LANDOVER -- General manager John Nash has a framed basketball box score dated Nov. 3, 1990, in his office at the Capital Centre to remind him just how far Pervis Ellison has come in his two seasons with the Washington Bullets.
"I kept this box because we beat the Chicago Bulls, and it was the first victory I experienced working for the Bullets," said Nash. "Bernard King scored 44 points. Pervis played nine minutes, went 0-for-2 from the field and picked up six personals."
Yesterday, Nash joined coach Wes Unseld and owner Abe Pollin in praising the 6-foot-10 center who was presented the Most Improved Player award by Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations.
Three years ago, near the end of his disappointing, injury-marred rookie season with the Sacramento Kings, Ellison recalled having his car break down on the way to the arena and two of the Kings assistant coaches driving by without offering assistance.
Now, Ellison, who was acquired by Washington in June 1990 in a three-team swap with Sacramento and the Utah Jazz that sent Bullets shooting guard Jeff Malone to Utah, is regarded as the centerpiece of the Bullets' rebuilding plans. The former Louisville All-American also is considered one of the premier young centers in the league.
"He's been everything that we would have hoped he would be. He's become a leader on this club," said Nash. "We think that with Pervis, Harvey Grant, Michael Adams and Rex Chapman, bigger and better things are coming for this team."
As one of the few positives in the Bullets' 25-57 season, Ellison led the team in scoring (20.0), rebounding (11.2), field-goal percentage (.539) and blocked shots (2.68). He almost doubled his scoring over the previous season, when he did not become a starter until the final two months.
Ellison drew 40 of a possible 96 votes cast by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. New Jersey Nets guard Drazen Petrovic was the runner-up with 22 votes.
Ellison is the first Washington player to win an established individual award since Dave Bing won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award after the 1976-77 season.
"We had a lot of injuries, but this is a wonderful bright spot," Pollin said. "Pervis is my kind of guy, and I'm very proud to have him as part of the Bullets."
Ellison credits Unseld with prodding him into fulfilling the great expectations that came with being the first player selected in the 1989 NBA draft.
"We'd come off a long road trip, and all the other players would jump in their cars and drive home," Ellison said. "But Wes would grab me and drive me right to the practice gym in Bowie to work on improving certain parts of my game.
"Being mentally prepared to play every game now, that's the biggest change as far as I'm concerned. My first year here, I spent most of the time coming off the bench. My concentration level is a lot higher now that I'm starting and playing a lot of minutes. I know I have to produce consistent stats."
Having earned the respect of his teammates, Ellison will try to take his game to a higher level while asserting more of a leadership role on the floor.
"I'm not saying I can be another [Knicks center] Patrick Ewing," he said. "But I want to be more of a take-charge guy by being more vocal on and off the court. When Magic Johnson was leading the Lakers, he made a point of talking to all his teammates in the offseason. I think that's a good idea."
The Bullets, who have a pick in the May 17 lottery, hope to lessen Ellison's workload up front by drafting a legitimate center or strong rebounding forward.
"Pervis had a lot of minor injuries that caused him to miss 16 games," said Nash. "That can almost be expected, because, playing center, he is consistently giving away 50 to 60 pounds, and that could wear anyone down physically. He's really a natural power forward, but he's the best center we have right now."
The Associated Press also contributed to this story.