Suns' Diaw wins most improved player award
|2004||Zack Randolph||Trail Blazers|
|1988||Kevin Duckworth||Trail Blazers|
The Phoenix Suns' versatile Frenchman was a landslide choice with 80 first-place votes in balloting by 124 sports writers and sportscasters. He received 489 overall points, compared with 22 first-place votes and 283 points for runner-up David West of New Orleans.
With the Suns down 3-1 in their best-of-seven playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers and coming off a 99-98 overtime loss on Sunday, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni joked that "at least we get to do something fun today" as he presented the award at a news conference Monday.
"I always say it's a team sport, not an individual sport," Diaw said. "You try to get better, not only for yourself, but the principal goal is to get better to be able to help your team. I'm really happy because that's what I found when I came here."
Johnson, an important part of the Suns' 62-win team in the 2004-05 season, asked to be traded to Atlanta, and the Suns complied. They received Diaw and two future first-round draft picks.
The 6-foot-8 Diaw, a 2003 first-round draft pick (21st overall), averaged 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists while shooting 44 percent in 66 games for the Hawks last season.
Inserted into the front line for the small, fast-paced Suns and improving his mid-range jumper in the process, Diaw averaged 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists this season, shooting 53 percent. He played in 81 games, 70 as a starter.
"I've been improving in a lot of different areas," Diaw said. "That's why I'm happy to get this award right now because the only thing that scares me in basketball is to stop improving, stop getting better. I always want to get better. Because I'm a versatile player, I have to work on all parts of my game."
He joined LeBron James and Jason Kidd as the only players to average at least six rebounds and six assists per game this season. Diaw had four triple-doubles, including consecutive ones on April 14 and 16.
"My pride is my creativity, to be able to make plays for my teammates," Diaw said. "That's why I've been fitting pretty well in this system because that's what we try to do. We've got a bunch of shooters, and I just try to set them up."
D'Antoni said Diaw still has much room for improvement, especially on his jump shot. He said Diaw can be a devastating player if he develops a consistent 3-point shot. Other than that, all the natural ability is there, the coach said.
"The guy can become a great shooter," D'Antoni said. "He has a nice technique. The rest of it, you know what, his instincts are unbelievable. Other than just experience and just trusting himself, he doesn't need to learn anything. ... One of the reasons he got the most improved is he played. His skills were seen this year, let's put it that way."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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