The NBA no longer has a comeback player of the year award—it changed in the 1980s to the most improved player award—but if it did, the 2015-16 season would be one of the best races in its history. Last season saw a rash of injuries to major stars, from Kevin Durant to Carmelo Anthony to Paul George (even though his injury was during the summer before, he still missed most of last year). This year has also had some tremendous comeback campaigns from players like Rajon Rondo and Jeremy Lin, those whose performance suffered either from circumstance or straight-up abysmal play. With all of those players in mind, who would take home this made up hardware? Read on to find out.
Carmelo Anthony. Anthony slogged through last season with a myriad of injuries, most notably a persistently bothersome knee. He finally appears to be healthy, and is playing the best all-around ball of his career.
5. Jeremy Lin
Just by the numbers, it really doesn’t look like Lin’s having a bounce-back year. He’s oly averaging about a point and rebound more per game than last season, while his assists and shooting percentages have slightly dipped. As always, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Lin escaped the clutches of Byron Scott and found asylum in Steve Clifford’s warm bosom. The result is a rejuvenated point guard once more making a difference on a potential playoff team in Charlotte. Rather than toiling away in futility on the hopeless Lakers, he’s now a legitimate sixth man of the year candidate.
4. Rajon Rondo
Remember how awful Rondo was last season? He wildly underperformed in Dallas after the Mavericks sold the barn for him, clashed with Rick Carlisle, and may or may not have exaggerated his injuries to avoid playing in the playoffs. Instead of getting his max contract, he had to settle for a one-year, $10 million deal with the Kings. That gamble has paid off immensely for the Kings, as Rondo’s rediscovered everything that made him special. Moreover, he’s somehow discovered a shooting stroke, becoming at least reliable from deep — long cited as his biggest weakness.
Rumors of Rondo’s demise were premature, and now he’s in line for a huge payday next summer.
3. Paul George
— NBA (@NBA) October 21, 2015
George suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of the NBA. He played in just a handful of games last season, showing flashes of the player we knew him to be. This season, we’re getting more than flashes, we’re getting the entire show—and maybe even more than that, since George is proving he might be an even better player now than he was before the injury. He’s been a legitimate MVP candidate, terrifying on both ends of the ball.
2. Kevin Durant
A league without Kevin Durant is a league greatly diminished, as we all unfortunately learned last season. This year, though, Durant’s been kind enough to remind us just how much better off we all are with him on the court. The emergence of Steph Curry and Anthony Davis during Durant’s absence have somewhat shoved Durant out of the spotlight, but Durant doesn’t need the spotlight to be great. He’s one of the best players in the game, a force of nature on offense that simply cannot be stopped when he’s at his absolute best. His wiry frame is deceptively strong, and he’s added an extra dimension to his game ever since he came into the league. He’s one of the rare players for whom there are no flaws, and it’s great to have him back showing off once more.
1. Chris Bosh
Forget playing basketball again, there was a point not long ago when we weren’t sure whether Chris Bosh would live. He did, fortunately, and now he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career. The Heat haven’t performed as they’d hoped, but none of that is on Bosh. He’s been the team’s best all-around player by a mile, performing with his usual uber-versatile style on both offense and defense. There is also a newfound joy that seems to radiate around Bosh, which is understandable, since he very nearly had everything taken away from him because of a blood clot that traveled up to his lungs. To come so close to having everything fall through your hands, and then come all the way back, is a tremendous feat, one to be celebrated without reservation, trophy or not.