Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, whose scoring average jumped from 6.8 points per game during the 2014-15 season to 20.8 points this season, was named the NBA's Most Improved Player on Friday.
McCollum, in his third season since being selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2013 draft, received 101 first-place votes and 559 points in balloting among sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"In my mind I always felt like I was a good player, so when you hear 'most improved' you think, he was sorry, and he got better," McCollum said Friday. "But now I understand that it comes from hard work. It's based on perception, not having played, not having the body of work to show for it."
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors received seven first-place votes and was fourth in the voting for the award, which is given to honor an up-and-coming player who has dramatically improved from the previous season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Curry is the first reigning MVP to finish in the top 10 in voting for this award the following season (voting data became available in 1995-96).
In addition to his scoring average, McCollum also set career highs for field goal percentage (44.8), 3-point field goal percentage (41.7), assists (4.3) and rebounds (3.2). He is the third Portland player to have won the award, joining Kevin Duckworth (1987-88) and Zach Randolph (2003-04).
"A lot of great players have received it, Jimmy Butler being one of the most recent. Kevin Love, Z-Bo, Duckworth, among many others," McCollum said. "Hopefully I can continue to trend upward like those guys did."
But a mass exodus last summer left Lillard as the only returning starter, and McCollum got his chance in the Blazers' backcourt.
"I've felt like I've been a good player, it's just circumstances," McCollum said. "I think there are lot of good players in the NBA who are in a box. Maybe they've got a lot of veterans in front of them, maybe they're hurt, maybe the coach just doesn't like to play young players. For me it was injuries, it was being a lottery pick drafted to a 50-win team."
His 14-point improvement is the most since Tony Campbell improved from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points from the 1988-89 to 1989-90 seasons.
"This isn't the last award he's going to get in his long career," Portland general manager Neil Olshey said.
With one of the youngest rosters in the league (24.6 years), the Blazers were considered to be in rebuilding mode. But Portland overachieved to earn the fifth seed in the West and a first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Blazers are down 0-2 to the Clippers, but now get to return home for Game 3 on Saturday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.