NBL 2021's top 20 local players: Part 1

Players ranked 20-11, plus a bonus name to cover for the likely departure of Will Magnay.

Credit: Russell Freeman Photography

With the help of Brad Winter, Jacob Doole, and Michael Houben, we’ve set our expectations for all of the best Australian and New Zealand talent this upcoming season. Initially, we each submitted our own rankings, which were then combined to produce the ‘PnR average rank’.

Together with our average, you will also see my individual rank (which was used as a tiebreaker), as well as where players placed in three advanced metrics last season among returning locals. Find the full PIPM numbers here, and BPM and VORP numbers here

In terms of eligibility, Bryce Cotton is still awaiting citizenship approval and therefore was not considered. Someone such as Andrew Bogut, who remains a free agent but is perhaps likely to join a team at some point, was also not considered. Will Magnay remains contracted to Brisbane at the time of writing so is therefore included, but an additional player has been included to cover the likely scenario of his departure.

Part 1, players ranked 21-11

21. Kouat Noi

PnR Average Rank: 22.0 | My Rank: 18 | PIPM: 36 | BPM: 43 | VORP: 45

Noi is somewhat of a speculative selection, largely anchored by my own ranking, but he enters the new season with a clear high-minute role, and responsibilities that will grow on the back of the reduction in imports — D.J. Newbill’s role was huge.

As a rookie from games 4-14, Noi averaged a promising 13.5 points (34.7% on 3PA) and 6.2 rebounds, before injury sidelined him shortly after and he never returned to play at that same level.

He has the physical tools and confidence, as well as having flashed his slashing, shooting, and rebounding ability last season. It appears to be simply a matter of how quickly he can polish up the edges of his game.

20. Dane Pineau

PnR Average Rank: 21.0 | My Rank: 21 | PIPM: 7 | BPM: 1 | VORP: 2

With the South East Melbourne Phoenix opting not to sign a traditional centre with one of their import slots, Pineau is set to retain his starting position and maintain a similar level of production.

He may not be the most skilled player or the best athlete but he is someone who understands exactly what he can and cannot do, an underrated attribute. He won’t take a bad shot on offence and importantly, he is a good pick and roll defender at the five spot.

Added strength and shooting range has been mooted in the offseason which would give him some opportunity for growth. Regardless, with his love of doing the dirty work, he’s a safe bet at this range.

19. Jason Cadee

PnR Average Rank: 21.0 | My Rank: 19 | PIPM: 8 | BPM: 12 | VORP: 12

30-years old in April, Cadee is certainly a known quantity at this point of his career. Capable of starter minutes, he and his team are best able to utilise his strengths and balance out any shortcomings by playing him in a sixth man role.

Offence is where he provides his value with his elite shooting either off the bounce or catch allowing him to play on or off the ball. As a playmaker, he’s more than capable creating out of pick and roll situations.

18. Rob Loe

PnR Average Rank: 20.0 | My Rank: 22 | PIPM: 6 | BPM: 2 | VORP: 9

As Brad discussed recently, Loe is a terrific glue guy that contributes in different ways to provide more value than his raw numbers. He takes and hits enough threes, doesn’t make bad decisions, and competes better than you may first suspect on defence. He makes the game easier for his teammates.

Despite all the good things Loe does, I’ve ranked him lower than others due to some of his limitations and the lack of potential to move up these rankings. The Breakers have again signed an import five so Loe appears destined to fall into the 18-21 minute range like every other NBL season of his.

Based on our average rankings, we move up a tier with this next group of 17-11. Generally speaking, these players are more legitimate starter options and either have a better proven track record, or possess greater upside.

17. Cameron Bairstow

PnR Average Rank: 15.8 | My Rank: 17 | PIPM: N/A | BPM: N/A | VORP: N/A

Now 30-years old and with some injuries in his past, Bairstow is unlikely to ever reach the heights in the NBL that were predicted of him when signed with Brisbane in 2016. With the Hawks using their import spots on guards however, he does appear certain to start and should have some strong performances as a scorer.

The questions surrounding his game will focus on mobility and athleticism for the defensive end. His team will at least need consistency and intelligence from him to support a young frontline.

16. Todd Blanchfield

PnR Average Rank: 15.5 | My Rank: 13 | PIPM: 39 | BPM: 36 | VORP: 36

The advanced metrics did not enjoy Blanchfield’s 2019/20 season on a last place finishing Hawks roster, but I remain high on his free agency move with Perth the perfect fit.

Trevor Gleeson’s flex offence will allow him to showcase his strengths as a shooter and scorer, whilst the Wildcats winning environment will challenge him to be better with his effort and attention to detail on the defensive end.

Somehow still aged in his twenties, Blanchfield has an opportunity to put together the most meaningful year of his career as the replacement for Terrico White.

15. Cameron Gliddon

PnR Average Rank: 15.0 | My Rank: 16 | PIPM: 22 | BPM: 20 | VORP: 15

Gliddon appearing this high is predicated on the idea of a bounce back year. In Brisbane, he slid down the pecking order of the rotation with his usage rate and assist percentage plummeting to role player levels.

As discussed at the beginning of free agency, I think it is safe to suggest that there is still a very good player in there, and empowering him to do more again should produce results. The Phoenix are betting on this idea which would give them an upgrade on both ends over the now retired Ben Madgen.

Gliddon is one of the best shooters in the country, an underrated passer and play maker, a leader, and a switched on defender who will be in the right spot at the right time.

14. Finn Delany

PnR Average Rank: 14.8 | My Rank: 12 | PIPM: 10 | BPM: 6 | VORP: 10

Long talked about as a player with so much promise, Delany finally took a significant step forward last season. Instead of being someone known for the occasional highlight and athletic play on offence, he became a more consistent contributor knocking down 40.5% of his three-point attempts.

Defensively, he has progressed from the foul prone and sometimes ‘headless chook’ type vibes from earlier in his career to something more controlled and helpful. He has the physical tools and is in the right age bracket to continue this growth.

The Breakers have plenty of talent to surround him and that should allow Delany to be an elite role player and do what he does best — running, jumping, dunking, and knocking down wide open threes.

13. Tom Abercrombie

PnR Average Rank: 14.0 | My Rank: 15 | PIPM: 12 | BPM: 7 | VORP: 17

Dan Shamir even admitted that he was concerned about Abercrombie heading into last season. With his production declining and his age rising into the thirties, the question of whether he was starting quality appeared reasonable.

What eventuated was Abercrombie answering those doubts by displaying his trademark springy bounce and knocking down a ludicrous 46.5% of his 114 three-point attempts.

Can he produce that again at age 33? Personally, I feel a little uncomfortable with Abercrombie quite this high, but he is such an easy fit on the floor when in form that you can easily be convinced. The Breakers rotation is full of quality so his versatility will serve him well as he again slots in as that ace role player.

12. Anthony Drmic

PnR Average Rank: 12.5 | My Rank: 11 | PIPM: 27 | BPM: 8 | VORP: 6

As explained in an earlier piece, Drmic’s growth on offence together with his contributions on defence were super impressive and a tad underrated last season. It was a semi-breakout campaign and he now sits firmly in the prime of his career.

This ranking is clearly betting on his three-point percentage returning to ‘normal’ levels to pair with the added diversity to his scoring and his dogged and intelligent defensive efforts.

Drmic plays as hard as anyone and simply finds ways to contribute. He is a genuine two-way local wing, something that always has great value, and younger than Blanchfield, Gliddon and Abercrombie.

11. Isaac Humphries

PnR Average Rank: 11.5 | My Rank: 14 | PIPM: N/A | BPM: N/A | VORP: N/A

Only 23-years old in January, Humphries is still growing into his game and body, having done so outside of Australia most recently.

There’s plenty of promise at the offensive end with impressive finesse and fluid movement for his size, developing strength, and the potential to stretch his shot out to three-point range.

Defensively, he’s not an explosive leaper, and he struggled defending the pick and roll in his rookie stint in the NBL. It will be a wait and see for his improvement on that end for me.

With all of this in mind, is a fit next to Daniel Johnson going to bring out the best in him? — It’s less than perfect, although the combination of his age and talent, plus the lack of high-end local bigs all certainly work in his favour for these rankings.

Keep an eye out for part two, for players ranked 10-1.