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ESPN Insider: Devin Booker on short list for Most Improved Player Award

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) celebrates after scoring during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, March 23, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Despite the Phoenix Suns finishing with the NBA’s second-worst record, Devin Booker’s second year in the league was a major success.

Booker’s remarkable season gave him national recognition, and ESPN Insider writer Jeremias Engelmann thinks Booker is a legitimate candidate to win the Most Improved Player Award this year.

Engelmann writes:

Booker got everyone’s attention with his 70-point explosion on March 25 in Boston, but he was already turning heads with his smooth, precocious offensive game. In 2015-16, his rookie season, he scored almost 18 points per 36 minutes, impressive for a 19-year-old.

But as a rookie Booker didn’t have a positive impact on the Suns’ performance — Phoenix played about four points per possessions worse with Booker on the court. His -4.6 RPM was one of the league’s worst, and overall his box score stats beyond scoring were similarly weak.

Booker made large strides after his rookie season. First off, he started 78 games this year, opposed to 51 games as a rookie. But more importantly, he improved his numbers across the board, averaging 22.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.

Those aren’t mind-boggling stats, but it’s an incremental leap from 13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game his rookie year.

The 20-year-old Booker became a more efficient player as well.

This season Booker still doesn’t fill up the box score, but he’s improved his scoring, his scoring efficiency and his impact. He’s increased his shot attempts by more than four per 36 minutes while maintaining about the same effective field-goal percentage (eFG), a good sign for his efficiency.

More encouragingly, his plus-minus numbers have taken a turn for the better: Instead of playing several points worse when Booker was on the court, the Suns now play five points better.

Unfortunately for Booker, there’s some stiff competition for the MIP Award. Engelmann’s other candidates were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Myles Turner, Tim Hardaway Jr., Joe Ingles, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, all of whom are on playoff teams.

Engelmann said his choice for MIP was Turner, but acknowledged that Antetokounmpo will likely take home the trophy.

If Booker does win, he’d be the first Phoenix player to take home the award since Goran Dragic in 2014. If Booker does win, he’d be the fourth Suns player to do so, joining Dragic, Boris Diaw (2006), and Kevin Johnson (1989).

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