Here at the Most Improved Player Rankings, we’re known for our hard-hitting journalism. We’ve been told that we make Anderson Cooper look like Ahmad Rashad. Woodward and Bernstein still wonder how we found out about Greivis Vasquez.
So in that tradition, I decided to go ahead and interview our top candidate for the Most Improved Player award, Magic big man Nikola Vucevic.
It hardly matters that Vucevic told me that he’s never heard of me or the column, or that he responded with dead silence when I tried to explain it to him. What matters is, he agreed to do the interview below.
Read it, or risk being uninformed.
SH: What would it feel like to win the Most Improved Player award?
VUCEVIC: It would feel great. It would be a huge honor for me to win it, especially because there are so many guys who are playing really well this year as compared to last year. Just being in the conversation really means a lot to me.
SH: What has been the difference for you this year as compared to last?
VUCEVIC: I think mainly getting the chance to play consistently. I’ve been starting since the first game of the season and playing a lot of minutes. My coaches and teammates have had a lot of confidence in me, and that makes it a lot easier. As the preseason went on and the season started, I got my confidence back.
SH: How frustrating was last season, not getting a chance to contribute?
VUCEVIC: It was frustrating, obviously. But it was my first year and I was still trying to figure out the NBA. As a player, I want to be on the court and show what I can do, but I just used [not playing] as motivation to work even harder. When the trade happened, I thought it was a good chance for me to play more and prove myself.
SH: What were your initial thoughts when you heard that you had essentially been traded for Dwight Howard?
VUCEVIC: Well, people always ask me, ”Can you replace Dwight?” But I never looked at it that way. Dwight is one of the great players in Magic history and I can’t try to replace him because you just can’t do that. I just came here to do my best and help the team win. It’s been going well so far.
SH: Do you think you’ve surprised [GM Rob Hennigan] and [coach Jacque Vaughn] with how well you’ve played this year?
VUCEVIC: Maybe a little bit. I guess you’d have to ask them. I’ve even surprised myself a little. I knew I could play at this level, but it happened a little bit quicker than I thought it would. But I’ve always believed in myself and I always knew I could play at a high level in the NBA.
SH: What does it feel like to have broken the Magic franchise record with 29 rebounds in a single game against the Heat on New Year’s Eve?
VUCEVIC: It feels great, especially knowing that the player that had the record before me was Shaq, one of the most dominant big men ever to play the game, and one of the greatest players ever. It really means a lot.
SH: What are your goals for next season?
VUCEVIC: I just want to get better every day. I’m going to put a lot of work in this summer. Something I’m going to really focus on is trying to get stronger, more explosive. I think that would really help my game a lot.
SH: Are you still underrated as a player?
VUCEVIC: No, I think I’ve gotten a lot of respect from players and coaches around the league. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot of games to play to get to the level where I’m really respected. That’s the goal one day. But I think I’ve earned some respect this year, and I’m good with that. Plus, Kels Dayton has ranked me No. 1 in the Most Improved Player Rankings, and really, that’s all the respect I ever need.
Okay, I added that last part. But still, journalism.
On to the rankings.