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 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Golden State guard Monta Ellis was selected the NBA's Most Improved Player on Wednesday, edging Sacramento's Kevin Martin in the closest voting in the award's history.
Ellis, a second-year pro who joined the Warriors straight out of his Mississippi high school, received 47 first-place votes and 352 points from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters. Martin, the Kings' high-scoring guard, got 44 first-place votes and 349 points. Utah's Deron Williams was a distant third with 101 points.
The previous closest finish was in 1990-91, when Scott Skiles of Orlando edged Kevin Gamble of Boston by four votes. The award has been presented annually since the 1985-86 season.
Ellis averaged 16.5 points, 4.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds this season with new coach Don Nelson and the revitalized Warriors, who returned to the playoffs after a 12-year absence. The second-round pick's improvement on his 6.8-point scoring average in his rookie season was the NBA's largest increase this year.
Ellis emerged as a key contributor to Golden State's uptempo offense, earning his teammates' trust and playing in big situations while learning to play point guard at Nelson's behest. Among second-year pros, only New Orleans' Chris Paul averaged more points per game this season (17.2).
Not bad for a high-school star who had visions of instant stardom when he joined the NBA's last prep-to-pro class in 2005. Ellis held a big draft-day party for himself in his native Jackson, Miss. - but most of the guests left before he was chosen by the Warriors with the 40th overall pick.
Ellis quickly took to the pro game, using his skill and creativity to lead all prep-to-pro players in scoring last season despite only cracking former coach Mike Montgomery's regular rotation late in the year. Nelson immediately recognized Ellis' skills and put him in the starting lineup for 53 games.
Ellis is the second Golden State player in five years to win the award, after Gilbert Arenas - another second-round pick who blossomed in Oakland before moving to the Washington Wizards - in 2003.
Martin's scoring average went up to 20.2 points per game this season from 10.8 in 2005-06, but the lanky guard struggled down the stretch of the regular season along with his spiraling teammates. The Kings missed the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, and coach Eric Musselman was fired last week.
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