An early prediction for the NBL 2022/23 award winners
With the NBL tip off just weeks away, now is the perfect time to cast an eye ahead to the players that could define the season.
Credit: May Bailey Photography
Rookie of the Year: Sam Waardenburg, Cairns Taipans
So often, the Rookie of the Year race comes down to role. In a league as tough as the NBL, minutes aren’t just handed to incoming youngsters. That gives any rookie able to crack their team’s regular rotation a big leg up when it comes to this award.
That is a big part of the reason why Sam Waardenburg is this year’s preseason front-runner. The former University of Miami big had interest from teams across the league this offseason, but he ultimately opted to join the Taipans on a two-year deal. It has been reported that, as part of those negotiations, Waardenburg was guaranteed a spot in coach Adam Forde’s starting five. That opportunity alone places him at the head of a rookie class with less depth than in recent years.
With a sizeable role seemingly locked in, it will now fall on the 23 year old to take full advantage. While he was never a star with the Hurricanes, averaging six points per game across four seasons, he was a key role player in a team that went 26-11 last season. He had the rare distinction of leading the team in both blocks (1.3 per game) and three point percentage (41.8%) in his senior year, and he also averaged 2.1 assists per game to flash some playmaking potential.
That all bodes well for the Taipans, who have built a young roster around star import Tahjere McCall. The dynamic guard is a wrecking ball with ball in hand, able to attack off the dribble and either finish or find an open teammate. Surrounding him with shooting was clearly a priority for Cairns, and at six-foot-ten Waardenburg fits the profile of a stretch big that can help to space the floor.
It’s a similar story defensively, where Cairns struggled to protect the rim at times last season.
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