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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Goran Dragic: Creative, energetic, unafraid and the savior of the Phoenix Suns’ season

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PHX_Dragic_GoranGoran Dragic slashes, drives and penetrates into the lane like no other NBA player, creatively opening up space to create for himself and his Phoenix Suns teammates. That creativity, though, comes with a heavy price: the beating he takes on a nightly basis as he hurtles into and bounces around defenders with his breathtakingly fun to watch forays towards the basket which sweep opponents and fans alike off their feet like a swift and strong gust of wind.

Dragic’s offensive game is so unique stylistically, but this year he’s coupled his singular energy and fervor with the efficiency both Dragic and his Suns have lacked. For any ball-handler to shoot over 50 percent from the field and nearly 42 percent from three is impressive. For Dragic to do so with his number of minutes and a usage rate, especially when guard Eric Bledsoe was injured, makes him one of the NBA’s most valuable players this season on the league’s most surprisingly successful squads.

“He’s really stepped up his game this year, especially when we needed him when Eric went out,” said Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. “He was playing great prior to that, but then without Eric he maybe averaged 22 points a game. He had to play bigger minutes for us. He’s a great player.”

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From the Clouds: This Week’s Most Improved Player Rankings

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MikeFrancesa2008

A well-proportioned, wise Italian man with a radio show in New York once told me and a listening audience of probably hundreds that the NBA “goes into the clouds” in February and March. I can’t really remember his name, OK? So let’s just call him Ike Manfresca.

Manfresca’s quote has always stuck with me, because:  (a) it was so strange and (b) it’s the perfect way to describe the seasonal malaise that rolls in around this time of year, like a warm front heading northeast from the Great Basin.

In March, the NBA exists in a dream-like state, as players shuffle through the hazy backstretch of the season, traveling from city to city to city almost on muscle memory.

They box out, fill fast break lanes and take contested jump shots without even thinking, like you getting off that exit you always get off on your way to work. You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you sit there and think, How did I get here this morning? I don’t remember anything from the minute I remote-started my car.

It’s the same with coaches, who will complain to referees and shout nonsensical jargon at their players without using the frontal lobe of their brains.

How did we end up in a 3-2 zone?, they wonder. I don’t even remember anything I said in that second quarter timeout.

For fans, March is the time when you stop listening to the guest speaker and start to wonder how many bananas you’ve eaten in your life.

Casual fans have already turned their attention to college basketball, which is infinitely more exciting this time of year. It’s easy to tune out the professionals and happen upon scores while looking up at TV screens at the bar, or by accidentally clicking “NBA” instead of “College Basketball” on your smartphone app.

Sure, many teams are fighting tooth and nail for the posteason, and some, like the Pacers (who have lost four in a row), might be sleepwalking as home court advantage – and ultimately the Larry O’Brien Trophy – slips through their fingers, eyes glazed over.

But for most fans, the games have gotten repetitive and redundant. Bobcats-Nuggets in November is exciting and intriguing. Bobcats-Nuggets in March i

Sorry, I lost interest in that last sentence.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that the NBA season is like a movie that waits too long to get to the climax. We get it. The East sucks, LeBron is awesome, Kevin Durant might win MVP, and Kels Dayton is an up-and-coming sportswriter.

Enough cheeky dialogue. Get to the part where people start jumping out of planes!

It’s going to happen soon, but first we have to take a trip through the clouds. Call it the calm before the storm. Or call into Ike Manfresca’s radio show.

Wake me up when we get to April.

Until then, I’ll be watching the MAAC championship.

On to the rankings.

 

 

Whoa….how did we get here? I don’t even remember typing any of that.

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