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SBN Reacts: Pelicans missing from MIP and COTY discussions, but don’t overlook improvement

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The NBA awards season is upon us

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New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NBA. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged in New Orleans Pelicans fans, and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

As the playoffs approach, the biggest surprise of the season is likely the success of the New York Knicks. For the first time since 2013, the Knicks have reached the postseason and they did so without a true superstar leading the team.

In place of a superstar, the team is led on the court by Julius Randle and head coach Tom Thibodeau. Both of whom fans believe will finish the season with an individual award. 69 percent of fans around the league believe Randle should win the 2020-21 Most Improved Player award. The next closest player, Michael Porter Jr., received 11 percent of the vote.

Although the Pelicans do not possess a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate, there are several guys on the roster who raised their games from a year ago, and in my opinion, four stand above the rest.

  • Zion Williamson: In addition to the numerous statistical improvements in areas like FG%, FT% and PPG, Point Zion happened. The most dominant paint scorer developed a nice comfort in handling the ball and creating for others. Had the Pelicans found a way to sit inside the playoff picture — i.e. winning more games in the clutch, Williamson’s name would have probably entered the MIP discussion in some circles.
  • Lonzo Ball: While Ball enjoyed upticks in several raw stats, the biggest leap came in shooting the basketball. His FT% and efficiency from the midrange made significant jumps, and Zo became one of the better 3-point volume shooters in the league, knocking down bombs at a better rate than Luka Doncic, Fred VanVleet and James Harden.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker: In his second season in the league, NAW became a legitimate offensive threat and a defender who gets his hands on a lot of balls. There’s real two-way player appeal here. His 37-point outburst against the Clippers stands out, but there were plenty of other glimpses dictating that Nickeil deserves consideration in the future as the team’s starting two guard.
  • Jaxson Hayes: The numbers are nearly identical between his first and second seasons, but all New Orleans fans can tell you that Sophomore Jax became an infinitely more effective player. Once Willy Hernangomez took his rotation spot in February, Hayes committed himself to improving and the results followed. His defensive fundamentals, focus and energy all made great strides, and a six-block game that was followed by a 3-3 three-point performance should elicit all kinds of excitement about his future.

Which player would earn your MIP vote when only considering choices from this Pelicans team?

Moving on to the talk of head coaching standouts, 50 percent of national fans believe Thibodeau has earned the Coach of the Year award this season. Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams took 23 percent.

That seems about right; however, to shift the conversation locally, how satisfied are you with Stan Van Gundy’s first season in New Orleans? I’ll delve deeper into this topic during the offseason, but in general, I observed more good things than bad.

For starters, Van Gundy made a concerted effort to connect with the two franchise cornerstones — good head coach-best player relationships are crucial, New Orleans started to make a lot of progress on the defensive end after the All-Star break and every young player on the roster made noticeable progress.

While the overall W/L record is an undeniable stain, I strongly believe that this team still requires a great teacher at the helm. Let’s see what Van Gundy can do when training camp/preseason isn’t dramatically shortened and the team can hold far more practices in a non-condensed schedule.

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For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.