Hedo Turkoglu, whose 19 points, five rebounds and five assists per game helped the Orlando Magic win their first division title in 12 years, was selected as the NBA’s most improved player Monday.
Turkoglu’s numbers marked career highs in each category, and dramatic improvements from 13 points, four rebounds and three assists last season. He earned back-to-back Eastern Conference player of the week awards in late January and early February and was named player of the month for April.
This was the type of season the Magic always expected from the 6-foot-10 forward, now in his eighth year.
“Without him, I don’t know where we would be,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said. “I am happy to have him on our team and I’m happy that he is winning this award eight years late, but I am happy that he is at least winning this award. This is a sign of things to come for Turk.”
Turkoglu received 61 first-place votes and 380 points in the voting by a panel of American and Canadian sports journalists, well ahead of Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, who earned 167 points, 23 for first-place, and the Portland Trailblazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge with 128 points and nine first-place votes.
Turkoglu was the fourth Magic player to win the award, handed out since the 1985-86 season.
His 40 percent shooting behind the arc helped Orlando record the second most prolific 3-point season in NBA history. The Magic made 9.77 a game, behind only the Phoenix Suns’ 10.21 a game in 2005-06. He also started all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career.
“I guess this year was the time for me to step it up and come this far, so I am just blessed that I was healthy this year and all the things went well for me, having a good coach, my teammates, everybody,” Turkoglu said. “If you look at it, it is not just my improvement, it is the Magic’s improvement too, comparing to last year.”
Turkoglu had two triple-doubles this season, also the first of his career. But perhaps most importantly, the Turkish-born pro has been key in the clutch. He hit winners with the clock running down twice — against Chicago on Dec. 31 and Boston on Jan. 27 — and drained the go-ahead free throws with 2.4 seconds left on Feb. 1 against Philadelphia.
Turkoglu also made an acrobatic layup in traffic with 30 seconds left in Game 2 against the Toronto Raptors, the go-ahead bucket.
“He is as talented a basketball player I have seen at 6-foot-10 in a long time. You feel comfortable with the ball in his hands,” Smith said. “He can make decisions for your teammates — he is always at the top every night [in assists], and you can’t ask for a 6-foot-10 guy to do that.
“He has been asked to do a lot this year, and he has responded well. He has had these abilities all along, he just had to be brought out of them, and now he is able to do it.”