ORLANDO (AP/CBS) – Ryan Anderson, who led his Oak Ridge High School team to a state championship and starred at the University of California, was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player on Friday.
A full-time starter for the first time, he turned that opportunity into the best regular season of his career.
NBA officials were at Amway Center to present Anderson, 23, with the honor. The Magic host the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Saturday.
The El Dorado Hills native led Oak Ridge over Mater Dei in the 2005 CIF State Div. II championship game at Arco Arena. At Cal, he led the Pac-10 in scoring in 2007-08, averaging 21.6 points per game.
In his fourth season since being taken 21st in the 2008 draft, Anderson started 61 of 66 games during the shortened regular season and led the league in 3-pointers made (166) and attempted (422). He joins Rashard Lewis as the only other power forward to lead the league in 3-pointers made. He averaged career highs in points (16.1) and rebounds (7.7).
Anderson also becomes the fifth Magic player to win the award since it was first handed out in 1986, joining Hedo Turkoglu (2008), Tracy McGrady (2001), Darrell Armstrong (1999) and Scott Skiles (1991).
“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’d probably laugh at you in the face. This year has just been a culmination of a lot of different things and a lot of different people helping me.”
Anderson received 260 of a possible 605 points, including 33 first-place votes from a panel of 121 sports writers and broadcasters in the U.S. and Canada. Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova (159 points, 21 first-place votes) finished second and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic (104 points, 10 first-place votes) was third.
Anderson came into the season with a career average of 8.6 points per game.
Magic general manager Otis Smith said he was “proud of the basketball player he’s become” since Anderson came to Orlando from the Nets as part of a multi-player trade in 2009.
“He did the work and made himself into a better basketball player,” Smith said. “He’s in the first part of receiving his dividends. … He’s making me look like a genius for making the trade.”
Anderson’s breakout season will surely help him this summer when he is a restricted free agent. The Magic have the option to match any contract that another team offers him. Smith said they’ve already expressed to both Anderson and his agent that they want to keep him in Orlando long-term.
Anderson credited Magic assistant Steve Clifford and trainer Joe Ragowski “for helping me with my game and taking it to the next level.” He said he entered this season with a much different focus level.
“I really did put in the time,” Anderson said. “I saw that I could have an opportunity here and I put in the hours.”