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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Scotto: Isaiah Thomas Dishes on Free Agency; Could Command Full Mid-Level Exception

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IsaiahThomas cropIsaiah Thomas entered the league as “Mr. Irrelevant” after being selected 60th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. In his third season, he’s now become a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player award (although colleague Kels Dayton seems to disagree).

Thomas’ breakout season couldn’t have come at a better time with restricted free agency looming this summer.

With that in mind, Thomas and I discussed his development, Sacramento’s new culture and his free agency plans in an exclusive SheridanHoops interview.

Raptors soaring and succeeding since Rudy Gay trade

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DeMarDeRozanSH1The Toronto Raptors had no intention of making the playoffs this season.

Head coach Dwane Casey admitted as much earlier in the season, but the talent on the team turned out to be above average in an Eastern Conference that turned out to be historically subpar. So general manager Masai Ujiri sent the overpaid Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 8 with the team in first place at 7-12, and the Raptors have turned into one of the East’s best teams.

Toronto is 29-15 since the seven-player Gay trade was announced, a move that allowed their other core players to expand their roles and help the Raptors become an unexpected lock for the Eastern Conference playoffs at this point in early March.

Point guard Kyle Lowry was mired in trade rumors but emerged as an All-Star snub and an overwhelmingly positive force, and with room to operate on the wing, he is the unquestioned primary scorer, DeMar DeRozan flourished and became an All-Star for the first time.

Most Improved Player Rankings: The Oscars Edition

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The Oscars are over, and since I didn’t watch them or see any of the nominated movies, let’s get this Oscar-themed edition of the Most Improved Player Rankings under way!

Because nothing says “balanced sportswriter” like a column full of misinformed pop culture references!

The envelopes, please …

Best Actor: Anthony Davis. This award goes to the best player in our group, and Davis is the clear choice there. He’s already one of the league’s best big men, and Pelicans fans have already started counting down the days until he ditches them for a bigger market, so they can spend the following season winning 15 games and praying for a franchise-saving draft pick! Laissez-les bons temps rouller!

SAC_Thomas_Isaiah

Best Picture: This award goes to the guy on the best team, and that would be Lance Stephenson of Indiana. Like 12 Years A Slave, the Pacers haven’t been easy to watch. But they just may end up being the most important basketball team of the season – if they win the NBA championship. Imagine the social impact that a small-market team that plays defense and didn’t import all of its stars like Ocean’s Eleven would have if it actually won the title. Now that’s a dream worth dreamin’.

Also, Isaiah Thomas. That’s a nice picture there. His grandma has it hanging on her fridge, I’m sure.

Best Supporting Actor: Lance Stephenson. He’s playing Beta Dog to Paul George’s Alpha Dog, and he’s played it as well as that Somalian guy alongside Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. At least, what I’ve seen from the trailer. That was a powerful 30 seconds.

Best Foreign Language Film: Goran Dragic. He was the only nominee. He wins because his name sounds like a Game of Thrones character.

Best Breakthrough Performance: Goran Dragic. Does anyone realize he put up 40 on the Pelicans on Friday night? Forty! This is Goran Dragic we’re talking about, people! My lord!

Best Visual Effects: DeAndre Jordan. For making this look real.

Best Hair and Makeup: Anthony Davis’ barber. Imagine the incredible will power that this man has not to take a Norelco to Davis’ temple and rid the world of that jointed caterpillar he calls his eyebrow. What an inspired performance.

Standout Performance in a Crappy Movie: Andre Drummond. The 2013-14 Pistons are as bad as Transformers would have been without Shia LaBeouf. Unfortunately, in the Pistons’ season, no one ever blows up.

Best Column Written at 3 a.m.: Oh, come on, guys. You didn’t have to do that. I’m not a hero. I mean, I am my own hero - 10 years from now. 37-year old Kels is going to be one hell of a person. I can’t wait to see what I have in store for myself. Will I be an astronaut? An award-winning physicist? A Wal-Mart greeter? I guess I just have to keep living and we’ll find out.

Best Line of this Introduction: On to the rankings.

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