What’s better than the in-season debate surrounding nominations for the NBL's season awards? That would definitely be the immediate reaction to the actual winners - here’s some immediate reactions on the 2019/20 NBL awards night.
Most Valuable Player
As much as some like to be contrarian, this award had just two genuine contenders, Bryce Cotton and Scott Machado. Sustained excellence, immense responsibility, elite offensive production, above-average defensive reliability, and high-end team success. Each box was ticked.
Winner: Bryce Cotton (Perth)
Cotton has a very real case to argue for being the best player in the NBL for four straight seasons. This one was his best yet - do not take him for granted.
Each piece of motion in Perth’s league best offence seemingly revolves around Cotton as he sprints around screens to create an advantage for himself or for his teammates. He is a hub of activity and has the ability to create for others with both his movement and passing. He sits second in the league for total plays finished coming off of screens, scoring at an elite 1.26 points per play (PPP).
As an on-ball scorer, Cotton creates a multitude of good shots out of pick and roll or isolation situations. He scores inside the paint, from mid-range, from three, and at the free throw line. Pick your poison and hope that he misses.
Despite his taxing style of play and heavy lifting on offence, Cotton rarely looks fatigued. He has the energy to go just as hard on both ends at the end of games as the start.
Runner-up: Scott Machado (Cairns)
Machado’s traditional point guard skills were well known prior to the season but his all-round production elevated him into the MVP race. Together with his playmaking, he’s been a mid to high teens scorer, a 40% three-point shooter, as well as a credible defender.
In the half-court, Machado’s default function is to run pick and roll, acting as either a passer or scorer. He has shown that he has more than enough craft or burst to create for himself in one on one situations, often proving effective late in the shot-clock.
What also helps feed Cairns’ offence is Machado’s ability to pair that slower half-court game with transition or early offence opportunities. His understanding of when to go at a certain pace is a strength. His style of play is adored by his teammates.
All-NBL First Team
Note that these teams are made up of two 'inside' players and three 'outside' players. Cotton and Machado were obviously selected to the first team. Here are the others.
Jae'Sean Tate (Sydney)
No matter how obvious it looks in hindsight, the signing of the 6’4” Tate at power-forward was the best recruitment decision made around the entire league. His high level of play quickly quelled any questions about his height. Will Weaver summarised it well early in the season, declaring that “[Tate] could probably play the six. He’s the strongest, hardest playing dude that we’ve encountered yet.”
Tate also has incredible footwork, which makes almost all opponents look like a mismatch. He has finished 73% of his paint attempts whilst also making 37% of his threes. He has been the Kings' best player and a two-way force. I would have slotted him in at third on my MVP ballot.
Lamar Patterson (Brisbane)
Don’t be fooled by those that point to Patterson’s large counting stats in the first half of the season as justification for a season long MVP case. His change in form (and scoring efficiency) has been drastic. His team’s win total reflected that.
Patterson’s production and impact in the second half of the season has however been as good as any player across the league. This award is well deserved. He makes the game easier for his teammates who play off of his lead role as shot-creator and playmaker. Patterson is as crafty as any with the ball in hand.
Nick Kay (Perth)
As Trevor Gleeson said post game on Saturday, “other people are looking for flashy new players coming in, but Nick has been our Rolls-Royce.” Again, don’t take him for granted!
Perth boasts the best offence in the league and run their main scoring threats off of countless screens, many of which are expertly set by Kay. Outside of his screening, Kay has proven himself to be a quality passer for his position, a strong offensive rebounder, as well as one of the most efficient medium to high-usage scorers in the entire league.
Defensively, Kay does not make mistakes with his positioning. He’s more ground-bound than others, but his decision-making, intelligence and elite motor make up for that. He is a player that would fit into any team construct and quickly contribute to winning. He leads the NBL in Box Plus-Minus and VORP.
All-NBL Second Team
Cam Oliver (Cairns)
Oliver has been a highlight machine but focusing just on that wouldn’t do his game justice. He has helped anchor the league’s second-best defence and also been a significant contributor on offence. He has shot just below 80% in the restricted area and 35% on three-point attempts.
The competition with Kay for a first team spot was fairly close. Oliver is not as sound defensively, or when boxing out, at least on a game to game basis, but the athleticism advantage is obvious. He is dynamic and has grown as a communicator on defence. An NBA opportunity should present itself.
D.J. Newbill (Cairns)
Newbill’s improvement this season has been insane. For the most part, that can be put down to a better fit next to Machado, as well as better health. Sharing the court with floor spacing bigs like Oliver and Majok Deng, Newbill has had more room to operate in than ever. He has struck an ideal balance between on and off-ball duties.
At close to 20-points per game, centre-like efficiency inside the paint, 42.6% shooting from distance, as well as his playmaking and Defensive Player of the Year nomination, Newbill is an absolute no-brain selection.
Scotty Hopson (New Zealand)
If Hopson cut out some of his turnovers and consistently showed better awareness and urgency on defence, then he would have been a first team selection. He also missed a quarter of the season. The best ability is availability.
Hopson undeniably deserves this second team selection though. New Zealand’s win-loss record with him in the line-up is startling. He is the number one option on an offence which was incredible in the back half of the Breakers schedule. Hopson was below-average in terms of overall points per play, but his presence certainly assisted players two through five on the floor. He has had to shoulder more ball-handling duties than initially expected. He makes spectacular plays.
Casper Ware (Sydney)
This final ‘outside’ spot was a highly competitive one with both Ware and John Roberson having strong but vastly different resumes. Roberson put together a season that is deserving of the title of ‘offensive player of the year’, whilst Ware has the obvious edge in defensive capabilities and team success. There was no wrong choice between the pair.
Ware’s season has been difficult to judge for the most part, because of his inability to hit the three-point shot with any sort of consistency. Unbelievably, he finished at just 30.2% on a massive volume which put a hard cap on his efficiency as a scorer. The raw box-score numbers are still impressive. Ware has proven to be an intelligent and impactful player at the highest levels in years past and his team finished with 20 wins.
Andrew Bogut (Sydney)
Bogut's minutes being managed throughout the season meant that he was viewed by most as an outside chance of being selected here. If you ignore that aspect of his season though, it's easy to see why he is deserving. The Kings league-leading defence is built around his strengths with his rim protection an enormous part of the puzzle for opposition coaches to solve. He is heavily involved in the Kings offence as a screener, passer and finisher around the rim.
But wait, where is Mitch Creek?
This is mystifying. Absolutely baffling. I don't believe you can hold his team's poor record against Creek - he plays too hard for that to count. Creek was the league's best player for a period earlier in the season, as well as a top two or three MVP candidate until the final stretch of the season. He proved that power-forward was again his best position in the NBL and I would have slotted him in ahead of Bogut.
Defensive Player of the Year
Whilst Newbill was touted as a favourite, once the voters had chosen to include Bogut on the All-NBL Second Team (and therefore forgive his low minutes), logic may have pointed to Bogut winning the Defensive Player of the Year. That wasn't the case.
Winner: D.J. Newbill (Cairns)
Newbill has been the most consistent defender on the league’s second-rated defence. He’s strong, a sneaky-good athlete, he navigates through screens well, and he rarely makes mistakes. His ability to guard multiple player-types is a clear plus for the Taipans roster.
Bogut possibly has extra value given his playing position of centre. Sydney’s defensive rating is a clear league best and Bogut has close to the highest rating in Defensive Box Plus-Minus. His rim protection is still incredibly meaningful, although the Kings have more defensive talent around him.
My pick would have been Mitch McCarron (who finished outside of the top three in voting). When looking at his resume, the fact that United sit in third for points allowed per possession speaks volumes to his impact. Dean Vickerman, his coaching staff, and McCarron have done a tremendous job in getting Melbourne’s roster to overachieve with that rank.
Already a strong on-ball defender, McCarron took his game to another level as a team defender this season. He’s the piece that guards the best player on-ball, he contributes the most off the ball, and he fills gaps to make different line-ups playable. His team’s defensive rating is a disaster with him off the court.
Winner: Will Magnay (Brisbane)
Magnay put together the best shot-blocking season at ‘state-league’ level of anyone in the country over the off-season. The Bullets cleared their frontcourt with the eye to finding Magnay his first rotation minutes at NBL level and, now free of injury and health issues, the expectations were quite high heading into this NBL season.
The production has been impressive, especially so given that he has been able to log some minutes at both front-court spots. The shot blocking has absolutely translated. Magnay has finished 66% of his rim attempts and has even flashed some future potential to stretch his shot out to the three-point line. His athleticism is on a different level to most Australians bigs that are currently in the NBL.
Dane Pineau also had a fantastic case for MIP. His surprise leap from non-playing reserve to full-time center and starter has been extraordinary. Shaun Bruce having a career year at age 29, after being out of the league, also deserves significant praise.
The other honourable mention is Sunday Dech, a player given his first real chance for NBL minutes. He defended the opposition’s best player quite well each night, but he was asked to do too much in terms of shot-creation on offence. He will improve again once he has a better supporting cast so that he can focus on easier off-ball scoring chances.
Rookie of the Year
I would describe the rules surrounding the eligibility for this award as… puzzling. Lamelo Ball, having played professionally in Lithuania, is classed as a rookie. Sunday Dech, having never signed a full-time professional contract prior to this season, is not. A move towards an age-limit based award, e.g. ‘Best Player Under-23’, would help avoid confusion, as well as increase the competitiveness of the award.
Winner: Lamelo Ball (Illawarra)
Ball left behind a highlight reel that the league will re-use for years to come. He was given a high volume and ball-dominant role on a struggling Hawks team that allowed him the opportunity to pile up enormous counting stats.
He dazzled us at times with his passing vision and feel for the game, but his scoring efficiency suffered tremendously. To his credit, he did reach a peak level of play that saw him appear in ESPN’s top 20 player rankings for consecutive weeks.
His struggles shooting the ball, together with his lack of defensive contributions, placed him as a below-average starting point guard in the NBL. The talent is of course alluring.
Sixth Man of the Year
Winner: Jason Cadee (Brisbane)
Well... didn't this award take a wild turn over the final section of games, with Adelaide imploding and Joey Wright calling out Eric Griffin's attitude on Saturday night. It's little wonder that the votes weren't forthcoming for the talented but polarising big man. His defence was part of the problem for Adelaide.
Cadee is a fine choice. He has moved back into a reserve role this season, a more natural spot on a playoff level team. His three-point shooting is elite and that allows him to slot in as either the lead guard operating out of pick and rolls, or the floor spacer lurking on the wing. The Bullets have been 7.6 points better per 36 minutes with Cadee on the floor.
Sydney's bench duo of Shaun Bruce and Daniel Kickert would have been worthy winners as well.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Mike Kelly (Cairns)
Kelly’s Taipans are the story of the season, so let’s not make this too complicated.
With the benefit of added time and experience, he has tinkered over the off-season, and moulded his playing rotation roles throughout the season, to create a winner out of nowhere. Nobody saw this coming. Cairns’ budget didn’t change, but their win total improved by double digits!
Fans MVP: Scott Machado (Cairns).
Gametime by KMART comunity program MVP: Dane Pineau (South East Melbourne).
Most Outstanding Media Coverage: ESPN. Shout out to The Pick and Roll's alumni Warren Yiu and Kane Pitman.
Referee of the Year: Vaughan Mayberry.