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Can Keanu Pinder win back-to-back Most Improved Player awards?

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We’re more than halfway through the 2022/23 NBL season, and that means that the awards races are heating up as the contenders and pretenders begin to solidify. 

But while the MVP, Best Defensive Player, Coach of the Year and more are all being jockeyed for, one of the most interesting awards races right now is the Most Improved Player award. 

True to its name, the award is given out to the player that has made the greatest season-to-season improvement, usually designated for an up-and-coming player who has finally made the jump. 

Last season, this award was won by Keanu Pinder, the 27-year-old big man who moved from Adelaide to Cairns and saw his numbers skyrocket. 

The interesting part of the Most Improved Player race this season, however, is that the favourite seems to be… Keanu Pinder. 

That’s right, last year’s Most Improved Player has once again taken a giant leap, now playing at a level that seemed unfathomable while he was a 36er. 

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But while in a vacuum, Pinder may be a perfect candidate for this award, is it feasible to give him this award two years in a row? 

From starter to star 

When Keanu Pinder began his career with the Adelaide 36ers, even calling him a positive rotation player was a stretch. In his roughly 17 minutes of court time a game, he gave Adelaide 4.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game. 

But once he made the move up north, the results were almost instantaneous, with his points-per-game jumping to 10.9, his rebounds hitting 7.6, and dishing out 1.1 assists per game. All in all, he was an easy choice for the award. 

This year, he’s done it again. Across 13 games so far this season, Pinder is posting averages of 18.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, elevating his game into legitimate star status, and moving into not just Most Improved contention, but genuine MVP contention. 

He leads the league in rebounds and is currently the only NBL player averaging a double-double, with no other player averaging double-digit rebounds so far this season. 

Of all the eligible players, he is no doubt the best player. But has he made the most improvement? And more importantly, can he win the award in back-to-back seasons? 

Who else is in the mix

While Pinder is firmly in the lead for the Most Improved Player award, he has by no means run away with it, especially when you consider that some may be hesitant to vote for him back-to-back. 

Another strong contender is Jack McVeigh, the JackJumpers forward seeing up across the board, averaging 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists, up from last year’s 11.9 – 4.8 – 0.8.

McVeigh has been a big part of the JackJumpers’ sophomore season, who at the time of writing are enjoying a three-game win streak which has lifted them to fifth on the ladder, only half a game behind Pinder’s Taipans. 

Also in the mix is a pair of New Zealand Breakers – Izayah Le’Afa and Will McDowell-White – the latter of whom many pundits had pencilled in for this award preseason. 

Both players have upped their points per game by roughly three, with McDowell-White also improving his rebounds and assists by around two, but having both players on the same team ultimately means that it is hard for either to truly become the favourite for this award. 

Back-to-back winners

There have been 35 winners of the NBL’s most improved player, ranging from Australian basketball legends to eventual NBA players. 

But across the league’s history, no player has ever won the award twice, let alone back-to-back. 

Should Pinder claim the trophy in two straight years, not only would he make history, but he would also set a precedent around how the award is selected.

If he keeps up this level of play then he will give the league no choice. 


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