Most Improved of the Second Trimester: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Make no mistake: This is still Jimmy Butler's trophy to lose.
Especially since it appears that Butler is going to be back in the Bulls' lineup soon from the elbow woes that have been plaguing him since his breakthrough February to the All-Star Game.
For all the justified attention Butler and Golden State's Draymond Green have generated for their significant step-ups this season on teams with title aspirations, Whiteside has to be highlighted here.
Has to be.
Since Jan. 1, after all, there's only one player in the whole NBA who ranks in the top five in both blocked shots per game and rebounds per game.
The same Hassan Whiteside who was cast aside by the Los Angeles Lakers last summer and then released twice by the Memphis Grizzlies before Thanksgiving before his sudden rise to prominence with Miami.
Utah's Rudy Gobert, our Defensive Player of the Second Trimester, also doubles as a fast-rising MIP candidate, giving Butler and Green a push. But the emergence of Whiteside -- despite his recent, uh, on-court behavioral slippage -- continues to be one of the stories of the season.
Plenty of maturity/dependability questions still persist about Whiteside. As recently as March 11, ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh alarmingly tweeted that Whiteside has the highest rate of technical fouls and flagrant fouls, per minute, in the league.
But Whiteside isn't just some young player thriving now because he's getting his first big opportunity. It's often forgotten that he was drafted in 2010 by Sacramento, only to find himself in exile in Lebanon after playing his way out of the NBA thanks to such a troubled start with the Kings.
Butler's jump from a 13.1 points-per-game man last season to an All-Star averaging 20.2 points per game this season remains the ultimate headline-grabber in this category. Whiteside isn't far off, though.