Memphis Grizzlies' Desmond Bane creating strong case for NBA Most Improved Player

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Xavier Tillman Sr. didn’t hesitate when asked whether Desmond Bane should win NBA Most Improved Player.

“Yeah! Definitely MIP for Des, for sure,” Tillman said.

Add Bane’s fellow class of 2020 draftee to the chorus of Memphis Grizzlies campaigning on his behalf. His 13-point fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers Wednesday offered another claim they have a case for the second-year guard.

As a starter, Bane’s 16.2 points per game is up seven points from last season's 9.2. His rebounding also is up (4.4 from 3.1). Despite taking six more shots per game, he’s shooting 46.5%, including 40.7% on 3-pointers.

More than data, he has taken a bigger role in the offense by expanding his game. With Ja Morant sidelined with an ankle sprain, he has stepped up with Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. to help carry the scoring load, with at least 20 points in five of the last 10 games.

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Morant has used Twitter to champion Bane’s credentials as Most Improved Player. Brooks, who took Bane under his wing last season, challenged him to elevate his game during Morant's absence.

“He’s ready for the moment. We made trades that opened up some more shots for him and he’s relishing in the moment,” Brooks said. “He’s locked in on automatic. Every shot he takes he thinks is going in.”

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane drives to the basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane drives to the basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

No Grizzlies player has won Most Improved Player, but as the team sits fourth in the Western Conference, it's hard to miss what Bane has done

His 23 points in a recent win against the L.A. Lakers – a win without Morant or Brooks – likely helped his cause.

“I know he didn’t get a lot of publicity coming into the year but I think his performances speak for the candidacy there,” said Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins. “He’s not motivated by that, he just wants to go out there and help us win.”

Bane also has competition around the league. Magic guard Cole Anthony is averaging 20.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 37.6% 3-point shooting, all up from his rookie season. Hornets forward Miles Bridges is posting career highs in scoring (19.8), rebounds (7.3) and assists (3.5) in his fourth season.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane shoots over Los Angeles Lakers guard Malik Monk at FedExForum on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane shoots over Los Angeles Lakers guard Malik Monk at FedExForum on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.

There’s also competition in-house from Jackson. In Morant’s absence, he’s averaging 19.8 points while shooting 48.5% from the field, including 35.7% on roughly six 3-pointers per game.

Some would argue Bane’s leap is more dramatic coming from a No. 30 pick than Jackson as a top-five lottery pick.

“Obviously it shows the work that you put in and that I’m trending in the right direction,” Bane said. "But I’m not playing with that in mind or with that in sight. Just continuing to get better each and every day and at the end of season, if I’m in a conversation or end up winning the award, then (I’ll) celebrate after the season.”

It won’t stop his teammates campaigning for him. Morant called him “Big Shot Des” on Twitter on Thursday and Brooks keeps marveling at Bane’s evolution as a scorer.

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“I love that type of player where you say, (expletive) it I’m just going to be that guy. He’s showing it every single day, he’s stepping up to the plate,” Brooks said. “He keeps playing like this, he’s definitely going to be Most Improved, hands down. No matter if he’s in a smaller market or whatever.

"There’s nobody that’s made a bigger leap and there’s nobody that’s just playing more consistent than him every single time, every single game.”

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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Grizzlies' Desmond Bane creating strong case for Most Improved Player

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