West guards leading candidates for Most Improved Player

Apr 25, 2007 - 6:15 PM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- In all likelihood, the NBA's Most Improved Player will be a guard from the Western Conference. But which one?

Kevin Martin of the Sacramento Kings, Monta Ellis of the Golden State Warriors and Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz are the strongest candidates for the award, which will be announced Thursday.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Martin was the choice of NBA general managers in a survey conducted by the league's website. Ellis was second in the balloting and Williams third.

A third-year player, Martin blossomed this season, nearly doubling his scoring average from 10.8 points to 20.2 points. Martin also posted career highs in rebounds (4.3), assists (2.2) and steals (1.2) while starting all 80 games in which he appeared.

Martin was one of just two players to average 20 points while attempting less than 14 shots per game. He did so by increasing his free-throw attempts from 222 last season to 570 this season.

At 21 years, 7 months, Ellis would be the second-youngest winner of the award, which originated in 1986. Gilbert Arenas was 21 years, 4 months when he won with Golden State in 2003.

Ellis made the most of a huge increase in playing time as the second-year combo guard raised his scoring average from 6.8 points to 16.5 points.

Entering the NBA directly out of high school in 2005, Ellis started more games this season (53) than he played in last season (49). He had significant jumps in assists (1.6 to 4.1) and steals (0.6 to 1.7), but his best improvement came in field-goal percentage (.415 to .475).

Also in his second season, Williams became the full-time starting point guard and helped the Jazz reach the playoffs for the first time in four years. He boosted his scoring average from 10.8 points to 16.2 points and his assists from 4.5 to 9.3, second in the NBA.

Williams also raised his shooting percentage from .421 to .456 and his free-throw percentage from .704 to .767. He also more than doubled the number of times he went to the line.

Other candidates include Chicago's Luol Deng, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, New Jersey's Mikki Moore, Charlotte's Gerald Wallace, Milwaukee's Mo Williams and Boston's Al Jefferson.

No player from the Kings or Jazz has won the award. Phoenix forward Boris Diaw won last year.

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