Can Kouat Noi keep the NBL Rookie of the Year trophy in Australia?
Last year, Harry Froling took out the NBL 2018/19 Rookie of the Year award. He led what was considered one of the deepest classes ever assembled, with the likes of Emmett Naar, Jack McVeigh and Tom Wilson in the race.
This season? The NBL has never seen an international contingent of rookies like this. The Next Stars program has enabled NBA lottery prospects like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton to showcase their skills against grown men. NBA scouts flew across to Australia just to get an early glimpse of what they had to offer at the NBL Blitz in Tasmania.
Let's take a peek at some potential candidates who could emerge as Rookie of the Year in the NBL 2019/20 season.
Kouat Noi - Cairns Taipans
After seeing Noi ball out against the Sydney Kings, there will be plenty for Australians to get behind the Taipans young gun. The forward was a bright spark on Friday night, and ended with a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) in a competitive game that ultimately saw the Kings with the W.
Noi is undoubtedly coming in on a mission. He spoke with the NBL earlier this season, sharing his thoughts on clinching the Rookie of the Year award.
“I really think I’m the best rookie to come in since Joe Ingles,” Noi stated.
Prior to his signing in the NBL, the 6'7 former TCU small forward announced his decision to turn pro in April. After averaging 13.7 PPG, Noi announced for the NBA draft. He withdrew after working out for multiple teams.
Signing for the Taipans offered the opportunity to work for a team that struggled under first year coach Mike Kelly last season, and the NBL Blitz gave Noi the chance to start. Averaging nearly 25 MPG, Noi tipped in 13.5 PPG and pulled down 7 RPG across their two outings.
RJ Hampton - New Zealand Breakers
RJ Hampton has gone to work. Entering the NBL 2019/20 season as ESPN's #6 ranked player for the upcoming 2020 NBA draft, Hampton would normally be expected to be a lock for the Rookie of the Year honours.
In New Zealand, it looks like he will be handed the reins to lead the team at the point. His length and athleticism stood out in Blitz action against the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
In both games over the past week he showed early foul trouble could be an issue, as he gambles and adjusts to how the game is refereed in Australia. His versatility and poise will be fantastic to see during the season once he comes up against seasoned veterans. But after averaging 15.5 PPG to lead the rookie class at the Blitz, he seems to have come to the NBL ready to impress.
LaMelo Ball - Illawarra Hawks
LaMelo Ball's decision to move to the NBL likely caught everyone by surprise, with no ideas about what to expect. The NBL fraternity only got to see one game from the youngest Ball in Tasmania, but boy did he show up.
Ball filled the stat sheet against reigning premiers the Perth Wildcats. Finishing the game with 19 points, 13 rebound whilst dishing out 7 assists. He showed an ability to shoot the ball from deep, take his opponent off the dribble, and create for his teammates. The most impressive part to his game was that he played as if there was no weight on his shoulders.
The scary part to Ball's game is that he is 18 years old. He showcased his ability across several preseason games and, as he continues to acclimatise to the NBL game, he will get stronger and stronger.
The latest ESPN mock draft has seen Ball shoot up the prospective board, with ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony setting Ball as his #3 draft prospect.
Sam Froling - Illawarra Hawks
Terry Armstrong - South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sam McDaniel - Melbourne United
Angus Glover - Illawarra Hawks
This talented group has shown ample ability. The problem is that each team is loaded at their respective positions and minutes could be hard to come by.
The highest profile of the four is Next Star rookie, "Scary" Terry Armstrong, whose athleticism and physical tools have been on display. But throw in franchise leader Mitch Creek, add veteran Adam Gibson plus the consistent shooting prowess of Kendall Stephens, and Armstrong's opportunities in the rotation could be limited. His recent foot injury looks to have also set him back a little further than first hoped.
Froling played out in the NBL1 this past season, and could be a solid NBL rotation piece. He finds himself nestled between veterans David Anderson, Josh Boone and Andrew Ogilvy between the 4 and 5 positions. As the season goes on, and as older bodies get a little banged up, Froling might find more opportunities coming his way.
Glover is a feel good story in the NBL. After rupturing his ACL twice in 2017, he made a return with the Hawks as a development player last season, and will suit up as a contracted player for the 2019/20 season. Glover will have to compete with sophomores Daniel Grida and Emmett Narr, both of whom had solid showings in their respective rookie seasons. The addition of potential NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball and former NBA player Aaron Brooks means Glover could find it hard to stand out.
Sam McDaniel has had an unfortunate preseason, with an injury sidelining him for the NBL Blitz. Prather, McCarron, Trimble, Illi and Goulding will all likely be ahead of him in the pecking order, and McDaniel will have to take his game to another level to crack a chance in this rotation.
The rest of NBL20 ROY Candidates
Tyrell Harrison - Brisbane Bullets
Anthony Fisher - Cairns Taipans
Fabijan Krslovic - Cairns Taipans
George Blagojevic - Cairns Taipans
Sunday Dech - Illawarra Hawks
Tom Vodanovich - New Zealand Breakers
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk - Perth Wildcats
Jordan Hunter - Sydney Kings
It's hard to argue against this rookie class being the most talented the NBL has ever seen. But what we can say, is that watching Noi, Ball and Hampton go head to head for the silverware, will be nothing short of exciting.