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.

Popovich to Aldridge: “Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit” out practice.

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Gregg Popovich’s habit of resting key players at times has become the norm around the league as more and more studies have shown it helps players perform at higher levels plus helps reduce injury risk. Still, Popovich is the poster child.

New Spur LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t used to this but got introduced to it in a very Popovich way, reports Jeff McDonald at the Express-News.

LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first workout of training camp today with leg tightness. Or rather, the Spurs — being the Spurs — held him out for precautionary reasons.

“We sat him out,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit.’”

He might as well have added “get used to this.” Aldridge is going to get some rest this season. Not as many as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but he’s going to get some nights off.

Remember, Aldridge is a guy who played through a torn ligament in his thumb last season because he thought the Blazers could make noise in the playoffs (and they might have had Wesley Matthews not gotten hurt). He’s not a guy used to being told to sit and rest.

It’s his “Welcome to the Spurs” moment.

Ben Gordon goes vegan for a stint, notices improved energy

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ben Gordon ate avocados any time of day for their healthy fat, and also fueled his workouts with oatmeal and different juices or nutrient-rich smoothies.

Gordon went the vegan route – no dairy or meat – for a stretch a few months back.

“With that diet you have to kind of be creative,” the new Golden State guard said. “At that time I had a chef so it was a little bit easier.”

Gordon is back to a more “normal” diet as the season gets underway and he looks to play a part on the defending NBA champions.

He is eating meat again to gain back some of the weight he lost as a vegan for about the final six weeks of the season last spring and several weeks of the offseason. He needed a bit more strength to handle the rigors of an NBA schedule, yet his energy increased on the diet and he felt “a lot lighter and faster.”

The 6-foot-2 Gordon got down to his high school weight of 185, but noticed he wasn’t quite as strong and built himself back up to his typical playing weight at around 200 pounds.

“I experimented with that this summer and throughout the end of last season,” he said. “As you get older you try to see different things that work for you. I’m not doing it right now but I kind of use it functionally depending how my body feels. But with all the running, protein is hard to come by sometimes when you’re doing the vegan thing. I just like to mix it up.”

The 32-year-old Gordon, a London native and the third overall pick by Chicago out of Connecticut in 2004, averaged 6.2 points last season with Orlando. He enters his 12th NBA season looking to give Golden State another reliable shooter coming off the bench – something the Warriors have wanted.

Gordon wanted to be part of a winning situation, and he got that all right.

“You always have to prove yourself,” he said. “With this team, they won a championship so for me it’s just trying to mesh with the guys and not try to do too much. The league is so much about being in the right situation, being with the right group of guys that mesh with your talents and skills. This team here, the style of play is just a lot of ball movement and unselfish play, and they’re not shy about shooting so I think that’s right up my alley. They don’t have a guy on the bench who shoots a high arc from the 3-point line.”

Sure, committing to be a role player might be considered a risk for a guy who has long been a starter, yet Gordon is confident he will find his place on the defending champions and, he hopes, help the Warriors make another special postseason run.

“He’s been around a long time but he’s still got gas in the tank,” coach Steve Kerr said prior to taking a leave of absence last week to fully recover from back surgery. “He’s a good shooter, good scorer. You don’t have to have a traditional point guard in that role because Shaun (Livingston) and Andre (Iguodala) off the bench handle the ball. So he would be a good fit.”

Gordon played all 82 games in four different seasons, including three times in his initial five years with Chicago and again for Detroit in 2010-11. Yet Gordon has played as many as 75 games just once since with Charlotte in 2012-13 and averaged only 14.1 minutes last season with the Magic.

Not that anybody’s counting.

“I think he’s going to use this year to get another long deal,” said swingman and Finals MVP Iguodala, who made his pitch to Gordon to join Golden State while in Las Vegas this summer.

With the Warriors’ up-tempo style, Gordon plans to be patient and knows shots will find him given the way Golden State moves the ball.

“The last few years for me have been tough, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “I’m taking my chances here. I’m not shy about this opportunity. It’s a great one.”

Oh, and he can’t wait to engage in some regular shooting competitions with NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“It’s great to be out there with another great shooter,” Gordon said. “Just to see the way he works, how hungry he is. Even though I’m a vet, a few years older, I’m still picking up things and learning as I’m going along.”