Ten years from now we’ll still recall Bryce Cotton’s destruction of the Illawarra Hawks in Game 3 of the 2017 NBL grand final series.
It will go down as one of, if not the best grand final performances in NBL history, which led to the Perth Wildcats clinching an eighth championship.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more dominant display – not just in a grand final, but in any NBL game.
In fact, even if you happened to miss the game and just checked the box score afterward, you’d still have a feel for how impressive Cotton’s feat was – 45 points from just 17 shots is ridiculous efficiency.
Cotton’s value was clear for all to see.
Although not quite so clear, but just as crucial, was the play of his teammate and fellow import, Jameel ‘Showtime’ McKay.
While the sweet-shooting point guard grabbed all the accolades that night (so you should when you score nearly half the team’s points), McKay’s Game 3 outing was almost as important.
A quick glance at the box score doesn’t reveal just valuable the big man was. Eight points, seven rebounds, one blocked shot, doesn’t say much. However, he did have the best plus-minus of anyone in the game – including the great Cotton.
With McKay on the floor, Perth outscored the Hawks by 29 points, when he sat on the bench, Illawarra had the better of the Wildcats by 20 points!
The problem for McKay, and the Wildcats, was he was getting into foul trouble on the night in question, which led him to play just 20 minutes of the game. And when he sat, the Hawks feasted with Angus Brandt on the court – remembering that Matty Knight was out with a concussion.
Let’s not get the wrong picture here. Brandt didn’t have his best game, but it wasn’t a horrific performance by any stretch. This was more about McKay, and how effective he was on the night.
But the numbers are damning.
With McKay on the court, Perth were +29 for the game, with Angus they were -20. Both had 20 minutes of court time.
With McKay on the court, the score was 61-32 (+29), in favour of the Wildcats; With Brandt on, fortunes were reversed 34-54 (-20) Illawarra’s way.
Again, this isn’t intended, nor should it be construed as an attack on Brandt, who had a fantastic finals series. However, that game log makes for outrageous reading.
It wasn’t until late in the game before the Wildcats were outplayed at any stage with McKay on the court. Now, it needs to be said that McKay did have the added benefit of sharing the court with Bryce Cotton for almost all of his 20 minutes on the floor. On the flipside, Brandt spent 14 of his 20 minutes with the dynamic point guard, however, in that time Perth were still outscored by the Hawks.
McKay in Game 3 will go down as one of the great unsung NBL performances. And it wasn’t just Game 3 of the grand final series where he was shining; his whole finals was impressive.
According to advanced analytics via Spatial Jam, with McKay on the floor, Perth were outscoring their opponents by a whopping 24 points per 100 possessions in the postseason – which was a team high, bettering Bryce Cotton!
The main reason for this was his defence. By combining his excellent rim protection and pick ‘n’ roll defence, McKay proved to be one of the better, if not the best, defenders in the league during the regular season.
McKay proceeded to turn that up a notch in the Finals, where he’d lead all players with a defensive rating of 92.2 (points per 100 possessions). Compare that to when he sat on the bench during the finals, the Wildcats had a defensive rating of 109, and you quickly realise how effective McKay was at that end of the floor.
It would be foolish to suggest that Jameel McKay was somehow more valuable to the Perth Wildcats than Bryce Cotton. However, the big man’s finals performance still needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
While Bryce Cotton’s Game 3 heroics will forever be etched in the annals of Australia basketball history, the chances are Jameel McKay’s will probably be forgotten.
And that’s a damn shame.