NEW YORK — Goran Dragic, whose breakout season helped the Phoenix Suns make a remarkable transformation, has been named the NBA’s most improved player.
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.
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.
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.
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, barely missing 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.
The left-handed Dragic is in his second stint with Phoenix. He was drafted in 2008 by San Antonio in the second round, the 45th pick overall, then was traded to the Suns for Malik Hairston, the 48th pick.
Dragic was groomed to be Steve Nash’s successor but just before the trade deadline in February 2011, the Suns sent him to Houston for Aaron Brooks. Brooks languished in Phoenix, and after Nash was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers following the 2011-12 season, the Suns brought Dragic back, signing the free agent to a four-year, $30 million contract.
He and the rest of the Suns struggled through a miserable 2012-13 season, but with the hiring of Hornacek and new general manager Ryan McDonough, everything changed.
Dragic was married last offseason and has a new son, Mateo.
He is the third Suns player to win the award, following Kevin Johnson in 1988-89 and Boris Diaw in 2005-06.