Most Improved Player Rankings: And the winner is….

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This is a tough column to write.John-Boehner-SC-1024x641

It’s the last edition of the Most Improved Player Rankings, and like John Boehner at an eighth grade science fair, I’m about to lose it.

I uhh…I just want to tell you all how much you mean to me. (Voice cracks)

It’s been another incredible year in this column space.

We’ve talked about Ike Manfresca, the OscarsSeinfeld, the genetic connection between twins, existentialismJohn LennonMars Blackmon, and un-seeing the Eastern Conference standings.

We even compared every candidate to a character in ”The Office.” That was one of my favorites.

Now, sadly, the hourglass that is the NBA season is down to its last few kernels of sand. (Kernels, that’s a thing, right?) It’s time to choose a winner.

There were a few players who probably didn’t get enough respect in these rankings during the course of the season. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, Robin Lopez of the Blazers, and James Johnson of the Grizzlies all showed up in the “Next Five” category once or twice, but they never actually crashed the table.

There were a ton of players who made quantum leaps this season. But in this man’s expert opinion, a few stood above the rest.

DeAndre JordanClippers center DeAndre Jordan went from unremarkable to a modern-day Wilt Chamberlain (you know, without the 50 ppg), dominating the league’s rebounding and field-goal percentage categories. He went from averaging just 7 rips to pulling down 13.7 per, and dunked shot an unheard-of 67.5 percent from the field. He deserved a spot in the table all season long.

Pistons big Andre Drummond made a similar leap, nearly doubling both his scoring and rebounding outputs. ‘Dre went from 7.9 points per game to 13.4, and 7.6 rebounds per to 13.2, which put him second in the league behind Jordan. His mug was a fixture in these rankings.

Guard Isaiah Thomas of the Kings went from Greivis Vasquez’s backup to borderline All-Star and arguably the best player on the team, averaging 20.6 points and 6.3 assists. Not bad for the 60th overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Anthony Davis made “The Leap” from project with a great future to superstar with an unlimited one. Like Stephen Curry last season, Davis became one of the league’s best players, but he won’t win the award because everyone expected him to be great.

Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris and virtually every member of the Phoenix Suns organization made incredible strides this season, and what was considered a ragtag bunch of misfits nearly crashed the playoff party.

In the end though, the race for this award came down to two men.

Indiana’s Lance Stephenson and Phoenix’s Goran Dragic.

Stephenson was terrific for the Pacers all season long and punctuated his arrival with a Sir Lance-A-Lot video that history will never forget.

Dragic spent some time in Sheridan’s MVP Rankings, carrying the Suns with one footprint in the sand when former rankings leader Eric Bledsoe went down.

So, which of these very deserving borderline All-Stars will take home the hardware?

You’ll have to click “Next Page” to find out.(It helps us with page views).

And isn’t that the kind of capitalistic attitude that makes America great? Oh boy. Here come the—waterworks—

(Sobbing)

On to the rankings.

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With Final Push, Dragic Can Lead Suns into Playoffs, Clinch Most Improved Player

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Kevin OllieIn these rankings, much like in life, you’ve got to be lucky to win.

You can be the same exact person, with the same skill set and attitude, but if that ball doesn’t bounce the right way, you don’t get the recognition you deserve.

Take UConn coach Kevin Ollie.

If 7-foot freshman center Amida Brimah, who hasn’t played more than four seasons of organized basketball in his life, doesn’t complete a ridiculous three-point play with less than 25 seconds left in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, UConn doesn’t get past St. Joe’s.

The Huskies finish a middling season with a first-round tournament exit, and Ollie is thought of as a middling coach.

Instead, six wins later, the second-year coach is being hailed as one of the best in the game, and rumors are swirling about NBA teams coveting him.

It’s the same way at the office.

You can chip away, meet your numbers every month as a salesman, but you don’t win the Employee of the Month Award if that snowstorm doesn’t hit, and you don’t have that hernia spreading 35 pounds of salt across the parking lot.

See? It’s all about luck.

As the NBA season hits its homestretch, each Most Improved Player candidate will need a little bit of luck to win the Kels Dayton Memorial Trophy at season’s end.

Specifically, they will need the Phoenix Suns to miss the playoffs.

If current rankings leader Goran Dragic can push Phoenix past a more talented Memphis Grizzlies squad in the West, he will probably take home the award. The Suns would be the most surprising playoff team in years, and Dragic is their leader and best player – kind of like the Shabazz Napier of the Suns.

If  Phoenix falls short, it will open up the door for Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan or Pistons center Andre Drummond. At least that’s the way I see it.

There’s not much Jordan or Drummond can do individually. It’s all up to the man in the sky, or the rabbit’s foot, or Frank Sinatra – whatever controls luckiness.

And if things break right, they will get that hernia they so desperately need.

On to the rankings.

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Who is the Most Improved Player in the NCAA Tournament?

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2014-finalfour-logo_400As the sun fades into the North Texas sky (not sure why we can’t call it Arlington) on Saturday evening, college basketball will take center stage on the American sports landscape.

Everyone except Chris Bernucca will settle in for the Final Four, where some of the NBA’s future stars will duke it out in a titanic stadium not meant for basketball with everything on the line.

It is a spectacle that deserves America’s attention. And that is why we’ve decided to lend America’s favorite column to it, at least for a few paragraphs.

Because everyone has room to improve (cheesy smile).

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Suns Making Madness of Their Own, Taking Over Most Improved Rankings

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GoranDragicSH1March is about underdogs.

That’s why we love it so much. Well, most of us anyway. (Can someone check Chris Bernucca for a pulse?)

Just kidding, boss.

It’s the incredible stories like Mercer’s upset of Duke, Dayton’s run to the Sweet 16 and Stephen F. Austin’s miraculous comeback against VCU that keep us glued to the TV screen in March, like a month-long Rob Ford press conference.

There’s nothing like a good underdog narrative, and year after year, the NCAA Tournament delivers with several remarkable ones. It’s entertainment at its highest form.

In the NBA, a similar underdog story has been unfolding. It just doesn’t get as much pub because the scrappy overachiever role doesn’t play as well when you’re pulling in $5 million a year.

The Phoenix Suns are a collection of nobodies from nowhere, seemingly cast together like the Cleveland Indians in Major League, waiting for the draft lottery.

Yet here they are in late March, on pace to win 48 games and holding on to the final playoff spot out West. Phoenix has won four in a row and six of eight since Eric Bledsoe’s return from injury, including back-to-back nail-biters over Minnesota and Atlanta.

They’ve got six legitimate contenders for Most Improved Player – including current rankings leader Goran Dragic, who not only held down the fort in Bledsoe’s absence but also snuck into Sheridan’s MVP rankings for a while.

This is Goran Dragic we’re talking about, people!

If that isn’t a true underdog story, then Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story isn’t a true underdog story.

And in a season when tanking has become commonplace and teaching young players how to lose (see: Michael Carter-Williams) is apparently OK, the Suns are showing the value of competing with youngsters and not waiting for ping-pong balls to decide their fate.

It was a bold strategy by first-year GM Ryan McDonough. But it’s paying off for them.

On to the rankings.

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How Did Most Improved Player Candidates Fare in March Madness?

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andredrummondIt’s March Madness, and that can only mean one thing.

I just spent the past 48 hours writing three paragraphs on all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament for my blog, RoundballDaily.com. If I have to hit the parentheses button one more time, I’m going to lose my index finger (I put a lot of the stats in parentheses). Dammit.

In the spirit of the Big Dance, I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the greatest March Madness moments from each of our Most Improved Player candidates. Lord knows it’s a better idea than putting them all into a fake tournament.

So without further paragraphs, let’s take a look at each player and how they fared in March Madness:

Goran Dragic: OK, bad start. Dragic didn’t play college basketball because he’s from Slovenia. But if he had, I think he would’ve gone to St. Mary’s, and led them to the Sweet 16. There, his Gaels would have gotten hosed on every call and subsequently lost to an overseeded Duke team led by a bunch of future crappy NBA players. I think Jay Bilas would have described him as a “really good” point guard with “excellent ball skills.”

Andre Drummond: UConn was a disaster the only year Drummond was there. The Huskies lost to Iowa State in their first game and Jim Calhoun’s last one. Andre averaged 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 Calhoun Panic Attacks per game that season. He was way too talented for those numbers.

Lance Stephenson: He played one season at Cincinnati, which didn’t make The Dance. “Born Ready” was probably outstanding in the NIT, even though the Bearcats bowed out in the second round.

Anthony Davis: The ‘Brow is the clear winner here. He’s a college legend for his ridiculously successful freshman year at Kentucky in 2012. Davis won the National Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year awards. He also won the national championship and ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, something no one else in NCAA history has done. Other than that, he sucked.

DeAndre Jordan: A Jordan-led Texas A&M team almost upset Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love’s UCLA squad in 2008, falling 53-49, in a second-round heartbreaker. I can remember Jordan holding onto his shorts in the lane as the camera panned to him immediately after the buzzer sounded. It was a heck of an effort. Jordan only spent one season at A&M and averaged just 7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Isaiah Thomas: The Hustlin’ Husky was a star at Washington, where he played in the Big Dance each of the three years he was there. UW hasn’t been back since. The best tourney moment for Thomas had to be when he led the 11th-seeded Huskies to the Sweet 16 in 2011. That Washington team manhandled Darrington Hobson and No. 3 New Mexico, 82-64, in the second round.

Well…that was fun, wasn’t it?

And the best part? No Rony Seikaly Region.

On to the rankings.

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