Be a better man—words Indiana Pacers shooting guard Victor Oladipo seems to have lived by all season long. Coming off a forgettable stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he put up his lowest scoring output (15.9 ppg) outside his rookie year, Oladipo is now posting career-best numbers in virtually all statistical categories, making him the clear frontrunner to win the NBA Most Improved Player (MIP) Award. With his 23 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg, and a league-leading 2.4 spg, the former Indiana Hoosier, probably rejuvenated by his homecoming, has also led the Pacers to an unlikely playoff berth as the East's No. 5 seed (48-34 win-loss record)—much better than the team's 42-40 finish the previous year. During the offseason, critics were harping on Indiana for trading away Paul George in exchange for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Where are those geniuses now? Minus the Slam Dunk Contest, it would be extremely difficult to point out a flaw on the explosive combo guard's 2017-18 all-star campaign, which leads us to this question: can anyone sweep the MIP trophy from underneath Oladipo's feet?
Let's look at the other players who have made great strides this season, and decide whether or not they've got anything on the new Pacers leader.
Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)
Increasing his numbers to 13.9 ppg (65 fg%), 10.8 rpg, and 1.9 bpg in his fourth year, the 23-year old center holds the fort inside for the three-point heavy Houston squad. His contribution to the Rockets' historic season is undeniable. However, a huge part of Capela's game heavily depends on his playmakers. Without James Harden and Chris Paul feeding him gimmes, we would hardly feel the Swiss-born slotman's presence on offense. Unlike Oladipo who is the Pacers' top playmaker, Capela isn't the main cog in the Rockets engine. For that, he's got to step aside for the Victor.
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
DeRozan—Oladipo's rival for the best 2-guard in the East—makes his case for MIP with his improved passing game and for leading the Raptors to a franchise-record 57 regular season wins, good for first seed in the East. With 5.2 apg, two dimes better than his career average, the alpha Raptor has made his team much more dynamic offensively. DeRozan has also raised the level of his long-range game, having career-highs in three-point makes and attempts. But he pales in comparison to Victor's statistical rise. The Cali native is currently averaging 23 points—four down from last season—and his two assists per game increase is clearly no match for Oladipo's eight-point scoring upgrade. Plus, Victor's enhanced 37% three-point shooting clip towers over DeMar's 31%. To the "Victor" belong the spoils.
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
This Pistons manchild leads the league in rebounds, hauling in a career-best 16 boards per contest. He's also turned himself into one of the NBA's finest passing big men, dishing three helpings a night. But the most remarkable transformation in his game is his much-improved free-throw shooting. Dre is now draining 61% of his shots from the foul line, a big leap from his anemic 39% last season. So, what's the knock on Drummond? His incremental progess hasn't translated into Pistons wins—resulting in another postseason absence—and more alarming, he has yet to show up with his scoring, specifically with his post moves. Given his tremendous physical gifts, the 24-year-old should be dropping 20 on a regular basis and not just 15 per game.
Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets)
Dinwiddie is your feel-good MIP—a second round pick, a bench warmer for a couple of years, then was jettisoned where he got a chance to prove himself. In his first two seasons with the Pistons, the 6'6" guard was putting a measly 4 ppg and 2 apg on just 13 minutes of play per outing. Now in his second season with the Nets, the 2014 38th overall pick has become a reliable facilitator and a hot commodity in NBA Fantasy, amassing 12.6 ppg and 6.6 apg. Despite his impressive showing, though, the Nets have only won 28 games. Indiana's Oladipo effect straight up dwarfs Brooklyn's Dinwiddie experience.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
The Greek Freak jumped from being a lock to win last year's MIP plum to being an early favorite in this season's MVP race, thus the argument for his second consecutive MIP award. But the key word there is early. Although, his point production has gone up by 4.2 markers, totaling to 27.1 ppg, and he has become a double-digit rebounder, collecting 10 per contest, Giannis has failed to bring Milwaukee along with his individual ascent. Just like in the past couple of seasons, the Bucks look like a team that's only good enough to be a seventh or eighth seed in an Eastern Conference that is not so stacked—a huge reason why the Antetokounmpo hype train has slowed down. Perhaps, what the Greek Freak should improve on from here on out are the intangible qualities that make a good basketball player truly great. One of those intangibles is leadership. On that note, we'll ask you, who's led his team better this season, Antetokounmpo or Oladipo?
And just for kicks...
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Hey, why not throw King James in the mix? He's had his best passing and rebounding season ever. He's shooting a career-high 37% from three-point country, and he's got a ridiculous near triple-double stat line of 27 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 9.2 apg. Many pundits even say that LeBron in Year 15 is the best version of LeBron we've ever seen. Not to mention he's taken an ordinary Cavs roster to finishing the regular season as the East's 4th seed. So is LeBron the NBA MIP? Nah, LeBron has always been great—his award should be NBA MOP aka the NBA's Most Otherworldly Player.
Well, as a conclusion, we believe Victor Oladipo should win the NBA Most Improved Player award via unanimous vote. If he doesn't, we'd be very surprised and if he doesn't win at all, we'd go on a drinking spree till our livers can't take it anymore.