As the NBA moves into its final third of the 2013-14 season, ESPN writer Mark Stein took a look back at the "second trimester" and named some top players as well as the top coach over that span of the year.
Stein named only seven winners in total, and two members of the Phoenix Suns are among them.
While point guard Goran Dragic probably could have made his case for the Western Conference's MVP, that award went to Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. However, Stein named the Suns' leading scorer the "Most Improved of the Second Trimester."
But there's a reason Dragic's omission from All-Star proceedings in New Orleans caused such outrage in the NBA corners of the Twitterverse. He has hiked his scoring average nearly six points per game this season (from 14.7 PPG to 20.2) and his player efficiency rating nearly five points (from 17.52 PER to 22.49). Even after being stripped of backcourt mate and First Trimester MIP Eric Bledsoe through injury, Dragic is more responsible than any Sun not named Jeff Hornacek for Phoenix's ability to maintain this 46-win pace that not a soul saw coming.
Stein added that somebody from the Suns was going to win this category -- whether it was Dragic, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris or Marcus Morris. The writer added that giving the title to Dragic was the best way he could think of to correct "an All-Star wrong" -- meaning there was no excuse for the Slovenian guard not being in the NBA's midseason showcase.
Dragic's "Most Improved" nod follows up that of fellow Suns backcourt standout Eric Bledsoe, whom Stein named as the most improved over the first third of the year.
The top coach of the second trimester was awarded to Suns first-year leader Jeff Hornacek, likely to the surprise of no one, at least in the Valley. Hornacek was the runner-up -- to Portland's Terry Stotts -- for the award over the season's first third, but this time Stein could not ignore the miracles the coach has made for the 34-24 Suns.
This race, though, is largely a non-race with one Trimester to go. The 2013-14 Coach of the Year trophy, with 20-odd games remaining in the regular season, is Jeff Hornacek's to lose.
If Phoenix indeed does continue to falter and finally slips out of the West's top eight, as know-it-alls like me have been expecting for weeks, perhaps that opens things up for one of the coaches in charge of the Eastern Conference surprise teams has a shot.
But if the Suns hang onto a playoff spot in a season where they were widely presumed to have a 20-win ceiling? Hornacek will trump Casey, Thibodeau, Clifford and anyone else you want to pitch when the official COY votes are tabulated.
The mention of Suns didn't end there, though. Markieff Morris also got a shout-out as one of the top bench players in the league over the second third of the year, but the sixth man award ultimately went to Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls.