Dragic named Most Improved Player, Stephenson finishes 2nd

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Finishing second in the Most Improved Player balloting, Lance Stephenson becomes the latest Pacer denied an end of season accolade.

While several members of the Pacers' roster were busy answering questions about a supposed "fistfight" between Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson, the league was awarding the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic the 2013-2014 Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award. According to NBA.com, Dragic received 408 points out of possible 1,134, including 65 first place votes. Meanwhile, long considered the front-runner for the award, Lance Stephenson finished second in the balloting, tallying 158 points including 13 first place votes. Here is a player-to-player comparison on each of the top point earners' improvement this season:

Goran Dragic:

2012-2013: 14.7 points, 7.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds, .443 FG%

2013-2014: 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, .505 FG%

Lance Stephenson:

2012-2013: 8.8 points, 2.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds, .460 FG%

2013-2014: 13.8 points, 4.6 assists, 7.2 rebounds, .491 FG%

Although likely disappointed, there is no doubting that Lance lost out to a worthy recipient. Over the course of the 2013-2014 season, The Dragon posted career highs in scoring (20.3ppg) and field goal percentage (.505). Additionally, NBA.com notes that the Suns' floor general was the only player in the league to shoot at least 50% from the field and 40% from three.

Even so, given that Born Ready managed to improve in every statistical category and led the league in triple-doubles (5), it is difficult not to question if the divergent trajectories of the two top finishers' respective teams may have somehow made an impact on how the panel of 126 sportswriters and broadcasters voted.

While the Suns were lauded for their against the odds near playoff berth, the narrative surrounding the Pacers the last few months has been consumed with nothing but tales of alleged splintered chemistry and implosion. The NBA community was seemingly awestruck by Dragic's ability to lead a roster many supposed would tank to a 23 win improvement. Meanwhile, the Pacers faltered down the stretch and Stephenson, accurate or not, was pegged as one of the possible "selfish dudes."

The Blue and Gold's late season malaise likely also greatly affected Roy Hibbert's campaign for DPOY, as well as, Frank Vogel's candidacy for COY. Of course, narratives projecting an image of gloom, despair, and agony cannot solely be blamed for the team's loss of individual accolades, especially given that the Pacers finished the season barely over .500.

Regardless of whether Indiana's late season slide impacted balloting, perhaps the collective feeling of being looked over by the NBA community will restore what bonded this team together in the first place - their collective desire to quiet the naysayers. Like what was written on SB Nation's playoff preview for the Pacers, unity was always this team's greatest strength, and maybe, just maybe, the outside noise of scoffers will  serve as as the fuel this team needs not only  to quiet their skeptics, but to drive to the Finals. Paul George may not be MVP, Roy Hibbert is not the DPOY, Frank Vogel is not COY, and Lance Stephenson has not been named the league's Most Improved Player, but perhaps if they, once again, choose to channel the motivating power of doubt and strengthen the tie that binds they can still win the one award they eyed all season - the Larry O'Brien trophy.

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