These 4 hottest players might be in the running for Most Improved, despite having little of the NBA spotlight…
With the NBA season already two weeks underway, we have seen plenty of surprises. Whether it is the absolute scorching display Stephen Curry has been putting on as of late. Or maybe the duo out in Brooklyn of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving looking like the next big thing. Perhaps it’s the Washington Wizards, who despite having Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have stumbled out of the gates (started 0-5).
However, none of these are what have caught my eye. No, rather I’m honed in on the 4 hottest players that are all setting the league on fire and blossoming into superstars for their respective teams. Sadly, there hasn’t been enough media coverage for this, and this is where I come in.
Here are my four hottest players and my way-too-early picks for Most Improved. Keep in mind, these are in no particular order.
Julius Randle, PF- New York Knicks
Julius Randle has had an odd career to say the least. The 7th-year veteran from national powerhouse Kentucky went #7 overall to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft. However, it didn’t work out and after four underwhelming seasons he was let go and signed with the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle had his best season yet, averaging a cool 21 points 9 rebounds 3 assists stat line with the Pelicans. Although many thought he might stay, he declined his player option and once again hit free agency. A short month later, Randle was headed to the Big Apple, signing with the New York Knicks.
Randle has been a superstar for the laughingstock Knicks, one of the few players worth watching on the squad. After nearly averaging a double-double last season, he sprang out of the gate to a hot start this season. In just 7 games, Randle has averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds along with a career high 7 assists a game. He has put up a triple-double in one of their wins, and just missed out on it in their other 3 wins. This valiant effort has the Knicks at 4-3 and 3rd in their conference, wherever he goes, the Knicks go. On top of this, he leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists. The only other player to do that for their team this year? Luka Dončić. That’s some pretty good company.
Julius Randle should not only be a frontrunner for Most Improved this year, but also be a dark horse MVP candidate. He has truly been one of the hottest players in the league, and is guiding the Knicks back to relevance. Watch out for Randle and the Knicks, as this team might be able to sneak in with how dominant he has been.
Jaylen Brown, SG- Boston Celtics
Unlike Randle, Jaylen Brown has been a one-teamer throughout his career. Drafted at #4 by the Boston Celtics in the 2016 NBA Draft, Brown has enjoyed a career as a key 6th or 7th man for the team. He made the All-Rookie 2nd team after a good season. Along with this, he averaged respectable numbers and provided whenever called upon. This all changed last year, however, as he saw his most minutes and did not disappoint. In 34 minutes, Brown averaged career-highs in points (20.3), rebounds (6.4), assists (2.1), and steals (1.1). He was suddenly on everyone’s radar after dominating in the regular season and especially the playoffs. Some of these performances include 29 points against the 76ers, a 31 point and 16 rebound game versus the Raptors, and of course several 25+ point games against the Heat.
Entering this year, it was clear Jaylen Brown would be a key player, but he has killed expectations. He jumped out to a 28 PPG average, with several huge games. Brown was jaw-dropping versus the Memphis Grizzlies, with 42 points while shooting 70% from 3. Even on his bad shooting days from deep (1-7, 0-4) he has still put up points (25 and 27, respectively). Brown has the league on notice and many contribute his superhuman efforts to fueling the Celtics hot start. Unlike many dominant shooting guards who either live or die from the 3-point line, Brown does well regardless. All this has come with Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart being out for Boston. Perhaps these injuries opened the door, but I think it just accelerated his growth. Finally, most NBA analysts see Brown being an All-Star, and if this play continues, it will be extremely tough to ignore him.
Much like Julius Randle, this team runs off of how well Jaylen Brown is playing. He has been putting up massive stat lines and if this continues, he deserves an All-Star spot and more respect. If we only looked at points, Brown would be the hottest player not just in Boston, but the league. Keep an eye on Brown, especially when Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker eventually return.
Collin Sexton, PG- Cleveland Cavaliers
The youngest player on this list at 22, Collin Sexton has certainly been a force for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite this, he had a rocky road to the NBA Draft, having to deal with an FBI investigation. Through all this, Sexton’s name was cleared and he was dominant for the Crimson Tide. He was named to the All-Tournament Team and was a big name heading into the 2018 Draft. Cleveland took him at #8, and I remember being skeptical of the pick at the time. Looking back, I was dead wrong.
Sexton has been truly amazing so far. He threw up 17 PPG and a 40% 3-point his rookie year and was rightfully named to the All-Rookie 2nd Team. He followed this up by putting up 21 points per game and averaging 1 steal. Sadly, Sexton was a lone star on a struggling Cavs team, and his valiant efforts yielded few results.
Heading into this season, optimism was high for Sexton, as most players blossom in their 3rd season. Adding to this was the ability to have a somewhat regular season after COVID shortened the last one. And boy oh boy, did he ever blow up to start the season. Sexton has put up 20+ points in every game this season, averaging 25.7 on the year. He has been the gas in the tank for a start that has Cleveland at 4-3. Paired with Andre Drummond, this Cleveland team may finally be starting to turn the corner. With every passing game, Sexton and the Cavs seem to be getting better. Sexton is also the first Cav since LeBron James to average 20+ points over 6 games to start the season, and he’s still going. Unlike other years, don’t be so quick to count out this Cavs team.
Collin Sexton has been dominant everywhere he has been, being a 5-star McDonald’s All-American, dominating at Alabama, and finally setting the league on fire in Cleveland. While he may not be an All-Star yet, he certainly is a must-watch. Sexton may be the greatest Cavs PG since Kyrie Irving, if not better.
Lastly, and my favorite, is the former G-League superstar Christian Wood, who I have seen in person. Out of all 4 players, he has by far had the toughest road to NBA relevance. Wood transferred three times during high school, with him helping his last school win 54 straight. He then went to UNLV, and despite earning All-Mountain West honors, he went undrafted in the 2015 Draft. He bounced around from team to team, playing for their G-League and getting called up. These teams include the Philadephia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Pelicans, and Milwaukee Bucks. They would call him up, only to send him down, constantly bouncing him back and forth. Finally, Christian Wood got his break with the Detroit Pistons, and he made it count. In 62 games with limited minutes, he put up 13 PPG and 6 APG. He performed admirably, but was traded to the Houston Rockets in return for Trevor Ariza and other compensation.
Entering the season, only the most knowledgeable or diehard NBA fans would know who Christian Wood is. Not anymore. In his 5 starts, he has averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He has been a dominant player and a key piece of this Rockets team. Wood is second on the team in points to the electric James Harden, beating out newly-acquired John Wall. He also leads the team in blocks and rebounds, and it’s not even close. Although the team and fans may be uncertain of Harden’s future, Wood is a key player and future star. Not too bad for a former G-League star and NBA afterthought.
After struggling to earn his shot in the NBA for several years, Wood has finally found a home. This jaw-dropping start to the year has him as my favorite for Most Improved Player. All of this has come amongst John Wall playing his first basketball in two years and James Harden’s trade rumors and speculation. This dude has truly redefined his game and is the hottest player in the league. Expect Christian Wood to be a franchise face and household name for years to come.
So who is the hottest player right now?
After looking through all 4 of these players, it will be a headache to debate who is the hottest. Randle was a disappointing player who has had major success since leaving the team that drafted him. Brown is turning the corner and should be a heavy All-Star consideration. Sexton is the face of a Cleveland franchise that may be closer to the playoffs than we think. Lastly, Wood is a story of hard work paying off and one of the best undrafted players in the league. Luckily for us, we just have to sit back and watch. Man, this season is going to be a blast.