SHEA ILI (New Zealand) – Big difference in preparation coming into this season compared to last and it definitely showed on the floor. Played at a near starter level during the first half of the season which saw him as the clear front-runner for this award. He’s had a huge usage rate, has closed a bunch of games and has looked in far more control of his shot-creation and play-making. Still a bit inconsistent as a shooter and scorer but he has had his moments there to go along with his good defensive efforts.
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TAI WESLEY (Melbourne) – Rounded his game out like never before with improved decision making. Made the leap to be an ‘All NBL’ level player. Wesley had been almost a black hole at times in the past but he is now an improved passer and more selective with what shots he is taking. His scoring efficiency has gone way up as he’s found the right balance of three-pointers and when to pass and post up. He’s a smart defender and rebounder who can play both big man positions and contribute to winning on both ends.
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MITCH MCCARRON (Cairns) – Significant increase in minutes and role. Went from impact player to the team’s Most Valuable Player. Strong enough, quick enough and smart enough to be able to play positions one through three and impact the game on both ends. Stepped up his ball carrying duties and created more for his teammates, whilst his rebounding went up another level – elite for his position. His scoring also went up with his increased role, although he still needs to be better than a below average finisher in the paint.
MITCH CREEK (Adelaide) – A player who has always had potential but injury has largely held him back. He is now one of the best locals in the league playing at an ‘All NBL’ level. He is completely in control of his game playing to his strengths and limitations perfectly. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year contender, switching onto almost anyone from positions one through five, whilst he is also a physical force on offense getting to the rim or free throw line and finishing at an absurdly efficient rate.
REUBEN TE RANGI (Brisbane) – Looks like he has cemented his spot in the league again after a couple of lost seasons. Played some handy roles to good effect, including some more time at power forward. Stepped up his usage and importantly shot the ball well enough that he can be seen as a three-and-D option again.
The Comeback Guys
Lucas Walker and Alex Loughton are hard to judge in this award. Comparing their form this season to last season makes them genuine contenders for the award, but if you were to compare their current form to the best form that they’ve previously produced over their career then they simply cannot win this award.
Loughton looked almost done at NBL level in 2015-16, but due to injuries and lack of import production has incredibly been required to lead his team in shot attempts two seasons later. To produce more points per game than his career average at this stage of his career, and with decent percentages, is rare.
Walker has proven that he should never have been out of the league. He has contributed well to a playoff team, even if he has cooled off (much like Ili) in the second half of the season. His form this season rivals his best season in Melbourne.
Majok Deng (Adelaide) has beaten out Matt Hodgson for some minutes this season as Adelaide have gone smaller than originally planned. He’s shown some decent natural progression coming off the bench for a few productive games as an offensive weapon and the team has done well in those minutes.
Craig Moller (Melbourne) was coming from a low base but his rise is impressive given the fact that he has earned a spot in the rotation for the best team in the league. He’s proven to be an NBL player with his willingness to play the role of ball-mover, defender and rebounder crashing the glass. He fits with the starters and will improve again once he improves and speeds up his outside shot.
Finn Delany (New Zealand) was almost all potential last season with a bunch of highlight plays. This season he has found his way a bit more and is a real rotation player. He’s less inclined to commit a wild turnover and is still a competitive beast. He still doesn’t shoot many threes but will definitely continue to improve his game next season.
Tohi Smith-Milner (Melbourne) has been the most productive Development Player in the league after taking advantage of some injuries to find his way into the rotation at times. He’s shown he is worth developing at this level as a skilled offensive player who can play both big man spots.
Cody Ellis (Illawarra) was in the dog-house early on, logging virtually no minutes, but as soon as an opportunity presented itself he took it. He is in better shape and has shot the ball extremely well as a stretch-big. He’s probably done enough to find himself a new contract.