Goran Dragic, Anthony Davis

Phoenix’s Goran Dragic runs away with Most Improved Player


There were a lot of different directions voters could go with the Most Improved player award. Blake Griffin raised his game from “freak athlete” to “elite power forward” if you want to go that route. Guys like Gerald Green in Phoenix finally had his game mature and he flourished in Phoenix. There were a whole lot of other options.

But the one thing everyone seemed to agree on is Goran Dragic should be on the list.

The Phoenix point guard ran away with the Most Improved Player award. He easily outdistanced second place Lance Stephenson of Indiana and third place’s Anthony Davis of New Orleans in the voting.

For his career Dragic averaged 9.5 points a game and there were questions about how he would blend with Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt.

The answer was very well — those two were a force together that propelled Phoenix to 48 wins (which left them a game out of the playoffs in the Western Conference, but would have been tied for third best in the East).

Dragic finished the season averaging a career-best 20.3 points per game, plus averaged 5.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds a night.

Dragic becomes the third Suns player to win the award, joining Kevin Johnson (1988-89) and Boris Diaw (2005-06).

While I think you can make a good case for a lot of guys to get votes, there were some interesting choices out there from the 125 media members who voted for the award. LeBron James did improve parts of his game, but was he really the second most improved? Robin Lopez? Sean Livingston might have won this award if it was still the “comeback player of the year” but he’s doing what he’s done for a couple years, just on a bigger stage. Mike Conley has been very good for a couple years.

Here is a voting breakdown. The media member votes are public so if you want to see who voted for whom follow this link.

Player (team) total points (first place votes, if any)

Goran Dragic (Phoenix) 408 (65)
Lance Stephenson (Indiana) 158 (13)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans) 155 (16)
Gerald Green (Phoenix) 117 (16)
DeAndre Jordan (L.A. Clippers) 66 (4)
Kyle Lowry (Toronto) 43 (2)
Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers) 39 (6)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto) 28 (1)
Patty Mills (San Antonio) 14
Markieff Morris (Phoenix) 13 (1)
Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) 13
Shaun Livingston (Brooklyn) 11
D.J. Augustin (Chicago) 9 (1)
Reggie Jackson (Oklahoma City) 8
Robin Lopez (Portland) 6
Klay Thompson (Golden Stat2) 6
DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) 5
Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City) 5 (1)
Al Jefferson (Charlotte) 4
Bradley Beal (Washington) 3
Mike Conley (Memphis) 3
Andre Drummond (Detroit) 3
Taj Gibson (Chicago) 3
LeBron James (Miami) 3
Terrence Jones (Houston) 3
Jodie Meeks (L.A. Lakers) 3
LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland) 1
Alec Burks (Utah) 1
Paul Millsap (Atlanta) 1
Chandler Parsons (Houston) 1
John Wall (Washington) 1

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.