#3 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
After finishing his second season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is emerging as a star quality player for the franchise. Although he only played 35 games in the 2020-21 season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
His game features a shifty dribbling technique to get defenders out of position. His field goal percentage from last season was an efficient 50.8%. He also set a career-high of 42 against the Spurs.
Gilgeous-Alexander also shows the potential to be a threat from behind the three-point line after averaging 41.8% from downtown for the 2020-21 season.
Having suffered a tear in his plantar fascia which sidelined him for the rest of the season, the key to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 2021-22 season will be how well he can bounce back from recovery.
It is extremely unlikely that the Thunder will make the playoffs. But with Shai making a full recovery, he will find himself in a position to carry the franchise on his shoulders. This situation could force him into recording career-bests as a follow-up to last season.
#2 Zion Williamson
Entering his third year in the NBA, Zion Williamson had a dominant sophomore season. Zion averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the 2020-21 season. While he did make the All-Star team, the New Orleans Pelicans finished the season in 11th place in the Western Conference.
Having missed the play-in tournament because of a streak of losses nearing the end of the season, the Pelicans made a lot of changes to their lineup and coaching staff. With new coach, Willie Green, a newer system might benefit Zion.
However, the Pelicans' problems lie in the fundamental issues between the frontcourt duo of Zion and Brandon Ingram. If the Pelicans duo can find a way to blend better, there is a greater chance of them becoming a competitive side in the West.
Zion Williamson will see an improvement in his numbers in the upcoming season with the additional inside presence of Jonas Valanciunas. However, he must also stay healthy to get the Pelicans into the playoff picture.
#1 Zach LaVine
Coming off of his first All-Star selection in the 2020-21 season and an Olympic gold medal with Team USA, Zach LaVine also emerges as a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player Award for the 2021-22 season. Playing for the Chicago Bulls, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Since being drafted in 2014 and being selected in the All-Rookie team, Zach LaVine's development trends upwards. With each following season he improves upon his scoring numbers.
After recording five games in which he scored 40+ points last season, LaVine's ability as an offensive player isn't under question anymore.
LaVine has always been an extraordinary athlete but the most recent development in his game is his shooting from downtown. LaVine used to be a streaky shooter but shooting 41.9% from beyond the arc last season makes him a consistent threat to defenders.
LaVine may see a rise in his touches this season after the Chicago Bulls acquired Lonzo Ball in a trade with the Pelicans. The natural fastbreak style of play that suits Ball will come into fruition with a guard who can run the floor and rise for lobs like Zach LaVine.
If LaVine can improve upon the Bulls' record and lead them to the playoffs, there is a better than even chance for LaVine to win the Most Improved Player.