NBA: 5 Leading Most Improved Player Candidates Right Now

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Rob Carr/Getty Images

The only way you’re ever going to make it in professional sports is if you continue to work on your craft. And that especially holds true in the National Basketball Association.

The players in the NBA are all very skilled, but their talent will only get them so far. If they’re looking to be among the best, then they need to do what’s required to better their game. They need to focus; they need to be disciplined; and they need to be willing to put in the required man hours. But when a player puts it all together — when he takes his game to an entirely new level — people will notice. And they will acknowledge the dedication.

This acknowledgement comes in the form of the NBA Most Improved Award, and it’s given to the player who has shown the biggest jump in skill level from the season before. This season, there are plenty of players worthy of the accolade. Here’s who we feel are the most deserving of the 2014-15 honor.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

5. Brandon Knight, point guard, Milwaukee Bucks/Phoenix Suns

2013-14 stats: 17.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 42.2% FG, 32.5% 3PT, 80.2% FT
2014-15 stats: 17.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 43.6% FG, 40.5% 3PT, 88.1% FT

The Phoenix Suns just acquired a special player in point guard Brandon Knight, which is why it was fairly surprising that the Milwaukee Bucks would trade away this rising star. Knight had started to come into his own this season under the tutelage of new coach Jason Kidd. His points per game may have gone down on the year, but the increase in his other numbers suggest a different story. Brandon Knight has found himself with a better feel for the game, and there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. At 23 years of age, this kid is only going to get better.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

4. Rudy Gobert, center, Utah Jazz

2013-14 stats: 2.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.6% FG, 49.2% FT, 9.6 MPG, 12.96 PER
2014-15 stats: 6.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 63.0% FG, 61.2% FT, 21. MPG, 21.59 PER

In his second season with the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert is beginning to blossom into the kind of center they envisioned when they drafted him with the 27th pick of the 2013 NBA draft. In extended minutes, Gobert has improved in all major statistical categories, and he’s also becoming one of the most efficient players in the league. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential.

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

3. Klay Thompson, shooting guard, Golden State Warriors

2013-14 stats: 18.4 PPG, 2.2 APG, 3.1 RPG, 44.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT, 79.5% FT
2014-15 stats: 22.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 46.8% FG, 43.8% 3PT, 86.6% FT

Klay Thompson is a bona fide NBA superstar, who’s become much more than a three-point threat. We thought it was crazy that the Golden State Warriors refused to include the shooting guard in a potential deal for Kevin Love, but we were sorely mistaken. Thompson is a confident player who can score from anywhere on the floor, and has no problem attacking the basket. This Splash Brother has crazy impressive statistics and was more than deserving of his selection to the All-Star Game.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

2. Draymond Green, small forward, Golden State Warriors

2013-14 stats: 6.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 5.0 RPG, 40.7% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 21.9 MP
2014-15 stats: 11.0 PPG, 3.6 APG, 8.2 RPG. 42. 7% FG, 33.3% 3 PT, 32.0 MP

Draymond Green may have improved his numbers from last season, but what the third-year player out of Michigan State does for the Golden State Warriors goes beyond statistics. He is an intense player who’s become reliable on both ends of the floor. Since becoming part of the Warriors starting lineup, Green has increased his points, assists, and rebounds per game, and he’s capable of handling the rock. He may never be on the same level as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but Draymond Green is the glue that bands the Warriors together. Talk about an improvement.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

1. Jimmy Butler, shooting guard and small forward, Chicago Bulls

2013-14 stats: 13.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 4.9 RPG, 39.7% FG, 28.3% 3PT, 76.9% FT
2014-15 stats: 20.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 5.8 RPG, 46.1% FG, 35.4% 3PT, 84.0% FT

This is a no-brainer. Jimmy Butler has become the driving force of the Chicago Bulls. He is a natural scorer, who now has a ridiculous offensive repertoire. But Butler is also an outstanding perimeter defender, capable of guarding the opposing team’s best player. He has taken his game to an entirely different level this season. It’s certainly one that we didn’t see coming. And it’s been very impressive to watch. Jimmy Butler is clearly the most improved player in the NBA this season. He’s earned it.

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.go.com