This might be the Year of the Horse by the Chinese zodiac, but in Phoenix, 2013-14 was the Year of the Dragon.
Dragic received 408 of a possible 1,134 points, including 65 first-place votes, from a panel of 126 sports writers and broadcasters. Indiana Pacer Lance Stephenson was second with 158 points and 13 first-place votes, and New Orleans' Anthony Davis was third with 155 points and 16 first-place votes.
It was a fitting end to a season that saw the Slovenian post by far the best results of his six-year career. Dragic played in 76 games for Phoenix, averaging 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
What motivated Dragic to make such an astonishing improvement in his overall game? As with most of us, Dragic said he was motivated by the haters, per NBA.com's Matt Peterson:
I still 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.' That sticks in your head. It sticks in my head. Every time when I was on a practice court, I always had this in my mind.
That was my pleasure, proving people wrong.
Dragic wasn't only the most improved player in the league, he was one of the best, period. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Dragic set career highs in both player efficiency rating (21.4) and win shares (10.3). Those 10.3 win shares put Dragic at 15th in the NBA in 2013-14. Of the 14 players above him, only one (Kyle Lowry) didn't make the 2014 All-Star Game.
Per Peterson, Dragic's shooting efficiency from all over the court is what makes him a truly special player:
By the end of the season, he’d become just the fourth player in over two decades to average at least 20 points per game while shooting at least 50 percent overall and 40 percent from three.
So what is next for Dragic and the Suns? They barely missed the playoffs in a historically good Western Conference, and they were well-represented in the regular-season awards voting. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek finished second to San Antonio's Gregg Popovich in the NBA Coach of the Year voting. Two other Suns joined Dragic in the top 10 for Most Improved Player—Gerald Green was fourth and Markieff Morris 10th—and all of them will be back in 2014-15.
If Phoenix intends to get over that hump and claim the playoff spot so cruelly denied them this year, they will need another big season from Dragic. He is now the Phoenix Suns' unquestioned star.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.