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Quarter-Season Trail Blazers Awards: Most Improved Player

Which Blazers candidate has excelled in their first 20 games?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have hit the quarter mark of their 2021-22 NBA Season with a 10-10 record. Given expectations of improvement, that’s not terribly encouraging. But not all is dark and gloomy. Several Blazers players have shown bright spots over the first 20 games.

As is our tradition during Thanksgiving weekend, we want to honor those performances with our quarter-season awards. We’re going to run down five categories, offer players who might be considered prominent in each, and invite you to comment on your favorites and the reasoning behind your choice.

The first award is one of the more exciting: Most Improved Player.

As would be expected, two young players are vying for this honor.

Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little have earned increase roles and latitude under Head Coach Chauncey Billups. Simons has responded by raising his scoring average +4.1 points per game, +2.6 per 36 minutes. His overall field goal percentage is up to 45.7%, sterling compared to his 41.9% clip a season ago. The knock on Simons is 37.9% three-point shooting...a great number for most mortals, but seriously off his 42.6% success rate last year.

Nassir Little can make similar, albeit more modest, claims on offense. He’s averaging 8.4 points per game compared to 4.6 last year. His per-36 scoring and rebounding numbers are up slightly. He’s shooting 49.2% from the field, though his three-point percentage has slipped from 35.0% to 32.2% even though he’s attempting nearly twice as many threes this year. But offense doesn’t tell the whole story. Little has become a possession-changer on defense as well. He’s aggressive, hard-nosed, and he doesn’t give up on plays. If you notice a Blazers player out of the corner of your eye doing something active, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be Nassir.

But wait, out of the shadows of a corner lamplight steps Norman Powell. You didn’t notice the veteran standing there, probably because his scoring, rebounding, and assist stats have remained level or gotten slightly lower this year. That’s deceiving, though. So far, Powell is only playing 29.1 minutes per game this season compared to 34.4 with the Blazers last year. His per-36 scoring is up to 20.9 against 17.8 one year ago. And his shooting percentages are through the roof. He’s averaging 50.5% from the field and 44.4% from the arc. He leads the team in three-point percentage, leads all non-bigs in field goal percentage, and is second only to Damian Lillard in per-minute scoring. That he’s also the best of the starting smalls on defense puts icing on the cake.

The final verdict is that Powell takes Most Improved Player for the first quarter of the year, simply because he’s doing more, doing it more consistently, and arguably doing it while playing out of position. If Little and Simons continue to shine throughout the year, they’ll probably take the honor for the season, but right now, Norm is the guy.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below, and stay tuned for the rest of the awards coming soon!