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2021 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

Knicks forward Julius Randle and Pistons forward Jerami Grant

Feb 28, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) gets defended by Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant (9) during the third quarter at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt Helin

1. Julius Randle (Knicks)

2. Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

3. Jerami Grant (Pistons)
It’s rare to see a player make the leap Julius Randle did in his seventh season at age 26, usually players are pretty set in who they are at that point. Randle becoming a 41.1% 3-point shooter opened everything up for him, and allowed him to show off his playmaking skills and carry the Knicks to the four seed.

It was very tough to leave Zach LaVine off this list for me, he made a very difficult step forward in his game to All-Star level, but I just thought the improvement in Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant was larger.

Dan Feldman

1. Julius Randle (Knicks)

2. Zion Williamson (Pelicans)

3. Jordan Poole (Warriors)

Julius Randle improved in previous seasons, but this was his biggest leap. His jumper smoothed out – important because New York’s poor spacing impeded him from getting to the rim. He passed better – important because he had the ball so much. He held up in Tom Thibodeau’s demanding defensive system – important so Thibodeau didn’t excoriate him. This was such a meaningful step forward for Randle.

I try to find the balance between players improving their skill level and improving their impact. Zion Williamson did both, but his leap was far bigger by impact. Better conditioned and healthier, Williamson played far more than last season. That’s a big deal for someone as productive as him. He also added ballhandling and distributing skills and defended somewhat better.

I generally ascribe more credit to players who elevate themselves from higher levels of play – like Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But Jordan Poole’s long/quick trek from atrocious to solid reserve was that impressive.