Goran Dragic, Anthony Davis

2014 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player


Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

Most Improved Player

1. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

I feel like I should just vote for the Phoenix Suns — Dragic is on top of this list but Gerald Green, Markieff Morris and others could be on this list. Dragic has earned the top spot with how he grew his game and played to the strengths of it, especially when Eric Bledsoe was out. Normally I hate to put second year (or third) year players on this list because dramatic jumps are expected, but Anthony Davis just could not be ignored with the level of leap he made. Chose Cousins over Kyle Lowry for the last slot.

Brett Pollakoff

1. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

2. Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns

3. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

Very tough award considering there are so many variables at play. It typically doesn’t go to a star-level player like Blake Griffin or Kevin Love, even though it could be argued that both have elevated their games substantially. The Suns make it tough because they have the Morris twins, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and even Goran Dragic who all deserve consideration. Stephenson has a wild streak to his game for sure, but he’s become a triple-double threat capable of all kinds of consistent production, and despite the team’s recent struggles, Indiana ended up with the top seed in the East. Stephenson’s contributions all season long were a legitimate part of that.

Dan Feldman

1. Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

2. Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns

3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Everyone discussing this award has noted how many Suns are contenders, but I have yet to see someone list every viable Phoenix player without overlooking someone. I’m going to try. Gerald Green, Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumee, P.J. Tucker. (Eric Bledsoe didn’t play enough. I didn’t forget about him.) It’s truly incredible how many highly improved players are on one team, but none of them take top billing. Terrence Jones went from a D-League player to a good starting power forward, an underrated one at that, on a top-five NBA team. A year ago, Plumlee didn’t look like he belonged in the league, but he passed his points (13) and rebounds (22) totals for all of last season in just his first two games this season (31 points and 28 rebounds), and he’s remained a solid starting center for the upstart Suns.  Anthony Davis took the step toward superstardom we all knew he would, just soon and more rapidly than anyone expected.

Kobe Bryant went from DeMar DeRozan’s idol to his friend

Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan
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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan was 16 when he was invited to Kobe Bryant‘s camp for the top 25 American high school shooting guards.

A friendship grew between the youngster who would become an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors and the player who would become the third-leading scorer in NBA history.

DeRozan talked at length Sunday night about Bryant, who announced on The Players’ Tribune that he’ll retire after the season, capping a 20-year NBA career.

“The knowledge that he tended to give me every time I got the chance to be around him, especially at a young age, carrying over to the league, it was definitely an honor,” DeRozan said after the Raptors’ 107-102 loss Sunday night to Phoenix. “I tried to listen as much as possible, soak in as much as I could all of the time. It’s crazy how much time flies.”

Bryant was DeRozan’s favorite player while growing up in Compton, Calif.

“I’ve tried to emulate and learn so much from him ever since I was a kid, watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him, from conversations even when I was in high school from playing against him, completing against him, being in big games with him,” said DeRozan, who scored 29 points in Sunday’s loss. “It’s definitely a sad, sad day, but he’s been in the game a long time.”

Bryant’s announcement came just before the Lakers’ game against the visiting Indiana Pacers. Fans at the game received a letter of thanks from the 37-year-old player in a black envelope embossed with gold.

Bryant has struggled mightily with injuries the past several years, and is shooting a career-worst 32 percent this season.

“It don’t matter. That man has five rings, 17 all-stars, MVP,” DeRozan said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done. It’s just father time catching up with him, injuries catching up with him this past year. People will appreciate it when he’s away from the game.”

DeRozan has his favorite Kobe memory – Bryant scoring 81 points against Toronto in 2006. DeRozan, who would join the Raptors as a rookie three years later, said he felt as if he was playing a video game watching the high-scoring spectacle unfold on TV.

DeRozan is in his seventh season with Toronto. He can’t imagine playing 20 years.

“Especially playing at a high level, doing the things he was doing … people don’t understand how hard that is,” DeRozan said. “Even now, a lot of us find ourselves tired (on) back-to-backs. It’s tough. It’s really tough. To do it 20 years at a high level, you have to give that man every credit in the world.”

Hornets’ Al Jefferson out 2-3 weeks with strained calf

Al Jefferson
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The Hornets have been playing well of late, going 7-3 in their last 10 and outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. They are solidly in the playoff picture out East, in the six slot right now.

This is not going to help matters.

The team announced that an MRI confirmed center Al Jefferson will be out two to three weeks with a strained left calf muscle, suffered during Charlotte’s 87-82 win over Milwaukee on Sunday.

Jefferson missing a few weeks due to injury at some point during the season is an annual event, like the Rose Parade or the Head of the Charles Regatta — but this year the Hornets are better prepared to deal with it. This is the deepest Charlotte team in recent memory.

Tyler Hansbrough, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky will get more run — plus Spencer Hawes may be back in the rotation — and if they can step up the Hornets will not slow down much.

This season the Hornets defense has been downright stingy when Jefferson is on the bench, giving up 94.2 points per 100 possessions (which is 10 better than when he is on the court). However, the Hornet offense and rebounding efforts are stronger when he plays.

PBT Extra: How did Thunder, Pacers move up in PBT Power Rankings?

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As they do every Monday during the season, the PBT Power Rankings came out and while the top three remained the same there were some climbers.

Specifically, the Thunder at No. 4 and the Pacers at No. 5.

Why they are there is the latest PBT Extra topic with Jenna Corrado. The simple answer is they are both excellent teams. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Paul George are all playing like Top 10 players.

PBT Podcast: We’re back talking Kobe, 76ers, Warriors, Pistons, more

Kobe Bryant
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The ProBasketballTalk NBA podcast is back.

Sure we’re a month into the season, but we’re going to get this podcast rolling again and you can expect us on each Monday and Thursday, with a variety of guests talking everything around the NBA.

Today NBC’s own Dan Feldman joins Kurt Helin to talk Kobe Bryant‘s retirement announcement, and what that means both for the Lakers going forward this season and beyond, but also what that could mean for Byron Scott’s future as the Lakers’ coach.

We also delve into the “showdown” between the Lakers and Sixers on Thursday, talk about the job Brett Brown is doing there as coach (a good one), we talk some Warriors, some Draymond Green, Pistons, Spurs and Pacers to round it all out.

Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.