Herro +1400
- Dejounte Murray +2000
- Anthony Edwards +2500
- Jordan Poole +2800
- OG Anunoby +3000
- Tyrese Maxey +3000
- Talen Horton-Tucker +5000
- LaMelo Ball +5500
- Darius Garland +6000