The Roar
The Roar


Best of the best midway through NBL season

Casey Prather of the Perth Wildcats.
24th December, 2016

The NBL is now past the halfway mark of the 2016-17 season and with a slightly lighter schedule over Christmas, it’s the perfect time to look back on what we’ve seen so far.

The NBL, and indeed any professional sporting league in Australia, has never been tighter than the one we are currently witnessing and all eight clubs could still finish the season anywhere from first to last.

The Adelaide 36ers are the big surprise packets right now sitting on top with an eight-game winning streak after losing four straight. Jerome Randle, Nathan Sobey and Daniel Johnson are leading the Sixers to being the most exciting team in the NBL as well.

The Illawarra Hawks remain in second spot after beating the Sydney Kings on Friday night having won six of their last eight games. It’s no surprise that has coincided with Rotnei Clarke helping lead the way recapturing some of the form that saw him win the league’s MVP award.

The Kings remain third but have lost four straight and their depth is being put to the test, particularly in the back court. Kevin Lisch, Jason Cadee and Brad Newley are doing all they can, but they virtually have no back up since the departure of Steve Blake and it could prove costly.

The Brisbane Bullets remain in fourth position but like the Kings, they have been struggling of late losing four of their last five. Now with former NBA big man and Olympian Cameron Bairstow out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, they might find it tough to stay in the top four.

The New Zealand Breakers are in fifth spot but they will be without Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie potentially for the rest of the season putting in jeopardy their playoff hopes.

The Cairns Taipans have played some impressive basketball this season led mostly by Travis Trice and Mark Worthington, but they do need to get on a winning streak at some point to make the playoffs.


Melbourne United have battled injuries through the season with Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield and David Barlow missing big chunks. Now David Andersen and Devin Williams have gone down as well, but Casper Ware’s signing has given Melbourne some hope of still making a run this season and the arrival of another former NBA big man Josh Boone could provide even more impetus.

Then there is the defending champion Perth Wildcats. The 30-year playoff run is in serious jeopardy in a season that has been rocky from the start. Import guard Jaron Johnson has been released for the second time and who the Wildcats can replace him with could decide their hopes for this season.

Someone the calibre of Ware could ignite their season, otherwise they are in trouble. The absence of injured captain Damian Martin has so far proven too much to cover.

With that out of the way, it’s time to look at who would be the likely end of season award winners if they were presented at Christmas time.

Most valuable player
Casey Prather (Perth Wildcats)

It might not be the most popular choice considering his team is on the bottom of the table but Casey Prather has gone to another level this season with the Wildcats and has for the most part been a one-man show.

Prather has top-scored for the Wildcats 11 times this season including a career-best 39 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Melbourne. He is proving unstoppable in open court and when moving to the basket. He also won’t have teammates taking votes from him.


Prather is averaging 21.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season and they are MVP numbers.

Other contenders – Jerome Randle might be the favourite to take out the award but he has Nathan Sobey and Daniel Johnson who will also poll well from the 36ers. Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley will both be right up there as well from the Kings while Torrey Craig from the Bullets can’t be forgotten for his performances at both ends of the floor.

Casey Prather of the Perth Wildcats

Rookie of the year
Majok Deng (Adelaide 36ers)

While the NBL features plenty of rookie imports this season with most clubs possessing at least one American fresh out of college playing his first season as a pro, the field for Australian rookies is actually pretty thin.

The two best candidates are likely Majok Deng and Anthony Drmic from the Adelaide 36ers and I’ll go with Deng just for his ability to provide some good minutes off the bench scoring important points and pulling in rebounds. He is averaging 4.8 points and 1.9 rebounds.

Other contenders – Majok Deng’s teammate Drmic would likely be second in voting having had some good scoring minutes in his rookie season. Perth Wildcats pair Dexter Kernich-Drew and Mason Bragg have also shown good signs, but surprisingly haven’t seen their minutes increase.


Best defensive player
Torrey Craig (Brisbane Bullets)

With Wildcats captain Damian Martin having played just six games due to injury after again showing that not only is he still the NBL’s best defensive player, but the best defender the league has ever seen, everyone else is battling for second spot.

Martin could still claim the award for a sixth time if he returns and has a big enough impact in the last month of the season, but right now I’ll have to go with Torrey Craig from the Bullets.

He has done some good defensive jobs highlighted by an effort on Jerome Randle. He is also leading the league in rebounds at 8.5 a game while his ability to block and change shots from anywhere with his athleticism is impressive. He also reads the passing lanes well so overall he is having a strong defensive season.

Other contenders – Kevin Lisch won the Best Defensive Player award last season and could be in contention again along with Tom Abercrombie from the Breakers at the halfway point of the season. Big men Jameel McKay and AJ Ogilvy deserve consideration too.

Best sixth man
Akil Mitchell (NZ Breakers)

Akil Mitchell has some exciting skills to create and finish for a big man, and has put in a strong first half of the season for the Breakers coming off the bench behind any of Alex Pledger, Rob Loe or Mika Vukona.


Mitchell has delivered well off the bench for New Zealand with 10.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Some of his ability to dribble and create defy his size, while finishing at the rim with thunderous dunks has become his trademark.

It still feels as though the Breakers can benefit more from his athletic talents, but he is doing well already and is likely the best off the bench in the league right now.

Other contenders – Josh Powell is doing solidly enough for the Kings coming off the bench but it still feels like Sydney can get more out of someone with his talent and experience. Ramone Moore has also been good giving scoring punch to Melbourne coming off the bench. If Rotnei Clarke at the Hawks continues to come off the bench, though, this could be his award come season’s end.

Most improved player
Nathan Sobey (Adelaide 36ers)

The only award that can be handed out right now with no prospect of it changing is Adelaide’s Nathan Sobey taking out the Most Improved Player award.

He began his career in Cairns and on limited opportunities, showed encouraging signs. He then moved to Adelaide and showed that he was a talent for the future, but again wasn’t quite receiving enough minutes to be a real difference maker.

But now this season, Sobey has been entrusted by coach Joey Wright to do his thing and he is delivering some remarkable basketball.


His numbers are impressive enough at 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game, but it’s the way he goes about it that is even more exciting.

He is simply unstoppable when he is going in the open court and he plays with a passion and energy that is infectious for his teammates and supporters alike.

Other contenders – There is nobody else even in the discussion.

Coach of the year
Joey Wright (Adelaide 36ers)

Joey Wright has been around a long time and coached a championship with the Bullets, and gone close at the Gold Coast Blaze and then in Adelaide two years ago, but this season could very well be his best coaching performance.

The 36ers likely have the smallest budget in the league and have stocked up on rookies this season with Terrance Ferguson, Eric Jacobsen, Majok Deng, Adam Doyle and Anthony Drmic all in their first seasons as a pro.

Matt Hodgson and Nathan Sobey are hardly veterans either but Wright has backed in the youth to build something for the future.


However, with veterans Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson showing the way, it has all come together quicker than anyone expected and Wright deserves plenty of credit for making that happen.

Other contenders – The Hawks are in second spot and have been in tremendous form leading into Christmas. Like Adelaide, Illawarra doesn’t have the money to spend as the powerhouse teams but coach Rob Beveridge has them firing as well and defying the odds. His move of Rotnei Clarke to the bench has proved a masterstroke and he continues to show why he has been perhaps the best coach in the league over the past decade.

All-NBL first team
Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)
Casey Prather (Perth Wildcats)
Brad Newley (Sydney Kings)
Kevin Lisch (Sydney Kings)
Jerome Randle (Adelaide 36ers)

The back court of Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch speaks for itself. The pair are two amazing point guards and deserve to earn their spots, but by the end of the season Casper Ware could seriously challenge to push one of them out.

The swingman position was the one where it was tough to pick just two out of Casey Prather, Brad Newley and Torrey Craig. All three deserve to be there but there’s only room for two and I’ve gone with the Wildcat and King.

The centre position is a tricky one with no big man really standing out this season across the league. But Adelaide’s Daniel Johnson is putting up good numbers at 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds, and is a significant reason the Sixers sit in top spot.

All-NBA second team
Cam Bairstow (Brisbane Bullets)
Torrey Craig (Brisbane Bullets)
Kirk Penney (NZ Breakers)
Rotnei Clarke (Illawarra Hawks)
Travis Trice (Cairns Taipans)


Torrey Craig is the one most unlucky to miss out on the All First Team so is an automatic selection in this one so far averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists a game for the Bullets.

Travis Trice of the Taipans has found some match-winning scoring form after a slow start to the season. Former MVP Rotnei Clarke also struggled early on return to the Hawks this season but a new role off the bench has seen him rediscover some of his hot scoring ability.

Kirk Penney has settled in well back at the Breakers and is averaging 16.2 points a game to earn the small forward spot.

Cam Bairstow of the Bullets was just warming up nicely as well averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds to earn the big man spot. But with his season over now, he won’t hold that come the end of the campaign.