Marc Stein: Most Improved Player
February, 28, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
Most Improved Player of the Second Trimester: Goran Dragic, Suns
It was one of the biggest mysteries of All-Star Weekend.
Goran Dragic was in town to compete in the Saturday night skills thingy. Tony Parker hardly played in Sunday's All-Star Game because of his "variety of maladies" and wound up being shelved by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately after the All-Star break. So why didn't Parker just pull out of the midseason classic completely, watch it in street clothes like Kobe Bryant did and let The Dragon take his place?
That's what I would have done.
And since I have full authority here, I'm going to try to soften the blow from Dragic's painful (and needlessly dragged-out) All-Star snub by anointing him the most improved player award favorite entering the final third of the regular season.
The competition, as always, is fierce and deep. I suspect Indiana's Lance Stephenson remains the favorite with many voters given the huge jump he's made this season to average better than 14 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists nightly levels that only five other players have hit in the same season (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom) in the past decade.
Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson (who's been asked to replace Kevin Martin and frequently stand in for Russell Westbrook), DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers (twice the rebounder he was last season), Orlando's Arron Afflalo, and various other Suns -- most notably Miles Plumlee's rise after a rookie season in which his numbers barely registered -- have to be up there, as well.
But there's a reason Dragic's omission from All-Star proceedings in New Orleans caused such outrage in the NBA corners of the Twitterverse. He has hiked his scoring average nearly six points per game this season (from 14.7 PPG to 20.2) and his player efficiency rating nearly five points (from 17.52 PER to 22.49). Even after being stripped of backcourt mate and First Trimester MIP Eric Bledsoe through injury, Dragic is more responsible than any Sun not named Jeff Hornacek for Phoenix's ability to maintain this 46-win pace that not a soul saw coming.
There's a decent chance that someone from the Suns is going to win this thing, given that Gerald Green and the Morris twins have a case along with Plumlee, too. But the load Dragic has been forced to shoulder, especially with Bledsoe missing the past 27 games, makes him the obvious selection here.
Doubly obvious if righting an All-Star wrong means anything to you.