Ryan Anderson became the fifth Magic player to win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award on Friday. Anderson was a runaway winner for the award after he averaged 16.1 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game on 39.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Anderson certainly got a boost from playing increased minutes and his first year as the full-time starter in Orlando.
Still, the award was a shock for a player once considered a throw in for the Magic in the Vince Carter deal.
"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 would probably have laughed at you in your face. This year has been a culmination of a lot of different things and a lot of people helping me. I am not really used to winning awards, I think this is such a cool thing."
Anderson led the league in 3-point field goal makes and took a big step forward as the next generation of Magic stretch-4s. He proved to be a difficult matchup for many teams in the NBA this year, setting career highs everywhere.
There are already debates whether Anderson was "worthy" of this award. After all, Anderson's raw numbers jumped up sharply, but his per 36 minute numbers showed only marginal improvement. He went up from 17.2 points per 36 to 18.0 and 9.0 rebounds per 36 to 8.6. Really, Anderson's "improvement" was from an increased opportunity.
Still, Anderson took advantage of that opportunity. And that says a lot about where this still young player can go. His improvement is probably not done.
Stan Van Gundy said one of the areas he thought he could have done better after last season was playing Anderson more. He felt Anderson should have had a bigger role in the team's play. And so this year, the Magic gave him that opportunity.
"To be quite honest, the biggest thing that happened was he got more minutes so he got more opportunity," Stan Van Gundy said. "But where he has really improved is he has improved physically. That has been a huge improvement for him. And then, he has gotten smarter. He understands the game a lot better. i give a lot of credit to Joe [Ragowski, the Magic's strength and conditioning coach] and what he has done with him in the weight room and I give a lot of credit to Steve [Clifford, a Magic assistant coach]. He is constantly showing him film. He has learned the game a lot better. You put those two things with more opportunity and you have a guy who has improved greatly."
Anderson was sure to thank the work Rogowski, Clifford and Van Gundy have put into helping Anderson win this award. He also thanked his teammates his teammates and said this is as much a team award as anything else. After all, as Anderson himself admitted, he is not a guy who creates his own shot and needs his teammates to find him, as they are struggling to do right now in this series against the Pacers.
Anderson's entire career, really his entire basketball life, has been about taking advantage of the opportunity in front of him and putting the work in beforehand.
As the story goes, a junior high school basketball coach told Anderson he would not be able to play college basketball. Not only did Anderson play college basketball, he led the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding his sophomore year at California and was a first round pick. Now he had people claiming he should have been an NBA All Star.
"I think that's why it is so surreal to me. My whole life I have had doubters and people telling me what I can't do," Anderson said. "I've always had people look at me and doubt me. I think it has pushed me to work harder and do the extra things and do the little things. This is kind of the first year where I have had a consistent opportunity. I think that has really built me up to be the player I am because it caused me to have a working mentality."
This certainly seems like an award given to Anderson for taking advantage of that opportunity.
Time and time again, Anderson and Van Gundy cited his confidence as his biggest improvement. Anderson said he improved his confidence level, knowing that the opportunity was coming for him to contribute and make an impact with this team.
The question now becomes what the future holds. It was brought up that Anderson is a restricted free agent. And Otis Smith said that acquiring Anderson has "made me look like a genius" and the team has made moves to give Anderson this kind of opportunity to shine.
Anderson said he loves it in Orlando. But that this is still a business and he will weigh his options this summer to get the most out of his career that he can.
That is a future that is still a few months away. Right now, Anderson's focus is on Game Four and getting back on track to tie the series with the Pacers.