With this year's NBA awards starting to be announced, it's time to present the case for Marcin Gortat as Most Improved Player of the 2011 NBA season.
Gortat's surge to becoming one of the Phoenix Sun's most important and valuable players began as soon as he was traded in December. He was able to make an immediate impact for the Suns on the offensive end, averaging 12.9 PPG, and on the defensive end, averaging 1.3 blocks and 9.3 rebounds per game, since being dealt to the Suns.
Compare those numbers to his stay in Orlando, and you see a completely different player.
Gortat spent his time in Orlando in Dwight Howard's shadow with little playing time, and rightfully so. Howard just won his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award and has made a strong MVP case as one of the most dominant players in the league since his arrival in 2004 straight out of high school.
Gortat played roughly 16 minutes per game in a Magic uniform, and averaged a lowly 4.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and less than a block per game.
All that changed when Gortat was dealt. He has been able to thrive for the Suns this season, actually winning the starting job from Robin Lopez at the end of the season.
There are other great players that certainly deserve the honor of being most improved, namely Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors.
What these players' cases lack is that they were already putting up solid numbers before they made their jumps in production.
Love averaged 14 points and 11 boards in 2010, compared to 20 and 15 this season. Love had averaged a double-double before this year.
Aldridge averaged close to 18 points and eight rebounds last season; this year he elevated his performance to almost 22 points and nine boards a game.
DeRozan was able to put up nine points per game his rookie year, compared to 17 this season.
All three players are certainly worthy of winning the award, but Gortat has virtually come out of nowhere to become a solid contributor for the Suns, leading the team in rebounds and blocks and being a decent scoring option.
The Polish Hammer was an afterthought in Orlando, but burst onto the scene in Phoenix and won the starting job. Despite missing the playoffs this season, Gortat is primed to return next year and improve on a stellar season.
Hopefully, with a Most Improved Player award sitting in his trophy case.