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Will Most Improved Player go to a big star like Loyd or Sabally, or a less-heralded player?

Sug Sutton of the Phoenix Mercury has improved the most statistically overall, but Jewell Loyd’s huge scoring average improvement is hard to ignore, as is Satou Sabally’s move from All-Star reserve to All-Star starter.

Phoenix Mercury v Minnesota Lynx
Sug Sutton
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Here’s a look at some of the most improved players in the WNBA in 2023. The improvement score is the difference between the player’s 2023 stats (points, rebounds, assists times 1.5, steals and blocks added up) and their career-best stats.

Sug Sutton

Phoenix Mercury

Improvement score: 14.1

Sutton played in 12 games in 2020 with the Washington Mystics, so she is not a rookie. It was surprising to see the Texas Longhorn make a WNBA roster three years later after being out of the league, but she has gone a step further, becoming an impact player for the Mercury, averaging 8.6 points and five assists in 27 minutes per game.

Alanna Smith

Chicago Sky

Improvement score: 9.1

Smith was a great talent at Stanford, averaging 19.4 points on 39.7 percent shooting from downtown (81 makes) as a senior. But this is the first WNBA season where you can say she is a borderline star. She’s averaging career-bests in all five major categories, with points being up 3.7 to 9.8 and rebounds being up 2.9 to 6.5. Her minutes (26.9 per game) are also up (11.3 from her previous career high).

Ezi Magbegor

Seattle Storm

Improvement score: 8.55

Magbegor was a very deserving first-time All-Star this season. The fact that she made it to the ASG will give her an edge over Sutton and Smith in the race for Most Improved Player. But she was already very good last year and her stats from 2022 don’t tell the whole story of how good she was. Her scoring average is currently at a career-high 13.5 (up from 9.5).

2023 WNBA All-Star Game
Ezi Magbegor
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Dana Evans

Chicago Sky

Improvement score: 8.4

Swish Appeal writer Josh Felton has Evans in the running for Sixth Woman of the Year, and she has a case for MIP as well. Evans has upped her career-best playing time by 11 to 22.5, her career-best scoring by 4.5 to 8.8 and her career-best assists by two to 3.2. She won a championship as a rookie and is paying back the team that brought her that championship by being an impact third-year player.

Kalani Brown

Dallas Wings

Improvement score: 7.3

Brown’s best season before 2023 was her rookie season of 2019. She averaged 5.1 points and 13.5 minutes for the Los Angeles Sparks. She then fell off the map, doing little for the Atlanta Dream in 2020 and 2021 before not participating in the WNBA in 2022. Now the 6-foot-7 former Baylor star is showing how valuable she is as a bench player for the Wings, averaging 7.9 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Jewell Loyd

Seattle Storm

Improvement score: 6.4

Loyd’s career-best scoring average is up 7.8 to 25.7; she is on track to set the WNBA record for points per game in a season. However, she is not having career-best performances in rebounds, assists and steals, which is why her improvement score is lower than 7.8. One thing working against Loyd in this race is the fact that we already knew she was this good; her numbers were simply lower because she was playing alongside Breanna Stewart.

Satou Sabally

Dallas Wings

Improvement score: 6.35

Nobody else in this race has gone from star to superstar quite like Sabally. To me, she seemed like an MVP candidate early in the season. But a career-best scoring average improvement of 3.7 isn’t off the charts. There are players who have raised their numbers more than Sabally, but she may get consideration because of her storyline and the headlines she has garnered in becoming a first-time All-Star starter.

Karlie Samuelson

Los Angeles Sparks

Improvement score: 6.05

Samuelson is a great story. Hopefully she has cemented a permanent spot in the league by averaging 7.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from distance (28 makes) in 24.8 minutes per game. Her previous best season was 2021 when she played 14 games between Los Angeles and Seattle and averaged 3.6 points on 38.7 percent 3-point shooting in 14.7 minutes per game.

Los Angeles Sparks v Atlanta Dream
Karlie Samuelson (left)
Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

Here are some other candidates:

  • Lexie Brown (Los Angeles Sparks), 5.55
  • Allisha Gray (Atlanta Dream), 4.7
  • Jessica Shepard (Minnesota Lynx), 4.55
  • Shakira Austin (Washington Mystics), 4.3
  • NaLyssa Smith (Indiana Fever), 3.85
  • Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream), 3.25
  • Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx), 3.05
  • Jordin Canada (Los Angeles Sparks), 2.85
  • Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun), 2.75
  • Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces), 1.35

Brown and Shepard need to play in some more games in order to move into consideration. The No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the 2022 WNBA Draft appear on this list (Howard, Smith and Austin). Collier’s points are way up, but she is down in other categories. Thomas was fourth in MVP voting last year, so her improvement score of 2.75 is just mind-boggling. That’s not improvement on last year either; it’s improvement on her career bests. Her career-best assists are up 1.9 to eight and her career-best rebounds are up 0.5 to 9.5. With a score of 1.35, I wouldn’t mention Young if not for her efficiency improvements. Her career-best 3-point percentage is up from 43.1 to 48.5 with 0.9 more makes per game. Her career-best field goal percentage is up from 50.7 to 57.3. Young of course won MIP last year.