Bullets' MacLean voted NBA's most improved

May 18, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Though he was a star in high school, the Pacific 10's all-time leading scorer and a first-round NBA pick two years ago, Washington Bullets forward Don MacLean said he always has felt he had something to prove.

"They'd say, 'Yeah, he's a good high school player, but what's he going to do in college?' " MacLean said at a news conference in a Washington restaurant. "And 'Yeah, he's pretty good in college, but what's he going to do in the pros?'

"It seems like throughout my whole career, nobody's really given me my full credit."

Credit for MacLean was granted yesterday, when the 6-foot-10 forward won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. MacLean received 55 of a possible 101 votes.

MacLean is the third player on the Bullets roster to win the award, first given in 1986. Kevin Duckworth won in 1988 while with the Portland Trail Blazers, and Pervis Ellison won with the Bullets in 1992. Harvey Grant, now with Portland, was named most improved player by Basketball Digest in 1990 while he was still with the Bullets.

For MacLean, the award was the culmination of a season in which he was tied for the team lead in scoring at 18.2, after scoring just 6.6 points his rookie season -- nearly tripling his average. He was second on the team in games (75), rebounds (6.2) and free-throw percentage (.824).

The improvements resulted from an off-season in which MacLean worked out with some former UCLA football players, adding 15 pounds of muscle while reducing his body fat. MacLean went through the regimen after averaging 10.9 minutes in the 62 games he appeared in as a rookie.

"Some guys get frustrated and try to blame someone else," MacLean said. "I looked at myself from the second half of my rookie season to the beginning of this year as, 'What can I do to play? What can I do to make myself better so I'm given an opportunity to play?'

"I take things personally. I get ticked off, I get out to work and try to make things better. I came into training camp, and I was in shape and a lot stronger."

The results were immediate. He scored 19 on opening night coming off the bench, and by the fifth game of the season, he was the team's starting small forward. MacLean wound up starting 69 games (he missed seven games with a hip pointer). He broke or tied every career-high statistic, including scoring a career-high 38 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 17.

"I got it going early, getting a couple of good games earlier in the year and everything kind of carried," MacLean said. "As the season went on, Wes [Unseld, former Bullets coach] got more confidence in me and started running more plays for me."

And MacLean never let down offensively, demonstrating the scoring touch that he showed at UCLA.

"I just wanted a chance to play this year, prove I could play in this league and establish myself as one of the good players," MacLean said. "I think I accomplished that this year. The award kind of symbolizes what I wanted to do."

MacLean will continue his off-season training program in hopes that there will be even further improvement in his game next season.

"Nobody's job is secure in this league unless you're Shaquille O'Neal," MacLean said. "I know we may draft some guys who play my position, or we may lose some guys, trade for some guys. I have to keep myself ready and keep producing. I'm not one to rest on my laurels."

NOTES: The Bullets will be the first team to be represented by players when the NBA holds its draft lottery on Sunday. Tom Gugliotta and Calbert Cheaney -- the No. 6 picks over the past two seasons -- will sit in instead of general manager John Nash. The Bullets, with the fifth-worst record, will have a 9.4 percent chance of one of their lottery balls giving them the first pick.

MacLEAN'S STATS

Stat ...... ...... 1992-93 ... 1993-94

Games ..... ........ 62 ......... 75

Min. per game ...... 10.9 ....... 33.2

FG pct. ............ 43.5 ....... 50.2

FT pct. ............ 81.1 ....... 82.4

Assists avg ......... 0.6 ........ 2.1

Rebounds avg. ....... 2.0 ........ 6.2

Points avg. ......... 6.6 ....... 18.2

THE VOTING

Voting results for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award, as selected by a nationwide panel of the media:

Player, Team ......... ......... Votes

Don MacLean, Washington ........... 55

Latrell Sprewell, Golden State .... 29

Gary Payton, Seattle ........ ...... 5

Mookie Blaylock, Atlanta .... ...... 2

Dale Davis, Indiana ......... ...... 2

Rod Strickland, Portland .... ...... 2

Vincent Askew, Seattle ...... ...... 1

Dana Barros, Philadelphia ... ...... 1

Rex Chapman, Washington ..... ...... 1

Pete Myers, Chicago ......... ...... 1

Olden Polynice, Sacramento .. ...... 1

Brian Williams, Denver ...... ...... 1

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