Magic forward Ryan Anderson entered this season knowing he’d have a chance to contribute to an NBA team like never before.
A full-time starter for the first time, he turned that opportunity into the best regular season of his career and on Friday was rewarded with the league’s Most Improved Player award.
NBA officials were at Amway Center to present the 23-year-old Anderson with the honor.
In his fourth season since being taken 21st in the 2008 draft out of California, Anderson started 61 of 66 games during the shortened regular season and led the league in 3-pointers made (166) and attempted (422). He joins Rashard Lewis as the only other power forward to lead the league in 3-pointers made. He averaged career highs in points (16.1) and rebounds (7.7).
Anderson also becomes the fifth Magic player to win the award since it was first handed out in 1986, joining Hedo Turkoglu (2008), Tracy McGrady (2001), Darrell Armstrong (1999) and Scott Skiles (1991).
”It’s very surreal for me to be sitting where I am today,” Anderson said. ”A year ago if you would have said I would be the Most Improved Player, I’d probably laugh at you in the face. This year has just been a culmination of a lot of different things and a lot of different people helping me.”
Anderson received 260 of a possible 605 points, including 33 first-place votes from a panel of 121 sports writers and broadcasters in the U.S. and Canada. Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova (159 points, 21 first-place votes) finished second and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic (104 points, 10 first-place votes) was third.
Anderson came into the season with a career average of 8.6 points per game.
Magic general manager Otis Smith said he was ”proud of the basketball player he’s become” since Anderson came to Orlando from the Nets as part of a multi-player trade in 2009.
”He did the work and made himself into a better basketball player,” Smith said. ”He’s in the first part of receiving his dividends. … He’s making me look like a genius for making the trade.”
Anderson’s breakout season will surely help him this summer when he is a restricted free agent. The Magic have the option to match any contract that another team offers him. Smith said they’ve already expressed to both Anderson and his agent that they want to keep him in Orlando long-term.
Anderson credited Magic assistant Steve Clifford and trainer Joe Ragowski ”for helping me with my game and taking it to the next level.” He said he entered this season with a much different focus level.
”I really did put in the time,” Anderson said. ”I saw that I could have an opportunity here and I put in the hours.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Anderson’s success was a product of the work he put in staying in shape during the lockout even though he didn’t have access to team trainers as he was used to.
”To be honest, the bigger thing that has improved is he’s gotten more opportunity,” Van Gundy said. ”But he’s also gotten stronger. … Did I foresee this? I don’t know. But I knew he could help us.”
Anderson’s teammates said he had been a huge factor in the Magic finishing the regular season with a 37-29 record.
”He’s playing at a high level and is a reason why we are where we are,” forward Glen Davis said.
The award does come at a somewhat bittersweet time for Anderson, who is in the throes of a playoff slump that has seen his field goal percentage fall to 32 percent, his scoring average dip to 7.7 points, and his rebounding fall to just 5.0 per game.
His individual decline has coincided with the Indiana Pacers taking a 2-1 series lead and threatening to hand the Magic their second straight first-round postseason exit.
Anderson no longer has Dwight Howard drawing attention inside and finding Anderson and others for open jump shots on the perimeter. Anderson said this week that having the Pacers key on him so far this series with Howard gone for the season following back surgery has been an adjustment.
”It’s hard playing the whole year a certain way and then a team really tries to do everything they can to eliminate you totally,” he said.
But with Game 4 on Saturday in Orlando, Anderson has pledged to find other ways to help, from providing more energy to screening and rebounding.
”The great thing about this is we have another game,” he said, ”so keep playing.”