PHOENIX (AP) — Of course, the NBA's most improved team would have its most improved player.
Goran Dragic, whose breakout season helped the Phoenix Suns make a remarkable transformation, was presented the most improved award at a ceremony Wednesday at US Airways Center.
The 6-foot-3 Slovenian, who turns 28 in two weeks, flourished under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek's double-point guard system, teaming with Eric Bledsoe to form a dynamic backcourt.
"We're looking for players who can go out there every night and lay it all out there," Hornacek said, "play through injuries, do everything the coaches ask, play with confidence. That's what Goran did."
Dragic averaged 20.5 points and 5.9 assists per game, shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 40.8 percent on 3-pointers. He was the only player in the NBA to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range.
"The main thing was my confidence this year," he said. "I feel that my teammates, they trust me. The coaches trust me. I can play my game, be confident, be tough and then shoot the ball better."
Dragic recalled the doubters when he came into the league.
"I can remember one quote from a newspaper, somebody said that I'm the worst player in the NBA and my last name should not be Dragic but 'tragic,'" he said. "That sticks in your head. It sticks in my head. On the practice court, I always have this in my mind."
Dragic received 408 of a possible 1,134 points, including 65 first-place votes, from a panel of 126 sports writers and broadcasters in the United States and Canada. Indiana's Lance Stephenson was second with 158 points and 13 first-place votes, and New Orleans' Anthony Davis third with 155 points and 16 first-place votes.
Two other Suns were among the top 10 — Gerald Green fourth and Markieff Morris 10th.
Under Hornacek, who finished second to San Antonio's Gregg Popovich for NBA coach of the year, the Suns went from 25-57 in 2012-13 to 48-37 last season, a 23-win improvement, and they barely missed making the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.
While the Suns were at their best when Dragic and Bledsoe both played, Dragic had to carry the brunt of the scoring and playmaking load when Bledsoe was out for two months following knee surgery.