Throughout the NBL 2019/20 season, The Pick and Roll's Jacob Doole has updated his rolling NBL award leaders. With the regular season now done and dusted, here are his final picks for the major awards.
MVP: Bryce Cotton, Perth Wildcats
Per-game stats: 22.5 PTS (1st in NBL), 3.9 REB, 3.7 AST, 1.7 STL (Tied-1st in NBL), 42.5% FG, 38.5% 3PT
There’s certainly a case to be made for others in the MVP field. It’s undeniable, though, that Cotton is one of the best players the league has ever seen. When an all-time great has a career year and his team has more than twice as many wins as losses, that seems like as good a case as any. It was a historically good season by the numbers for Cotton, too, as he became the first player to lead the NBL in scoring and steals (per NBLFacts).
As always, he showed off his penchant for the big moments all season long. In three wins against the ladder-leading Sydney Kings, he averaged 34 points and almost six made threes per game, and he scored more than 20 points a ridiculous 20 times. With the ability to keep his teammates involved and then take over when needed, he won the Wildcats countless games by stepping up and scoring exactly when they needed him the most.
His defence is criminally underrated—steals alone aren’t an indicator of good defence, but Cotton is a smart reader of the play who fits perfectly into coach Trevor Gleeson’s schemes. With Terrico White struggling and missing games at times, he’s been thrust into a more prominent role on that end of the floor. Despite that, the Wildcats still have a top-three defence (per Spatial Jam) and have strangled lesser teams into submission.
The Wildcats have plenty of talent on their roster, but everything they do well starts with Cotton. If he continues to fire into the finals, they have a real shot at winning their tenth championship. Regardless of what is still to come, though, Cotton deserves recognition for a remarkable regular season.
Runner-up: Scott Machado, Cairns Taipans
Per-game stats: 16.1 PTS, 3.6 REB, 7.9 AST (1st in NBL), 1.3 STL (3rd in NBL), 45.5% FG, 39.8% 3PT
The only true competitor for Cotton enjoyed a vastly different type of season. That doesn’t make Scot Machado’s performance any less amazing, though, as he broke the single season record for assists and led the league by a wide margin. More importantly, he led a team widely tipped for the wooden spoon to an unlikely finals berth, all while transforming them into the most entertaining team in the league.
Machado transformed the perception of himself, too. Long viewed as a non-factor shooting the ball, he knocked down almost 40% of his triples while showing off his all-around scoring game. If the Taipans can lock Machado in for next season and beyond, they will instantly be a title threat for as long as he hangs around.
Honourable mentions: Lamar Patterson, Brisbane Bullets; Scotty Hopson, New Zealand Breakers; DJ Newbill, Cairns Taipans
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball, Illawarra Hawks
Per-game stats: 17 PTS, 7.5 REB, 7 AST (2nd in NBL), 1.7 STL (Tied-1st in NBL), 37.3% FG, 24.4% 3PT
This was an NBL season that will be remembered for a long time, and that’s largely thanks to LaMelo Ball. He may not have been the best player or been on best team, but the attention and excitement that he brought to the league was unmatched and unprecedented.
On the court, there were some brilliant moments from the 18-year-old point guard. With the weight of running a team on his young shoulders, he was still able to show his talent and display the playmaking ability that has him atop plenty of NBA mock drafts. His seven assists per game ranked second in the NBA, and he became the first player with back-to-back triple doubles in his last two games. Despite his scoring inefficiencies, he knocked down a handful of clutch shots in Illawarra wins and was dynamic when attacking the rim.
The biggest knock on Ball is his defence—despite finishing first in the league in steals per game alongside Bryce Cotton, he was disinterested at best and downright awful at worst on that end. There was some improvement as his season progressed, though, and it was undoubtedly a tough task for such a young player.
There were only three real contenders for this award, and all three missed a big chunk of the season through injury. That makes Ball’s 12 game sample size a non-factor, and when he was on the court, he was the best rookie in the field by far.
Runner-up: Kouat Noi, Cairns Taipans
Per-game stats: 10.3 PTS, 6.3 REB, 1 AST, 41.2% FG, 34.2% 3PT
If Kouat Noi had played a full season, he may have given Ball a run for his money here. Instead, he’ll have to settle for second after missing nine games with an ankle injury. Still, it was an impressive debut campaign for the former TCU Horned Frog, as he was able to have an impact on a contending team.
Noi’s biggest attribute was his infectious energy; fans could tune into any Cairns game and know that they would see bodies flying from the outset as he crashed the glass. It wasn’t just brute force and athleticism, though, as he showed flashes of a more refined offensive game as the season wore on. With a little more consistency on his jump shot, Noi will be a serious problem for years to come.
Honourable mentions: RJ Hampton, New Zealand Breakers
Most Improved Player: Will Magnay, Brisbane Bullets
Per-game stats: 8.1 PTS, 6 REB, 1.2 STL, 2.2 BLK (1st in NBL), 48.7% FG
This is by far the toughest decision for voters, but Will Magnay continually raised his ceiling to take the upper hand late in the season. Every time it seemed like he might have peaked, he took his game to another level in his next outing. Forget most improved player of the year—Magnay was a constant contender for most improved player of the week.
Yes, he was expected to improve coming into the year, but could anyone have predicted that he would lead the league in blocks? Who could have possibly thought he would swat six shots in one game, then block seven in the next? Magnay has blown away even the most optimistic projections for his growth this season, and that in itself is a huge tick for this award.
Even more impressive than the blocked shots, though, is the efficiency with which they’ve come. Magnay played just 22.2 minutes per game this season, less than the rest of the top five in blocks. He also leads the league in blocks per 36 minutes by a wide margin, per Spatial Jam, and he has done so while fouling just 4 times per 36 minutes. Young big men generally struggle to protect the rim without fouling, but Magnay has had no such troubles, displaying maturity and control beyond his years.
With NBA offers reportedly on the table just a year after barely hitting the court, his case is impossible to ignore. Now, it’s time to sit back and see where the game takes him next.
Runner-up: Dane Pineau, South East Melbourne Phoenix
Per-game stats: 8.2 PTS, 8.9 REB (4th in NBL), 3.7 ORB (2nd in NBL), 1 STL, 1.1 BLK (7th in NBL), 66.7% FG
Like Magnay, Dane Pineau has found his way into the NBL’s elite in his specific role. For the Phoenix centre, that’s rebounding; he finished in the top five for overall and offensive rebounding, and he showed an uncanny ability to get to the right position when shots go up. Playing for a team that generally struggled defensively, the extra possessions he earned were crucial.
Speaking of defence, Pineau was often the only thing holding the Phoenix together on that end of the floor. He finished the season as one of two players averaging a block and a steal per game, and he battled manfully all year while cleaning up after his teammates on the perimeter. It was a lost cause at times, but his team’s issues shouldn’t mask his strong individual performances.
Honourable mentions: DJ Newbill, Cairns Taipans; Sunday Dech, Illawarra Hawks
Best Sixth Man: Jason Cadee, Brisbane Bullets
Per-game stats: 11.1 PTS, 2.2 REB, 2.4 AST, 44.2% FG, 42.4% 3PT (9th in NBL, min. 30 3FG)
He last led The Pick and Roll’s weekly leaders in round 11, but Jason Cadee has snuck across the line to be our Sixth Man of the Year. That’s partly due to the play of those below him, but mostly it comes down to Cadee’s remarkable consistency. He had just three games all season without a made three, which saw him finish fifth in the league with 70 triples.
The Brisbane Bullets realised his importance and briefly moved him into the starting lineup, and he continued to have a positive impact when moved back to the bench. According to Spatial Jam, the Bullets were 9 points better per 100 possessions with Cadee on the court. That mark led a team featuring offensive dynamos Lamar Patterson, Nathan Sobey and Taylor Braun.
Maybe his most valuable trait was his steadiness on the ball. Cadee played mistake-free basketball for much of the year, finishing with a 3.43:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, per the NBL’s stats. Add in solid positional defence and a handful of clutch shooting performances, and Cadee was the most impactful reserve of the season.
Runner-up: Eric Griffin, Adelaide 36ers
Per-game stats: 14 PTS, 6.3 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.3 BLK (4th in NBL), 53.4% FG, 32.7% 3PT
How do you judge Eric Griffin’s season? It may be impossible given the highs and lows that featured throughout. One thing is for sure though—Adelaide coach Joey Wright was well and truly fed up by their final-round game against the Adelaide 36ers.
“He wasn’t interested in playing tonight, so I wasn’t interested in playing him,” said Wright after the game. That came after he gave Griffin just two and a half minutes on the court; in that time, he had one rebound and three turnovers. There were far too many games like that for Griffin, as he had ten games with less than 20 minutes played and six games with single-figure scoring.
The fact that Griffin could win this award despite all those negatives is a testament to his raw talent and ability. He still finished fourth in the league in blocked shots, and he posted the best net rating of any 36ers player (per Spatial Jam). It feels like a disappointing season for Griffin given Adelaide’s struggles and his inconsistency, but he may still take home some silverware.
Honourable mentions: Clint Steindl, Perth Wildcats; Shaun Bruce, Sydney Kings