NBL: The top 5 Power Forwards of the Season

Melbourne United forward Tai Wesley drives against Josh Childress of the Adelaide 36ers.
Photo: NBL

As we look back at the midway point of the 2017-18 campaign, it’s time to review and assess the performances of the premier players at each position in the 40th Anniversary campaign of the NBL.

Today we look into the premier power/stretch forwards. From the sweet shooting of Daniel Kickert to the metronome efficiency of Perry Ellis, the season’s first 12 rounds have revealed plenty about the league’s leading 4-men, exposing some weaknesses and shining a light on their undoubted strengths.

Daniel Johnson has scored more points in the 40 minute era than anybody else. Does that make him the top stretch-4 in the NBL today? Is the gathering steam of the Lucas Walker retribution tour enough to propel him into the upper echelon?

Before we dive into the rankings, let’s lay down a few ground rules.

We’ve evaluated these players from the beginning of the current NBL season to the conclusion of round 12 only. The last five years and potential future don’t matter one iota, but I’ve watched endless reels of film (so to speak) and poured over countless reams of statistical data from RealGM, NBL.com.au and crunchtimeshots to compile this list.

To be eligible, players must hit one of two benchmarks to qualify: either 8 games or 100 minutes game time. That means Michael Carrera and Jeremy Kendle, for example, don’t match the criteria and don’t get in.

Also, some websites list certain players in the wrong position: Derek Cooke Jr and Jesse Wagstaff are listed as power forwards on RealGM. Mika Vukona is listed as a small forward. I don’t agree with that and have therefore swapped certain players to the position I believe they play more often.

If your favourite player doesn’t appear on this ranking they may appear on the rank for a different position.

If they don’t appear on that list either… you should find a new favourite player.

ICYMI: here are the PG’s, SG’s and C’s rankings. Keep your eyes peeled for the SF’s to follow.

Now, let’s get to ranking.


The Almosts (10-6):

10. Jerry Evans Jr, Cairns Taipans

Age: 27

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks

Shooting: 40.0 FG%, 32.4 3PT%, 66.7 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 14.1 PER, 103.8 ORTG, 107.1 DRTG

Stepped up after Cairns parted ways with Michael Carrera and has given the team a lift. Stands 6’9 but has a 7’0 foot wingspan; length that should make him more disruptive on the defensive end, but he doesn’t use it to his advantage.

In his last seven games as part of the regular rotation, Jerry is giving the Taipans 10.0 PPG and 5.3 RPG in 20 minutes a game. The extra minutes against better competition has seen his shooting efficiency crater to the tune of  39% from the field and just 29% from three point range.

Teams are comfortable leaving him wide open behind the arc now. If he’s going to get three or four wide open shots from there every game, he has to start making teams pay.


Nick Kay was ranked the 19th best player in the competition by The Pick and Roll this pre-season

9. Nicholas Kay, Illawarra Hawks

Age: 25

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

Shooting: 45.6 FG%, 25.0 3PT%, 85.4 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 15.2 PER, 112.9 ORTG, 112.3 DRTG

Fair to say he has not come on as expected after playing with the Boomers team that won gold in the FIBA Asia Cup. On track for career lows in many offensive statistical categories (PER, offensive rating, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage) but has produced far more with AJ Ogilvy sidelined.

Rob Beveridge is confident enough to run the offense through Nicholas and he has proved adequate as a set up man surveying from the elbows and the top of the key. Is tied with Tai Wesley for assists per game amongst power forwards (2.6 per game).

Over the last three games for Illawarra, Nick has lifted: 14.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 APG and 2.3 SPG.


8. Cody Ellis, Illawarra Hawks

Age: 27

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

Shooting: 48.7 FG%, 37.5 3PT%, 90.5 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 21.3 PER, 143.4 ORTG, 116.4 DRTG

An efficiency standout when he is on court. The well publicised problem was not playing for 8 games (despite being completely healthy) because of Illawarra’s ownership micro-managing and dictating rotations to the Coach.

Thankfully, Cody (and the Hawks?) appear to have put that episode behind them and Cody is letting his play speak loudest.

To wit: Leads all power forwards for player efficiency rating (21.5 PER, 5th overall in the NBL). Leads the league in offensive rating (143.4) among players who average a minimum 12 minutes per game; which is an utterly absurd number and is on track for the second highest rating this decade behind Greg Hire (149.4) in 2014-15.

Leads the league in assist to turnover (4.0) and steal to turnover ratio (3.0) among players who average a minimum 12 minutes per game. Leads all power forwards in scoring per 40 minutes (22.5).

Amazingly, has just two turnovers in 117 minutes on court; a phenomenal effort considering his usage rate hovers around 20% which is above league average.

Cody is on track to set career highs in PER, offensive rating, true shooting percentage (68.4%), effective field goal percentage (60.3%), usage rate (19.9%), assist to turnover ratio (4.0) and steal to turnover ratio (3.0). Also extremely close to the vaunted 50/40/90 holy grail for basketballers.


Daniel Kickert was rated the 13th best player in the league by The Pick and Roll this pre-season

7. Daniel Kickert, Brisbane Bullets

Age: 34

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks

Shooting: 50.6 FG%, 45.3 3PT%, 90.0 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 14.0 PER, 116.0 ORTG, 119.5 DRTG

Have a look at his shooting clips and you’ll notice that the only man to ever shoot 50/40/90 for a season, is on track to do it again. A truly amazing feat.

Possibly the best shooting big man in NBL history (career: 167 of 351 three-pointers – 47.6%) and a remarkably reliable player night in and night out. Has scored in double figures in 15 of 18 games and scored 9 points on two other occasions.


6. Josh Childress, Adelaide 36ers

Age: 34

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks

Shooting: 51.0 FG%, 22.7 3PT%, 69.8 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 113.7 ORTG, 107.3 DRTG

Will probably finish in the top 5 by the end of the season but for now, Alex Loughton’s form has been too irresistible to deny and he deserves some props.

After a slow start on a deep Adelaide roster,  has found his groove over the last seven games (to Rd 12): 13.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.1 BPG in almost 29 minutes per game.

Along with Creek and Johnson, forms an intimidating front line. A serious X-factor for an Adelaide team looking to make some noise in the playoffs.


The Cream

5. Alex Loughton, Cairns Taipans

Age: 34

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

Shooting: 45.9 FG%, 38.8 3PT%, 87.5 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 14.6 PER, 119.7 ORTG, 113.0 DRTG

After two down years in sunny Cairns where Alex averaged about 6.7 points per game, he is possibly playing the best basketball of his career right now. Like a heavyweight prize fighter that has one great fight left, Loughton is providing the knockout punch for a surprisingly good Taipans in 2017-18.

As he has gotten older, has realised that his deadly jumper is just as effective from behind the arc as it is from the mid-range. Leads the Taipans in scoring at 12.9 points per game.

Scored in double figures in 13 of 19 games and across the last three games is averaging 21.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 2.7 APG. All-NBL numbers.

Whilst Father Time will march on undefeated, Loughton has found a way to wind back that clock just a little bit in 2017-18.


4. Daniel Johnson, Adelaide 36ers

Age: 29

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.6 blocks

Shooting: 41.8 FG%, 25.6 3PT%, 85.0 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 15.2 PER, 111.9 ORTG, 110.4 DRTG

Johnson is 9th in the league for points per game (15.6) and 3rd in rebounding (6.8). Has scored 20 or more points 6 times and has two double-doubles on the year.

As noted in the intro, Daniel has scored more points in the NBL’s 40 minute era than any other player, a nod to his remarkable consistency. Since the 2011-12 season, the 36ers have been able to pencil in between 15-17 points and 6-8 rebounds per game, every game Johnson has played (there was an overseas sojourn in 2014-15).

Johnson’s offensive rating, PER and defensive rating have all been trending backwards the last three seasons.

As noted in a recent Pick and Roll Power Rankings, Johnson is two very different players at home or on the road (stats to end of Rd 11):

At Home: 26.6 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG,  shooting 29% FG, 10% 3PT

On the Road: 31.7 MPG, 21.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, shooting 54% FG, 43% 3PT


3. Lucas Walker, Perth Wildcats

Age: 33

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

Shooting: 52.9 FG%, 33.3 3PT%, 78.6 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 17.9 PER, 131.7 ORTG, 110.3 DRTG

Where did this guy come from and what did he do with Lucas Walker?

When has the NBL ever had a player come back from the dark abyss of the unwanted scrap heap and then improve across the board in their early 30’s? We haven’t seen it before because it’s never happened. Perhaps it was a fountain of youth and not a dark abyss. How else do we explain this turn-around to people from the future?

Like a few other golden oldies in the NBL today, Lucas is in career best form, setting career highs in almost every noted statistical category (points per game, assists, blocks, offensive rating, offensive rebounds, PER, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage).

Has become a vital piece for the back-to-back champs as they navigate the ups and downs of reaching for an historic three-peat.


Image Credit: NBL

2. Perry Ellis, Sydney Kings

Age: 24

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

Shooting: 50.0 FG%, 48.0 3PT%, 69.2 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 17.0 PER, 124.0 ORTG, 123.1 DRTG

Whilst Sydney crawled out of the blocks with just 3 wins from the first 12 games, the voting format probably had Perry out in front of the MVP race: 18.1 PPG on 54% FG and a scorching 19 of 33 from three point range (57.6%). Had a then league high 33-point game in a win against the Hawks October 15.

A shoulder injury and integrating new arrivals Jeremy Tyler and Jerome Randle has seen Perry’s numbers nose-dive to 10.3 PPG on 41% shooting over the last seven games (it’s also cost him the top place here).

Has some of the safest hands in the league with the 2nd lowest turnover percentage behind Cody Ellis and a total of just 13 turnovers in 560 minutes on court.

He’s too good to keep dishing out this passive play of late. I’d expect Perry to remind us over the ensuing 9 or so games, why he was the MVP favourite at one point.


1. Tai Wesley, Melbourne United

Age: 31

2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

Shooting: 51.7 FG%, 39.4 3PT%, 75.8 FT%

Advanced Metrics: 18.8 PER, 124.0 ORTG, 103.9 DRTG

A younger version of Mika Vukona, not just in the controlled aggression he plays with, but also the guile, craftiness and brute force he displays when in control of the ball.

Is the undisputed alpha of the Melbourne United team and has a junkyard dog style of game that belies his competitive passion, court vision and basketball IQ.

8th overall in player efficiency rating (18.8, a career high) and at 31 years of age is on pace to set career highs for field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds per game, blocks per game and offensive rating.

 


Matthew L Smith contributes NBL coverage for the Pick and Roll. Follow him on Twitter: @ALLeigHOOPS

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from RealGM, NBL.com.au or Crunchtimeshots and are current at the conclusion of Round 12 and heading into games on January 5.

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