Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic, Suns
We've been saying this for a while now, but the point is really slammed home when you actually stop to fill out your Most Improved Player ballot:
Just figuring out the most worthy MIP on the Phoenix Suns is an undertaking on its own.
You could legitimately have a great MIP debate if you restricted yourself to candidates based exclusively in the desert.
Rest assured, though, that everyone is in play here. The Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Indiana's Lance Stephenson, Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson ... pretty much everyone you can think of is on the board except top draftees in Year 2 who are blossoming like they're supposed to. Or recent upper-echelon lottery picks you expect to keep improving until they are full-fledged franchise players.
I must admit that Anthony Davis (developing almost too scarily across the board, as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted in this comprehensive piece on The Brow, for us to reasonably process) and John Wall (who has drained more than a hundred 3s this season after making just 49 total in his first three seasons combined on 24-percent shooting from deep) both tempted us with their respective breakout seasons to ignore our own MIP bylaws.
No matter how many other Suns or young All-Stars or additional candidates from non-playoff teams whose production has spiked noticeably you wish to nominate -- such as, say, Jodie Meeks, Alec Burks or Timofey Mozgov -- I'm still going with Dragic over anyone you could propose.
He should have been an All-Star in February. With or without that honor, Dragic became an unquestioned 20-points-per-game guy this season, despite playing less than two minutes per game more than he did last season, when he averaged a mere 14.7 ppg.
And most importantly, even with fellow backcourt mate Bledsoe missing so much time, Dragic has been the driving force, alongside rookie coach Jeff Hornacek, that has stubbornly kept the stripped-down Desert Cinderellas in the hunt for a playoff berth all the way into the final week of the regular season. The Suns have exactly two consensus frontline NBA players when they're at full strength -- Dragic and Bledsoe -- yet entered Saturday's play still mathematically alive for 50 wins when they were supposed to challenge Philadelphia for the league's worst record.
As a bonus: Dragic is one of just two guards in the entire league shooting better than 50 percent from the field. (Miami's Dwyane Wade, who has missed 28 games and doesn't carry the same perimeter burden, is the only other.)
Rewarding The Dragon with the MIP trophy is the least we can do in response.
Stein's ballot: 1. Goran Dragic; 2. DeAndre Jordan; 3. Kyle Lowry
October prediction: Kawhi Leonard