Round 2 NBL award leaders: Creek in front of Cotton

There may have been a few more blowouts than in the opening weekend, but round two of NBL20 had plenty of eye-catching individual efforts.

New imports like Sydney's Jae'Sean Tate and Perth's Dario Hunt made their mark with breakout performances, while older heads like Daniel Kickert and David Andersen showed that they still have plenty left in the tank.

Among all of that action, the leaders for our rolling NBL20 awards coverage stayed fairly steady despite some strong challenges. There's plenty of movement across the leader boards, though, with every award race shaping up to be a tight one.

Most Valuable Player: Mitch Creek

Vs BRI: 25 PTS, 7 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL

Per-game stats: 26.5 PTS, 9 REB, 5.5 AST, 1.5 STL

It was hard to imagine Creek topping his dominant display from round one, but he may have done just that with an impressive all-around performance in a big win. With a little more assistance in the scoring department from his teammates, Creek was able to pick his spots and show the basketball IQ and instincts that could well see him return to the NBA.

This was the Phoenix as they are built to play, with Creek’s relentless drives to the basket the fulcrum. If the Bullets defenders gave him an inch of space, he was able to finish strongly; if they collapsed on him, he was able to find one of a plethora of shooters on the perimeter. John Roberson (30 PTS, 9-11 3PT) and Kendall Stephens (17 PTS, 5-7 3PT) were the biggest beneficiaries, as Creek flashed his playmaking ability and seemed to always make the smart decision with the ball.

His seven assists were the icing on top of a trademark performance, as he crashed the glass in the absence of Tai Wesley, hounded the Bullets on defence and was a vocal leader on both ends of the floor. His stats are impressive enough as is, but his leadership for a brand-new franchise is an intangible that can’t be quantified.

There were some strong challenges from the players below, but it was impossible to move Creek from top spot after another fantastic outing in a win against the previously unbeaten Bullets. With a game against the 1-2 Illawarra Hawks next round, there’s every chance that the Phoenix will stay undefeated and Creek will continue to dominate for another week.

MVP honourable mentions

Bryce Cotton

Vs ILL: 28 PTS, 7 AST, 3 STL, 8-15 FG, 5-9 3PT

Per-game stats: 24.5 PTS, 5.5 AST, 2.5 STL, 52.9% FG, 46.2% 3PT

The Perth Wildcats operated somewhat by committee in their round one win, as Nick Kay, Terrico White and Bryce Cotton were all exceptional. Against the Illawarra Hawks in round two, it was far more clear-cut; it was the Bryce Cotton show from the opening tip until the end of the third quarter when the contest was already over.

His first half was as good a display of scoring as the league will ever see, with a perfect blend of hard drives to the basket and deep shots off the dribble. His 23 points in the half led the Wildcats to a 13-point lead at the main break—a comfortable lead, but certainly not an insurmountable one.

They blew Illawarra away with a 29-14 third quarter, highlighted by just two points from Cotton but four assists. As the defence collapsed onto him, he was smart enough and good enough to find his teammates for open looks. Cotton continues to grow in the NBL, and Friday night was one of the most complete offensive games from one of the most complete offensive players in the NBL. After a very good game in round one, Cotton looks to have kicked into another gear after his second outing.

Lamar Patterson

Vs CAI: 7 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL

Vs SEM: 30 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 13-21 FG

Per-game stats: 20.7 PTS, 6.0 REB, 3.7 AST, 1 STL, 52.3% FG

It was a funny sort of round for Patterson, as he was uncharacteristically quiet in Brisbane’s win against Cairns and then typically dominant in the big loss to Brisbane. The fact that he exited the latter with an ankle injury only adds to the intrigue, although he says he’ll be fine to play next week.

He took a back seat to Nathan Sobey against the Taipans but still chipped in with his usual all-around game, with an equal-team-high five assists and a team-high six rebounds. Against the Phoenix he saved his side from further embarrassment, and his 30 points in a little over three quarters came despite missing all five of his attempts from deep.

That shakiness from the perimeter is a little concerning, as he is now 1-11 from three this season. The fact that he’s shooting 66.7% from inside the arc helps to allay those concerns, and if his perimeter shot starts falling again he’ll be almost unguardable.

John Roberson

Vs BRI: 30 PTS, 6 AST, 9-11 3PT

Per-game stats: 25 PTS, 4.5 AST, 65.4% FG, 76.5% 3PT

We’ve mentioned Roberson’s hot shooting briefly already, but it’s hard to describe just how impressive the Phoenix guard was against Brisbane. It felt like every shot that left his hands was going in, and he showed no hesitation in firing off the dribble or the catch. Once the defenders started to swarm him, he had the poise and intelligence to make the smart pass and find his open teammates.

Roberson was a quiet performer in round one (20 PTS, 4-6 3PT), perhaps overshadowed by Creek’s impressive return, but his second-round scoring outburst has put in on the map as one of the best guards in the league.

Terrico White

Vs ILL: 19 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL

Per-game stats: 19.5 PTS, 3.5 REB, 2.5 AST, 1 STL, 43.3% FG, 42.1% 3PT

White’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but they become much more impressive with some added context. In round one he had just six points at three quarter time before a late flurry saw him add 14 in the fourth, including the game-winning three. In round two he sparked the game-defining run in the third quarter with eleven straight Wildcats points, including three consecutive threes. White proved himself as a crunch-time killer in last season’s grand final series, and he looks to be carrying that form into NBL20.

Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball

Vs PER: 15 PTS, 8 AST, 2 STL, 4 TO, 4-14 FG

Vs CAI: 9 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO, 4-8 FG

Per-game stats: 13.5 PTS, 5.5 REB, 6 AST, 3.5 STL, 2 TO

It was a mixed weekend for LaMelo Ball, much the same as it was for his team. They started with a blowout loss to the Wildcats on Friday night, a game where Ball showed plenty of razzle and dazzle in trying to drag his side back into the game but lacked the finishing touches. There were plenty of highlights as expected, but his poor shooting, particularly from deep (1-6 3PT), and his four turnovers supported what the eyes saw, that he was still forcing the issue a little at times.

In Sunday’s win against Cairns, he found the niche that could serve him well for the remainder of the season. As Aaron Brooks stepped into the starting lineup and shouldered more of the scoring load, Ball was able to pick his spots a little more selectively. His nine points marked his lowest tally thus far, but his 50% shooting was a season high. He gambled a little less on defence and had just a single turnover, and overall was able to still contribute to his side’s first win.

Of course, there was still plenty of flash to go with that substance.

Overall, Ball has been a clear positive for the Hawks and an undeniably productive player. If he can increase his efficiency in doing so as he did against Cairns, then he’ll be hard to beat here for the rest of the season. His first real test will come next week, though, as RJ Hampton and the New Zealand Breakers open their season.

Rookie of the Year honourable mentions

Kouat Noi

Vs BRI: 4 PTS, 7 REB, 1 STL

Vs ILL: 8 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO

Per-game stats: 8.7 PTS, 8.3 REB, 2.7 ORB

It was a rough weekend for Noi, as Cairns dropped both games and the rookie forward continued to struggle with his shot. He shot 0-6 from inside the arc in Tuesday’s game against Brisbane, before finding his range from inside against Illawarra but going 1-7 from deep.

Noi is already an elite rebounder at his position, sitting inside the top five for rebounds and offensive rebounds per game. He’s also an aggressive slasher and willing shooter on the offensive end, but until he can start to convert more of those chances there will be a clear ceiling on his potential this season. He has the athleticism and the shooting stroke to do so, but it remains to be seen if or when his fortunes will change.

Most Improved Player/Best Sixth Man: Will Magnay

Vs CAI: 9 PTS, 5 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK

Vs SEM: 13 PTS, 5 REB, 1 BLK

A favourite for Most Improved Player after an impressive pre-season, Magnay had a delayed start to the regular season as an ankle injury kept him sidelined in round one. He had an immediate impact in round two, though, and potentially played his way into an even bigger role in the rotation than expected. With Aaron Brooks no longer coming off the bench for the Hawks, he also played his way into the lead for Best Sixth Man with a pair of strong performances off the bench.

Magnay is a ball of energy under the basket and an explosive finisher at the rim, making him an ideal compliment for Brisbane’s guard-heavy lineups. All but one of his field goal attempts came inside the paint, and that will likely be the case for much of the season. That is a role that he will excel in though, and he shot 55.6% from the field across both games.

Most notably, Magnay played significantly more minutes than starting centre Matt Hodgson. Across Brisbane’s two games, Magnay played 39 minutes while Hodgson played just 27. Across all of last season, Magnay played a total of just 43 minutes. If he can play his way in front of Hodgson, an Australian Boomers representative as recently as last year, that’s as big a tick for his Most Improved candidacy as any. As for Best Sixth Man, that may depend on how long he continues to start on the bench.

Most Improved honourable mentions

Dane Pineau

Vs BRI: 4 PTS, 6 REB, 2 BLK, 1 STL

Per-game stats: 2 PTS, 6.5 REB, 2 BLK, 1 STL

Once again, Pineau was a rock under the baskets for the Phoenix and helped to fill the void left by the injured Tai Wesley. His minutes dropped slightly from round one thanks to an improved showing from import Keith Benson, but his defensive efforts will see him stay in the regular rotation even when Wesley returns. Pineau is currently tied for second in the league for blocks per game and sits just outside the top ten for rebounds per game.

Dan Grida

Vs PER: 5 PTS, 2 AST, 1 REB

Vs CAI: 6 PTS, 4 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK

Per-game stats: 6.7 PTS, 3 REB, 1 BLK

Grida continues to be one of the first off the bench for the Hawks, which is an improvement in itself after playing just 13 minutes per game last year. His defensive intensity is a plus for an Illawarra team with a few below-average players at that end on the perimeter, but his shot is still a work in progress (20% 3PT).

Best Sixth Man honourable mentions

Mitch Norton

Vs ILL: 10 PTS, 5 AST, 2 REB, 1 STL, 0 TO

Per-game stats: 8.5 PTS, 3.5 AST, 1 STL

Norton looks likely to split time with veteran Damian Martin this season, and he actually played ten seconds more than the starter against Illawarra. It’s a good problem for Perth to have, as swapping in Norton maintains their defensive prowess at the point and adds a steady playmaker. He’s a fairly known quantity at this point, and he won’t have many scoring outbursts or standout games in the box score, but he’ll certainly play big minutes and have an impact on a playoff team.

E.J. Singler

Vs CAI: 10 PTS, 2 REB, 4 STL

Vs SEM: 10 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2-3 3PT

Per-game stats: 8 PTS, 3.3 REB, 1.7 STL, 57.1% FG, 42.9% 3PT

After a quiet NBL debut in round one (4 PTS, 1-3 FG), Singler bounced back to hit double figures scoring in both of Brisbane’s round two games. He may not give the elite production expected of some imports, but on a Bullets roster stacked with local talent he should be a nice complimentary piece off the bench if he can keep hitting his shots at a high clip.