“When I retire, and Bryce [Cotton] is no longer a Wildcat, I’ll be more than happy to reveal that.”
The that Damian Martin referred to ––in a recent chat with ESPN’s Warren Yiu–– is the secret of how he would defend his Perth teammate, guard Bryce Cotton–– a trade secret many in the NBL would likely love to know.
Stifling the red-hot Cotton proved to be a difficult assignment during the 2018/19 NBL season. The 27 year old played like an MVP ––much like his 2017/18 season when he first earned the honours–– but missed out on becoming the seventh player ever to win multiple MVP awards.
Despite the MVP resume, and back-to-back club honours as Perth’s best player with the Gordon Ellis medal, Cotton looks like he’s far from being done and more than ready to cement his name not just in Wildcats history, but in the league’s history too.
Cotton’s strengths are paramount, he’s an elite all-around scorer for Perth and has been for consecutive seasons. While he can create solid looks off the dribble, or work in isolation, Cotton also carries a slashing mentality into the way he operates in close, usually through contact between the traffic of defenders. Last season, Cotton made 72 field goals (at 51.8%) from within eight feet, while also draining 36.3% of his attempts from three-point territory.
His most important contribution for Perth has always come in the clutch. In the fourth quarter, Cotton regularly had the ball and scored on 63% of his attempts at the rim (per Spatial Jam). Out of all players who played 28 or more games last season, just one player recorded a higher usage rate than Cotton (28.4%), further illustrating the heavy load he carried for the Wildcats, and rising to the occasion, despite it all.
As recorded by Spatial Jam’s on/off metrics, the Wildcats were 9.1 points better with Cotton on the floor last year; only Nick Kay delivered a higher offensive rating for Perth.
In ESPN’s annual edition of the league’s top 20 NBL players, the Wildcats guard took top position as the best player heading into the new season. What makes Cotton so dangerous for opposition players is his ability to take the shots that are there, and punish defenders by brushing past them for a quick layup, or back pedal and drain a triple if given the required space.
“Yeah, I mean it requires a lot of energy, but I mean that’s what the game is about: read and react,” Cotton told ESPN. Cotton’s game is deliberate, and very effective as he carries Perth towards the quest for more championships.
Having spent three years representing Perth, the American sharpshooter now has a combined 1,641 total points–– leading all players in the league since his NBL debut, and surpassing reputable scorers Casper Ware and Jerome Randle. The only Wildcats player to get anywhere near that mark is durable forward Jesse Wagstaff with 756, but Cotton is continuously proving his worth on a national scale against the elite performers of today’s league.
In the 2019/20 NBL season, Cotton’s game will be tested by his play against various competitive lead guards. His consistency and ability to shift from facilitator to avid scorer in-game sets him as the benchmark in an abundant league of elite guard talent, that includes Casper Ware to Phoenix import John Roberson, and also returning 36er Jerome Randle among others. Above all, it’s his skill and creativity in isolation that puts him beyond reach. One on one, Cotton finds ways to blitz past the best of defenders consistently, make the correct play, and split defences open.
“I guess I don’t look at it as, I can score whenever I want,” Cotton tells ESPN. “My biggest goal is to go out there and make a play every time I touch the ball. But I know that does stem from the mindset of looking to score though.”
Offensively, Cotton is a dynamic threat, and he’s at the forefront of a Perth team full of solid contributors. If teammate Terrico White becomes streaky – like he displayed in last year’s Grand Final series – then Cotton excels with less attention, defences have to react and adjust accordingly. Guarding Cotton remains a tough task for even the best of perimeter defenders, because of his tireless efforts to always stay in the contest, he’ll find open looks for himself or others.
Cotton scored 27 points in Perth’s opening preseason game against the Hawks, going about his business very effectively. Despite what was a mostly disappointing Blitz campaign for Perth, Cotton confirmed his readiness for the season ahead, he played two games averaging 23.5 points, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 5 rebounds.
It’s Friday night in Geelong.
The Wildcats are tied 90-90 against Melbourne United, with 14 seconds to go. The stakes aren’t high –preseason rarely, if ever matters– but you could tell Bryce Cotton is ready, there’s momentum up for grabs. He catches the inbound pass, then, a sudden dribble-move that causes his defender to frantically backpedal. A sharp cross to the left becomes an upfake that ends in a forced shot, with precious seconds ticking down, the defender attached to his hip .
It didn’t look pretty – not that it matters. A hail mary that catches plenty of glass, Cotton steps back, watches it roll in.
Perth’s preseason was capped with a buzzer-beating Bryce Cotton special against United. If you needed any more evidence of Cotton’s desire to win, this was probably it. Any time, anywhere.
Cotton will be ready to go for the unfurling of the championship banner against Melbourne on Saturday 5th October – and you can be sure Martin’s keeping his secret safe for quite a while more.