Goran Dragic, Anthony Davis

2014 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

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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.

Spurs demolish Thunder to take Game 1 of second-round series

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs scores over Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?

Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.

It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.

Hawks get another playoff shot at King James and Cavaliers

at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.

Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.

Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.

Report: Warriors to replace Luke Walton from outside the organization

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 12: Interim Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors talks on the sideline during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.

Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.

Report: Luke Walton’s Lakers contract is for 5 years, $25 million

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13:  Interim head coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors leads the team against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on January 13, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Warriors 112-110. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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In the last few years, NBA head coaching salaries have skyrocketed, and new Lakers coach Luke Walton is no exception. According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan, Walton is getting $25 million over five years, which is the same as Steve Kerr’s deal with the Warriors, now-former Knicks coach Derek Fisher’s deal in New York, and Fred Hoiberg’s deal with the Bulls.

This kind of money has become standard for head coaches who don’t also have front-office power. Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy both get between $7 and $8 million annually to do both jobs. Given how good Walton’s current situation with the Warriors is, the Lakers probably had to be on the high end of the coaching spectrum to get him to leave.