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NBA Predictions: 5 Candidates for Most Improved Player of the Year

DENVER, CO - MAY 10:  Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets makes a three point basket against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on May 10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIOctober 28, 2012

Last season, Ryan Anderson broke out in a big way. He averaged 16 points and almost eight rebounds on his way to win the league's Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Which player will be like Anderson and break out in a big way? Read on to find out. 

 

Paul George, SF, Indiana

The Pacers are waiting for George to break out. As head coach Brian Shaw said to the Indy Star:

"I told him that everybody in the starting lineup is basically already who they are with the exception of him. Whatever steps he makes are going to be the same steps the team will take."

It seems like George is ready for the task. In his second season last year, George put up 12 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He has an incredible amount of talent. He's one of the most athletic players in the league. So far, the consistency hasn't been there.

But this is his third season now, and he's adjusted to the league. The Pacers are expecting big things, and they should reap the rewards with a huge season. 

 

Ty Lawson, PG, Denver

Lawson is coming off a very nice 2011-2012 season. He averaged 16.4 points a game, along with 6.6 assists. Not bad at all.

But something to keep an eye on is his playoff performance. He averaged 19 points a game during the postseason.

Lawson has a chance to break out big time. He has a full season of JaVale McGee and two top wing players in Andre Iguodola and Danilo Gallinari. That means that his assist numbers should go up.

The addition of Iguodola also means that less attention will be faced on Lawson as a scorer. Scoring lanes should open, and when defenses start to collapse, he can rely on his 36 percent shooting from three-point land.

Lawson is poised for a big year, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

 

Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix

Goran Dragic is now the man in Phoenix, now that Steve Nash is in Los Angeles. Playing with Houston last season, Dragic averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists in only 26 minutes a game. 

Now that he's a starter, he should flourish. Over the last two months of last season, he averaged 16.9 points, 7.5 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 37 percent from three-point range.

Dragic has long shown flashes of brilliant play but has simply never had the opportunity. He's the starter now and has talent around him with Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Marcin Gortat.

He'll have plenty of assist opportunities. The Suns play a wide open system, and they are fast paced. There will be plenty of opportunities to run on the break and Dragic will be able to dish it, as well as pull up for the three. 

Dragic is going to put up big-time numbers and will be a top candidate for Most Improved Player.

 

Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio

Leonard had a fine rookie season last year, putting up 7.9 points a game and 5.1 rebounds. His per-36-minutes numbers are better, as he averages 11.9 points and 7.7 boards.

The key question for Leonard is will he get more playing time. Yes, Stephen Jackson may cut into his minutes, but Leonard can also play at shooting guard.

He's super-athletic and his development should continue with more time in the Spurs system. The biggest reason as to why Leonard will break out lies in what coach Gregg Popovich thinks of him: [via CBS Sports]

I think he's going to be a star. And as time goes on, he'll be the face of the Spurs I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he's coachable, he's just like a sponge. When you consider he's only had one year of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he's going to be something else.

If Popovich likes him, he'll get his minutes. His efficiency highlights his potential, and with more minutes and a season under his belt, look for a big season from Leonard. 

 

JaVale McGee, C, Denver

JaVale McGee is incredibly talented. He's also incredibly enigmatic. Folks have been calling for a breakout season for him for some time. But this may be the year.

Now that he has a full offseason with Denver, he should develop chemistry with Ty Lawson, one of the breakout players on this list. As we mentioned with Lawson, players like Iguodola and Gallinari, not to mention his teammate in the post Kenneth Faried, should take the burden off of McGee.

With some pressure off, McGee should be free to excel. He averaged 11 points per game, along with 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 boards. Those numbers came while averaging only 25 minutes a game.

If his playoff performance was any indication, he's ready. He averaged 8.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in a seven-game series against the Lakers.

Yes, McGee, as of now, is slated to start the season on the bench. He's in a time-share with Kosta Koufos, but McGee is much more talented, and it is just a matter of time before McGee overtakes him.

McGee is enigmatic. But he has shown the ability to be dominant. This could be the year when he breaks out. 

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