Watching Xavier Munford develop and come into his own as a steady role player for the Bakersfield Jam last season, one would have been hard pressed to predict an NBA future for him just one year later. There was still a way for him to go.
But fast-foward to 2016, and that's exactly where he is: playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, making the most of his time in The Association.
There's a reason Munford's hard work and dedication from his time in the D-League has gone to pay off. Rather than cash in on his relative success and added notoriety by scoring a deal overseas, Munford opted to remain to Bakersfield for a second straight campaign. Such a gamble can sometimes prove to be all the more risky, but it's clear he made the right choice.
Munford's confidence has skyrocketed this season. He was a very assertive player all season long, picking his spots effectively, cashing in on high percentage looks, while also attacking the basket and excelling in the pick and roll. His own aggression around the basket went on to open up even more opportunities for his teammates, because opposing defenses were constantly on their toes with the ball in Munford's hands. He can hurt them in a number of different ways.
Munford's rise from someone who provided his team with a boost off the bench, to the one who led the way on a nightly basis, was certainly a steady progression. Before his ascension to the NBA, it was fun to watch grow step by step.
There have been plenty of subtle improvements surrounding Munford's game, but the real proof is in the pudding when it comes to better numbers. Munford's statistics have seen boosts across the board. Having averaged 20.4 points in 40 games this season, he posted just under 10 more points per game than his rookie season. With the team's offense clearly running through him, the guard's 6.3 assists per contest are well over three more than last season's average. With a better understanding of what shots to take, which not to, and when to penetrate rather than start to fade away, Munford's shooting percentages (49% from the field, 42% from deep, and 82% from the charity stripe) are obvious improvements from last season as well.
His growth has been evident, not just in his overall ability, but a continued positive attitude as well. Munford was a leader, an aggressor on offense, and a bonafide team player. What's more, he's gone on to show the maturity level necessary to accept a lesser role in Memphis as he once again adapts to being an occasional spark plug off the bench at the next level.
But in keeping the focus on his minor league accomplishments earlier in the campaign, Munford's respective prowess has earned him RidiculousUpside.com's Most Improved Player award for the 2015-16 season. There's arguably no one else more deserving after watching him ascend through the ranks as one of the D-League's elite point guards (and not to mention, an All-Star, too) this season.
Runner-up for RU's M.I.P. award: Sean Kilpatrick (Delaware 87ers), whose 26.4 point per game average not only represented an increase of over ten points from last season, but also led the D-League and resulted in a call-up by the Brooklyn Nets.
Last season's winner: Vander Blue, Los Angeles D-Fenders