PHOENIX, Ariz. — As the league’s most improved team, the Phoenix Suns had a host of vastly improved individuals.
But one player stood above the rest.
Point guard Goran Dragic bettered his scoring, rebounding and shooting over last season in being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, an award he accepted Wednesday.
“This is a great moment for me,” he said at a press conference inside the Casino Arizona Pavilion at US Airways Center.
With his wife, Maja, and 5-month-old son Mateo sitting in the front row, Dragic, dressed in a grey suit, promised those in attendance — including teammates Leandro Barbosa, Ish Smith and P.J. Tucker — that he, while improved, still had not reached his full potential.
“I can say only one thing: I’m going to try to get better every year and try to be the Goran Dragic that everybody knows,” he said.
Dragic, 27, scored nearly six more points a game than he did the season before — posting a career-best 20.3 per game, which ranked 17th in the league. Four times he set a new career high in points, including three times in February — a month in which he dropped 40 on New Orleans.
“I was always dreaming about that — that someday I can achieve something great in this league,” he said as the entire Suns coaching and training staffs looked on, showing their support and appreciation.
Aside from the scoring, Dragic averaged team-highs in assists (5.9) and steals (1.4) while improving his rebounding to a career-best 3.2 a game — all numbers that helped lead the Suns to 48 wins, a 23-game improvement over last season.
“One thing that we can say as coaches and as a coaching staff is we’re looking for players who are going to go out there every night, lay it all out there, play through some injuries, do everything that the coaches ask and play with confidence. And that’s what Goran did,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said.
“It was a great fit,” Dragic said of his relationship with the first-year coach. “Jeff give me freedom that I can play my game; and of course I learned a lot from him.”
Dragic made perhaps his greatest improvement when the basketball left his hand, shooting a career-high .505 from the field and a career-high .408 from behind the 3-point arc, making him the only player in the NBA during the year to shoot at least 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
“The main thing was just my confidence this year,” he said. “I feel like that teammates, they trust me. The coaches trust me that I can play my game. And when your confidence is up, then you can shoot the ball better.”
Dragic became the third Suns player to win the award, joining Kevin Johnson (1988-89) and Boris Diaw (2005-06).
“I always knew that I can play at this level,” Dragic said, “but sometimes you have to have luck, no injuries and of course the right situation to be (in), and (the) Phoenix Suns, they give me that.
“I’m always going to be grateful for that and always going to work hard (and) try to improve myself (as a) basketball player.”