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Pacers' Granger named Kia Most Improved Player

Posted May 12 2009 4:59PM

Danny Granger poses with his trophy after winning the 2008-09 Most Improved Player Award presented by Kia Motors.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

Official Release | Photos | Past winners

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Danny Granger told a storybook tale of how he learned he'd been selected the NBA's Most Improved Player.

The Indiana Pacers star offered a picturesque image of riding in a gondola in Venice, Italy, with one hand in the water and wind blowing through his hair.

Much of that was indeed a story -- he was in Venice, but in his hotel room instead of a boat when he heard the news. Upon coming clean at a news conference on Tuesday, those in the room broke into laughter.

"I can honestly say it really did come as a surprise," he said. "I really had it out of my mind for a while. I was on vacation, enjoying Italy, and all of a sudden, I'm winning the award."

He edged New Jersey Nets guard Devin Harris 364-339 in voting from a panel of 121 journalists. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant was third with 83 points.

The storybook tale was almost believable because of Granger's remarkable last eight months.

Granger averaged a career-best 25.8 points this season, made his All-Star team debut and accepted an invitation to train with USA Basketball in July. That all happened after he signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension.

Granger improved his scoring average by at least five points in each of the past three seasons. He averaged 7.5 points as a rookie out of New Mexico, 13.9 in his second season and 19.6 in 2007-08.

Granger had the NBA's fifth-highest scoring average this season.

"I think in my fourth year, I just had the experience of playing a lot of minutes," he said. "I could read defenses a lot better. I could get my shot a lot easier than what I had in the past. I think I just thought my way through the game a little more than I had previously."

Granger's success has been a welcome change for a franchise that has had numerous off-the-court problems the past several years.

"He is the face of our franchise, and he handles himself well on the court and off," team president Larry Bird said. "I think going forward, he will continue to do the things he's doing, and continue to improve. That's all you can ask for."

The USA Basketball training camp is the first phase in selecting the squad for the 2012 Olympics in London. Bird, who has said he believes Granger can be an Olympian, said the camp will be good for Granger.

"There's a lot of talent over there, and most of the guys lead their teams -- probably all of them do," Bird said. "I think Danny being associated in the mix, he's going to learn from that, and he'll bring that back."

Granger elevated his game in January. He averaged 34.7 points and shot 49 percent over a six-game stretch that began on Jan. 3 against Western Conference teams.

Then he began making dramatic shots. He drained a game-winning 3-pointer over two-time MVP Steve Nash on Jan. 7 in Phoenix, then made a game-tying jumper late in regulation before the Pacers beat Detroit in overtime a week later.

He made another clutch shot on Jan. 19, a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left at New Orleans, before being one-upped by Chris Paul at the buzzer.

Granger missed 11 games in 2009 with a torn tendon in his right foot. He returned and averaged 28.4 points in 15 games the rest of the season.

But Granger knows scoring alone won't get him to the next level. Each of the top five players in the Most Valuable Player balloting were on the first- or second-team All-Defensive squads. He knows to become an MVP candidate, he must become a stopper.

"I don't just want to be a better defender, I want to be an elite defender," he said. "I really modeled my defensive game after (Houston forward) Ron Artest when he was here. He was a phenomenal defensive player when he was here. I probably got away from that the past two years. Next year, that will be my big focus."

Bird expects Granger to make good on his promise.

"Danny's one of our hardest workers," Bird said. "He spends a lot of time on the court working on his skills and trying to improve them. That don't go unnoticed. That's why we signed him up last year. He's a special player, and he gets better every year."

Player Team 1st 2nd 3rd Pts
Danny Granger Indiana 48 37 13 364
Devin Harris New Jersey 43 35 19 339
Kevin Durant Oklahoma City 6 14 11 83
Paul Millsap Utah 3 13 23 77
Nen Denver 7 5 8 58
Rajon Rondo Boston 2 5 4 29
David Lee New York 1 3 11 25
John Salmons Chicago 2 2 1 17
Thaddeus Young Philadelphia 1 2 5 16
Von Wafer Houston 2 - 2 12
Brandon Roy Portland 1 1 - 8
Chris Andersen Denver 1 - 1 6
J.R. Smith Denver 1 - 1 6
Glen Davis Boston 1 - - 5
Jason Terry Dallas 1 - - 5
Wilson Chandler New York 1 - - 5
Aaron Brooks Houston - 1 1 4
Jameer Nelson Orlando - 1 1 4
Kelenna Azubuike Golden State - - 3 3
Dwyane Wade Miami - 1 - 3
LaMarcus Aldridge Portland - 1 - 3
Roger Mason San Antonio - - 3 3
Luis Scola Houston - - 2 2
Ronnie Brewer Utah - - 2 2
Kendrick Perkins Boston - - 1 1
Emeka Okafor Charlotte - - 1 1
Gerald Wallace Charlotte - - 1 1
Tyrus Thomas Chicago - - 1 1
Mo Williams Cleveland - - 1 1
J.J. Barea Dallas - - 1 1
Mike Conley Memphis - - 1 1
Rasual Butler New Orleans - - 1 1
Andrea Bargnani Toronto - - 1 1
Jeff Green Oklahoma City - - 1 1

1985-86 Alvin Robertson, San Antonio
1986-87 Dale Ellis, Seattle
1987-88 Kevin Duckworth, Portland
1988-89 Kevin Johnson, Phoenix
1989-90 Rony Seikaly, Miami
1990-91 Scott Skiles, Orlando
1991-92 Pervis Ellison, Washington
1992-93 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Denver
1993-94 Don MacLean, Washington
1994-95 Dana Barros, Philadelphia
1995-96 Gheorghe Muresan, Washington
1996-97 Isaac Austin, Miami
1997-98 Alan Henderson, Atlanta
1998-99 Darrell Armstrong, Orlando
1999-00 Jalen Rose, Indiana
2000-01 Tracy McGrady, Orlando
2001-02 Jermaine ONeal, Indiana
2002-03 Gilbert Arenas, Golden State
2003-04 Zach Randolph, Portland
2004-05 Bobby Simmons, L.A. Clippers
2005-06 Boris Diaw, Phoenix
2006-07 Monta Ellis, Golden State
2007-08 Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando
2008-09 Danny Granger, Indiana

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