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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Chris Bernucca’s Postseason Award Choices

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Image.AdamSilverTransparency is a two-way street.

For years, NBA media members – echoing the sentiments of its passionate fan base – wanted more transparency from Commissioner David Stern and his executive staff. Whether it was a lottery drawing, a suspension in the playoffs or a referee scandal, folks felt like they were entitled to an explanation. And they were.

Stern grudgingly came around. He arranged for the media to meet with referees prior to the season about rules changes. He allowed the media into the lottery drawing. He okayed press releases that admitted, Yes, we blew that call.

Since replacing Stern as commissioner less than three months ago, Adam Silver has taken the NBA’s transparency up a notch. He declared that there will be an open dialogue about officiating and is walking the walk by making internal memos available to the media.

But Silver is getting something back, too. At All-Star Weekend this year, the media presented the notion of transparency with regard to how its members vote on postseason awards, and the commissioner bought in. 

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Vogel to Bench All Five Pacers Starters Tonight in Milwaukee

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IND_VOGEL_FRANKThe Indiana Pacers just keep getting more and more interesting. And tonight, we’ll find out if their second unit is good enough to defeat the worst team in the NBA.

Why the second unit? Because all five members of the starting five — Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill — are being rested tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks.

It is one of the most bizarre moves by a coach in an important stretch run, ever. The Pacers sit in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Miami Heat. Vogel said all five starters will return to practice Thursday and will play Friday against Miami as the Pacers try to win the season series and the accompanying tiebreaker.

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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Bernucca: Have Pacers Lost Belief in Themselves?

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Believe it or not, there’s someone out there who doesn’t think the Indiana Pacers are coming apart at the seams. Lance Stephenson

“Everybody goes through this,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said last week after San Antonio manhandled Indiana, 103-77, on the Pacers’ home court. “I’m not worried about them. They’ll still make it to the Eastern Conference finals and they’ll still play Miami.”

Parker is somewhat right. From time to time, every championship contender has a stretch during a season where they look ordinary. Addled. Even awful at times.

Last month, the Miami Heat lost three in a row and seven of 11, including a home contest to Denver and a visit to New Orleans after which Chris Bosh plainly said, “We suck.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed back Russell Westbrook as they came out of the All-Star break and immediately lost three straight and five of eight, including a home loss to Cleveland and a road setback to the L.A. Lakers. The Houston Rockets were a pedestrian 8-8 in December, losing at home and on the road to Sacramento, at Utah and being blasted at Oklahoma City and Indiana.

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