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NBL Lockdown: 5 candidates for this season's Defensive Player of the Year
Australian basketball has been globally depicted as one with toughness, grit and determination – the characteristics which embodies the Australian sporting spirit. All these values can be linked to any great defensive player, and this country takes pride breeding tenacious hustlers like Matthew Dellavedova – who has a made a career disturbing and hassling opposition players.
Each season, the NBL's Defensive Player of the year (DPOY) honours is awarded to the greatest all-round defender. While it was once an award dominated by Wildcats’ guard Damian Martin (six-time winner) over the last decade, big men are starting to buck the trend.
In his return home season, Andrew Bogut collected the award to go with his MVP trophy. Prior to this, the only other winners from the decade were Kevin Lisch and Torrey Craig, a guard and a forward.
With the added talent the NBL has at the four and five position this season, the trend of smaller players winning the award is beginning to shift. In the NBA, the last guard to win the defensive award was Gary Payton in 1996, in the last 20 years the league has been dominated by rim protectors, such as two-time winner Rudy Gobert.
There are both front court and back court players who have made legitimate claims for the DPOY title this season. Is it now time we witness big men stamp their authority as the protectors of the paint and dictate this award?
In no particular order, here are our candidates for the 2019/20 NBL DPOY award.
1. Cam Oliver (Cairns Taipans)
Cam Oliver has been a major reason for the Taipans’ rise in his debut NBL season. Seemingly the perfect fit for this full-speed-ahead Cairns outfit, Oliver has made a living by being the intimidator on defence.
When tuning into a Taipans game this season, fans have been credited with at least one highlight rejection from ‘Space Cam’. As per SpatialJam, Oliver leads the league with 1.9 blocks per game –excluding newcomer Miles Plumlee who debuted for Perth recently- acting as a pogo stick with an ability to attempt multiple swats in succession. Oliver’s 39 blocks (and counting) doesn’t look like it’ll be surpassed as Cairns begin their run home.
The 23 year old has proved to be a slippery customer when it comes to boxing him out. Although undersized at the five spot, his immovable frame allows him to contest with the strongest of big men and spin around his direct opponent to secure the rebound. Ranking second in the league for defensive rebounds and total rebounds, Oliver has been a pioneer for the brutal Cairns defence, one that ranks second in the league behind Sydney Kings, per SpatialJam.
Since round 3, Oliver has registered at least one block in all but two performances, confirming his legitimacy as a defensive beast and a genuine candidate for the award. His energetic activity helps set up point guard Scott Machado who likes to get out in transition, and it’s made Cairns one of the more tantalising fixtures this season.
2. Andrew Bogut (Sydney Kings)
Sydney Kings head coach Will Weaver's masterful use of Andrew Bogut this season has been vastly discussed and appreciated. A 35 year old Bogut exerts less energy due to a minutes restriction, and it has allowed him to remain a valuable asset throughout Sydney’s dominant defensive schemes.
With less possessions, Bogut has proven to be just as efficient as his most recent MVP/DPOY season. Per 36 minutes this season, the Kings center has collected a mammoth 14.7 rebounds towering over his opponents, per SpatialJam. He creates headaches for smaller opponents, just by being present in the paint.
Even with a plethora of talented defenders scattered across the league, Bogut remains one of the NBL’s most dominant rim protectors. Of course, not everything can be viewed through blocks when assessing DPOY candidates, and Bogut’s presence around the rim explains why Sydney owns the best rating for defensive effective field goal percentage.
Bogut epitomises the way Sydney enjoy getting out and starting the fast break. He sets the tone for teammates to follow, but more importantly, he’s posting similar numbers with less court time than other candidates.
3. Will Magnay (Brisbane Bullets)
Will Magnay's growth has been a breath of fresh air for the Brisbane Bullets this season. His projected improvement on defence have materialised, and he is now living up to the hype and potential.
With starting center Matt Hodgson continuously finding himself in foul trouble, it’s been Magnay who has been running the show on defence. A coming-of-age performance against Sydney last month has given Magnay a sense of responsibility moving forward. On a career-best night against the Kings, Magnay recorded 23 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. In the five games following that breakout, Magnay has tallied 14 blocks, seemingly turning a corner as Brisbane’s preferred rim protector.
Averaging just 20 minutes per night, Magnay has undoubtedly made the most of his playing opportunities. Per 36 minutes, the young big averages 2.6 blocks this season. With amped up endurance and physical tenacity, the traits of Magnay’s game isn’t something that can be easily taught. Magnay's a gifted young talent who is bound to find his feet at the international level someday, and he is now learning exactly how to impose himself on defence, and help the Bullets from leaking easy buckets.
At 21 years of age, Magnay would become the youngest DPOY in league history. If Magnay continues to fulfil his potential in the NBL (instead of moving towards his NBA dream), he’ll be in the conversation for this award for many years to come.
4. Eric Griffin (Adelaide 36ers)
A wise shuffle of his starting players allowed 36ers coach Joey Wright to find his best on-court combinations. Benefitting the most has been the ultra-athletic Eric Griffin, finding his rhythm among the second unit.
A tireless defender, Griffin continuously looks for stops or deflections as a spark plug off the bench. He possesses the physical tools and athleticism to guard a variety of positions, and while his Karl Malone-inspired dunks are awesome to watch, his pesky work at the other end has been nothing short of impressive.
Griffin quickly developed into one of the favourites for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and shows off his NBA-level traits as an intimidator when protecting the paint. Per 36 min, Griffin averages 2.1 blocks this season.
Despite Adelaide recording the worst defensive rating across the league, Griffin has stood up during some big plays this season. Team play might force him to miss out on this award, but his repeat efforts on an Adelaide team that doesn’t exactly prioritise defence should not go unnoticed.
5. DJ Newbill (Cairns Taipans)
What Taipans forward DJ Newbill lacks in size (compared to other candidates), he makes up for with unmatched intensity. All season long fans have witnessed Newbill ‘lock-on’ to the opposition’s ball-handler. Night in and night out, he has shown an ability to put the clamps on his direct opponent, intercept and interrupt the passing lane (ranks fourth for total steals, per SpatialJam) while also proving to be an off-ball pest.
A player who gladly completes his role on defence is a coach’s dream, and Mike Kelly backs his star player to complement Oliver's work. Although Newbill might not get as much recognition on the box score, it’s the little things – like trapping an opponent via a double team - that has made him one of the more dominant two-way players this season.
The recipient of his club’s defensive award last season, Newbill has taken even more defensive scalps this season, locking down wing players and scorers while also matching it with bigger bodies down low.
Newbill has now recorded three steals in three of his past four encounters. Despite plenty of attention and praise given to Oliver and Machado this season, Newbill is becoming more and more impactful as the season progresses. He has the chance to take out the scoring title and defensive award in a single season.
Bryce Cotton (PER): Not usually noted for his defence, Cotton's stellar offensive work can be just as good defensively. Of those who have logged at least 20 games this season, Cotton ranks first for steals with 1.7 per game. With active hands, and a shrewd ability to slide his feet with the ball-carrier, Cotton is yet again in the thick of all-NBL team discussion.
Scott Machado (CNS): The Taipans guard rarely puts a foot wrong on defence. When paired against the league's most talented playmakers, Machado makes life difficult with elite perimeter defence. Averaging 1.5 steals per game, Machado's all-round game has him in contention for multiple awards.
Damian Martin (PER): The guard who set the benchmark for energy, ruthlessness and basketball intelligence, Martin poses as a major defensive threat even in his later years (averaging 2 steals per 36 min this season). Despite Perth's slight defensive drop off (6th in DRtg), Martin remains a vocal leader for Perth creating structure and coherence for his teammates.
Mitch Creek (SEM): What a season the marquee man is putting together. With several near-triple doubles and career highs in multiple areas, Creek's game continues to evolve and he rarely flinches on a defensive assignment. With the ability to guard any position on the court, Creek is averaging more steals, blocks and defensive rebounds than any previous season.