Ranking the best 5 NBL player seasons of the past decade
Looking back on the last decade of NBL action, it’s not easy to pick out five standout players. However, for the purposes of this list, longevity becomes one less variable to consider. Each player is ranked based on their best season, and only ranked once. To elaborate, players like Bryce Cotton and Cedric Jackson have put together multiple seasons worthy of this list, but we are only taking the best one. This is not your average list, as we look back on the players that have hit the greatest heights.
5. Jerome Randle – 2016/17
Honours: NBL Regular Season MVP, All-NBL First Team
5’9 point guard Jerome Randle plays well above his size. The American import led Adelaide to a minor premiership in the 2016-17 season, and was named NBL MVP for his efforts. With averages of 21.3 points and 5.4 assists per game, he was always going to be hard to beat. In addition, Randle posted remarkable shooting splits – 51% from the field, 36% from downtown and 90% from the free throw line.
With the reigning NBL MVP suiting up alongside the likes of Daniel Johnson and Mitch Creek, the 36ers were expected to make some noise in the finals. However, it wasn’t to be, as the minor premiers suffered an early exit in the semi-finals. They met a resilient Illawarra Hawks outfit, who came back from 1-0 down to win the series in three games.
If Randle was able was taste Grand Final action, he might rank higher on this list. The diminutive point guard deserved better for his regular season heroics, which secured his place on this list. We can’t ignore the fact that Randle averaged an efficient 21 points per game – something very few players are capable of.
4. Andrew Bogut – 2018/19
Honours: NBL Regular Season MVP, All-NBL First Team, NBL Best Defensive Player, NBL Rebounds Leader, NBL Blocks Leader
After playing under the bright lights of the NBA for 13 years, Andrew Bogut returned home to Australia. Much to Melbourne United’s chagrin, the Victorian product signed a two-year deal with the Sydney Kings, and wasted no time in making an impact. Bogut stuffed the stat sheet with per-game averages of 11.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.7 blocks. He led the NBL in both rebounds and blocks, and earned league MVP honours after leading the Kings to an 18-10 record. If Bogut wasn’t on your fantasy team throughout the 2018-19 season, you probably didn’t go very far.
Not only did he take home the MVP trophy, but Bogut also added the NBL Best Defensive Player award to his resume. Only four other players in NBL history have won both awards in the same season – Leroy Loggins in 1987, Sam Mackinnon in 2007, Chris Anstey in 2008 and Kevin Lisch in 2016. Bogut clearly meant business; he didn’t return home to coast his way into retirement.
There was serious hype surrounding the 2018/19 Kings – NBL legend Shane Heal described them as “the greatest team that’s ever been assembled”. Sydney entered the postseason with three of the previous four regular season MVPs – Bogut, Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch. Anything less than a championship would be an anticlimatic finish, and indeed it wasn’t the Kings’ year.
Bogut and co. were soundly beaten 2-0 by Melbourne United in the semi-finals. However, the real surprise was in the point differential. United won Game 1 at home by 22-point margin, before dispatching Sydney on their court by 14 points. A lack of postseason glory hence prevents Bogut from being higher on this list, but his outstanding regular season ensures that he comes in at fourth.
3. Kevin Lisch – 2015/16
Honours: NBL Regular Season MVP, All-NBL First Team, NBL Best Defensive Player, NBL Steals Leader
Kevin Lisch was once the best two-way player in the NBL. In fact, he was so good that the Boomers recruited him ahead of the 2016 Olympics. American-born Lisch capped off a remarkable 2015/16 season by gaining Australian citizenship months prior to the Rio Olympics, and subsequently wearing the green and gold. Prior to that, he earned the rare distinction of winning both the NBL MVP award and the NBL Best Defensive Player Award. As mentioned in Bogut’s segment, only four other players have achieved this feat in league history.
Lisch led the Illawarra Hawks to a 17-11 record, and put up some impressive numbers in the process. He averaged 19.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a league-leading 1.8 steals per game. Not only that, but the 6’2 guard was a pillar of efficiency. He shot 50% from the field, 85% from the foul line and 41% from beyond the arc – numbers that Steve Nash would be proud of.
Unfortunately a lack of postseason success prevents Lisch from being higher on this list. The Hawks were beaten 2-1 by Perth, the eventual champions, in the semi-finals. Lisch was left wondering what could have been, as he suffered an untimely ankle injury in the first quarter of game 1. He took no further part in that game, and didn’t return until game 3. Had he led Illawarra to the title in 2016, Lisch would have a case for either first or second place on this list.
2. Cedric Jackson – 2012/13
Honours: NBL Regular Season MVP, NBL Champion, NBL Grand Final MVP, All-NBL First Team, NBL Assists Leader, NBL Steals Leader
The New Zealand Breakers won their first NBL title in 2011, but their franchise cornerstone was on his way out. Auckland native Kirk Penney was Europe-bound, after winning three consecutive NBL scoring titles and leading the Breakers to a milestone victory. The homegrown hero left big shoes to fill, but his departure didn’t stop the team’s winning ways. Import Cedric Jackson was signed promptly after Penney left, and led the Breakers to three more titles over the next four seasons.
Jackson took the NBL by storm from the moment he arrived. The 6’3 point guard earned his first of three All-NBL First Team selections in 2012, and inspired the Breakers’ title defence in the absence of Penney. He went to another level in the following season, as the Breakers became just the second NBL team to three-peat, after the 2003-05 Sydney Kings. Jackson was named NBL MVP for the 2012/13 season, having led New Zealand to a 24-4 record and the minor premiership.
The 2012/13 Breakers went down as one of the greatest teams in NBL history. It was a two-horse race for the minor premiership, with the 22-6 Perth Wildcats nipping at their heels. To put things into perspective, third-placed Wollongong had a losing record, with 13 wins and 15 losses.
Moreover, Jackson was a dominant force individually, throughout the regular season; he averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game. The American led the NBL in both assists and steals for a second consecutive year, and had fantasy owners salivating. If you didn’t have Jackson on your fantasy team that year, you didn’t stand a chance.
The passing wizard established himself as the league’s best player throughout the 2012/13 regular season, but the job wasn’t done yet. To win their third consecutive title, the Breakers had to get past Perth in the 2013 NBL finals. Jackson rose to the occasion, as the Wildcats suffered a 2-0 whitewash. The 6’3 point guard finished with 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the decisive second game – earning NBL Grand Final MVP honours and leading New Zealand to the coveted three-peat.
It’s a crying shame that Jackson didn’t return for the 2013/14 NBL season. Without the reigning league MVP, New Zealand finished 7th and missed the finals, rather than contending for a historic four-peat. However, Jackson did rejoin the Breakers ahead of the 2014-15 season, leading the New Zealand club to their fourth title in the space of five years. He added another Grand Final MVP to an already-impressive resume in 2015, and cemented his legacy as a Breakers great.
1. Bryce Cotton – 2019/20
Honours: NBL Regular Season MVP, NBL Champion, NBL Grand Final MVP, All-NBL First Team, NBL Scoring Champion
Regular season MVP? Tick. Championship? Tick. Grand final MVP? Tick. Scoring title? Tick.
It doesn’t get much better than Bryce Cotton’s 2019/20 season, where the dynamic guard led Perth to their fifth title in the past seven seasons. The 2020 NBL finals may have been cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, but this list isn’t based on what-ifs. Cotton was a deserving Grand Final MVP, with the Wildcats leading 2-1 at the finals’ premature conclusion.
It’s a tough call for first place, but Cotton gets the nod thanks to his scoring efficiency. Not only did the Wildcats import average 22.9 points and 4.1 assists per game, but he also shot 39% from deep and 84% from the foul line. Jackson on the other hand shot just 31% and 53% respectively – there are some free throws he would rather forget.
While Cotton’s regular season stats are impressive, they don’t tell the whole story. The diminutive guard was no stranger to winning, having already led two NBL championship teams, in 2017 and 2019. He elevated his game during the 2020 postseason, with silverware on the line yet again. The recently-crowned NBL MVP led Perth to a crucial overtime victory over Cairns Taipans in the semi-finals, scoring 42 points and dishing out six assists. Cotton came out on top in an enthralling duel with Taipans star Scott Machado, who was the 2019/20 NBL Fans MVP.
Undaunted by the big stage, Cotton later produced two outstanding games on the road, during the 2020 NBL finals. He scored in excess of 30 points not once, but twice, at Qudos Bank Arena. Kings fans could only watch on as the sharpshooter dropped 32 points in Game 1, a narrow 88-86 victory for Perth. Cotton’s heroics earned him Grand Final MVP honours for the second time, and a place in Wildcats folklore.
The 27 year old recently opted out of his Wildcats contract, following the NBL’s salary cuts in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s unclear as to how this might impact Cotton’s application for Australian citizenship, which could potentially make him a Boomer. In a best case scenario, he would opt back in to his Wildcats deal and become a naturalized Australian ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR