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The Roar


Predicting the 2018-19 NBL award winners

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17th February, 2019

The NBL regular season concludes with a Melbourne United-Perth Wildcats Sunday blockbuster leading into the awards night and while Sydney Kings captain Kevin Lisch thinks Andrew Bogut should sweep them, it remains a wide-open race for a number of accolades.

With the top four secured after Adelaide’s loss in Perth on Friday night and the Brisbane Bullets snatching fourth place by beating the New Zealand Breakers on Saturday, there remain only two things to get out of the way before the finals commence.

We know that it’s Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in the finals. We know it’s 98 per cent likely that the Wildcats finish on top so they will play the Bullets in the semi-finals. The only way it won’t happen is if Melbourne hammers Perth by 30-plus points on Sunday.

So it looks destined that Melbourne plays Sydney in the other semi-finals with just the team to take home court advantage to be worked out with United playing the Wildcats in the last game of the regular season.

Once that’s done, it’s time for the NBL awards night and there remains plenty of intrigue and discussion over who will be the major winners.

As always, most attention is focused on the Andrew Gaze Trophy as the league’s MVP and it appears a race in three between last year’s winner Bryce Cotton from Perth, Sydney’s Andrew Bogut and Melbourne’s Casper Ware.

There’s a strong case to be made for each of them and it’s hard to say any of the trio wouldn’t be worthy winners.

Certainly, if you ask Kings captain Kevin Lisch, himself a two-time MVP winner previously, he would give it to his teammate Bogut and not because he is playing on his team.


He truly believes that with numbers like 11.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.8 blocks and with the way he has turned the Kings into a defensively strong team that it’s all down to him.

Not only would Lisch give the MVP to Bogut, but the best defensive player award too.

“If I could vote for my own teammate, I’d be giving it to Bogut for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. For me those would be pretty obvious in my mind just because of what he’s provided to us,” Lisch said.

“Obviously, there’s other factors, but we are in the playoffs this year and defensively even things that don’t go on the stat sheet like intimidation, it is a real thing that he provides. He would definitely have my votes for those two categories.

“The thing about him is that he loves the game and he loves to win. You can keep track of stats and all this stuff, and he puts up pretty amazing stats, but to be honest he couldn’t care less about that. He just wants to win and he will do whatever it takes to help us do that.

“He’s really involved with helping all the guys and the younger guys are learning so much from him, as are all of us on the team. It’s been really good to see that aspect as well that not many people get to see behind the scenes.”

However, there’s an especially strong case to be made for Cotton to claim his second MVP award in what is his second full season in the NBL.


It’s hard to imagine the Wildcats even reaching the finals without Cotton’s brilliance. He leads the league in scoring at 23.0 points a game, but it’s how and when he scores that matters most.

His last two games, he has scored a 56 points in the second halves to lead the ‘Cats from behind to wins against Sydney and Adelaide to all but lock away top spot.

Take it from Adelaide coach Joey Wright who saw his team’s finals hopes ended by Cotton and said he should be the MVP.

“Bryce is what you try to teach every single basketball player, to play every single second of every possession of every game of every season. Most people don’t have the focus to do that, but great players do. That’s what makes them great,” Wright said.

“For the majority of the game he was a very average player, but he doesn’t think that. He’s watching and looking where you’re going and how you guard him, and he’s summing you up and reading you, and is just waiting.

“He puts the hours in working in the gym and eventually he knows he’ll get going. And if he doesn’t in that game, guess what it will in the next game. And if it doesn’t happen for two games, I’d hate to be the team playing him in the third game. He is what you try to teach young players to be like, to play every single possession.”

With a new voting system that no longer includes votes after every game but a one-off vote provided by captains and coaches, it’s going to be fascinating to see who is voted in as the MVP. But if it’s not one of Cotton, Bogut or Ware, something is wrong.

Bryce Cotton

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

There’s plenty more intrigue in the awards too with a host of candidates for the best sixth man, most improved player and rookie of the year awards especially.

Let’s get down to it and see who I think should be coming away with the accolades come Sunday night.

Most valuable player

Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)

It’s a strong class he is up against but if you measure your MVP based on being a pure match-winner, someone who his team couldn’t live without and who the opposition is flat out scared of what they can do, then you can’t go past Bryce Cotton.

From the moment he arrived at the Wildcats midway through the 2016-17 season, he has put together what could very well be the best two-and-a-half season stint ever in the NBL.


He led the Wildcats to the championship in 2017 on the back of 45 points in the sealing grand final game and then with a full season to show what he can do, he won last season’s MVP.

Now he has produced a stunning 2018-19 season and it’s quite likely that the Wildcats were well out of the finals hunt before now had he not pulled them out of the fire with his sheer unstoppable brilliance time after time.

Numbers-wise, Cotton is putting up 23.0 points a game this season to go with 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists on shooting 41.8 per cent from the field, 36.9 per cent from three and 85.2 per cent from the foul line.

That is after he won last year’s MVP with 19.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists on shooting 44 per cent from the field, 45 per cent from three and 88 per cent from the stripe.

Other contenders – Andrew Bogut will deserve to consider himself decidedly unlucky to miss out. His numbers are superb but more importantly, he has been a franchise changer for the Kings. On court they are now a defensively-minded team and his presence makes all his teammates better. There’d be no complaints should be named MVP.

Casper Ware can’t be overlooked either. He was tremendous in his championship-winning season at Melbourne in 2017-18, but has gone up another level this season. His numbers back it up. He has gone from 16.1 points and 4.7 assists to 19.2 points and 4.9 assists. But his defence has improved and his all-round game has too.

Brisbane’s Lamar Patterson has been outstanding but missing the first six games likely will cost him. Shawn Long finished the season on fire for the New Zealand Breakers, but his first half wasn’t at that level. And there’s an argument he didn’t necessarily help his team be better. Cairns’ Melo Trimble had a superb first season internationally too but his team only winning six games hurts his hopes.


Rookie of the year

Harry Froling (Adelaide 36ers)

There has been times in recent seasons where the cupboard has been bare in terms of selecting a rookie of the year but that’s anything but the case this time around.

Now that the league has deemed American Brian Bowen eligible too, it makes things even more interesting given he isn’t counted as an import for the Sydney Kings.

But it doesn’t seem right that the rookie of the year shouldn’t go to a young local player. That does, however, still leave a strong class including Adelaide pair Harry Froling and Jack McVeigh, Illawarra’s Daniel Grida, Emmett Naar and Marshall Nelson and Perth’s Rhys Vague.

You can make a strong case especially for Froling, McVeigh, Grida, Naar and Vague, and that’s exciting because they all have incredibly bright futures.

But there can only be one winner and I have to go with Froling. He was a game changer at times for the 36ers and a player who plays beyond his years. He’s clearly a big with enormous potential given his size and bulk for what he can do inside, but then step out and hit the three ball.

Lucas Walker

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

He finished the season putting up good numbers of 7.9 points and 3.0 rebounds and he deserves this honour.

Best defensive player

Andrew Bogut (Sydney Kings)

This has been Damian Martin’s award to own throughout most of his career and winning it six times means it should be named in honour of the Perth Wildcats captain once he retires.

But in all reality, there’s only one genuine candidate this season and that’s Andrew Bogut.

He has single-handedly turned the Sydney Kings into a strong defensive team from his sheer presence, leadership and guidance he gives his team.


He demands they defend well and he sets the example. He’s not along for a cheap ride in the NBL, he is giving his absolute all whether it’s setting screens, blocking or changing or intimidating shots, going for rebounds and doing all the little things that outsiders might not recognise.

Bogut has to be the Best Defensive Player and that’s no disrespect to the likes of Shawn Long, his teammate Kevin Lisch and even Martin who have been standouts defensively also.

Best sixth man

Jarrad Weeks (New Zealand Breakers)

This is a tricky one. Twelve months ago the easiest award of the season was the best sixth man going to Adelaide’s Ramone Moore, but there’s plenty more genuine candidates this time around.

Looking at the candidates and of the six of them, it’s New Zealand’s Jarrad Weeks, Illawarra’s Jordair Jett and New Zealand’s Reuben Te Rangi who standout.

One player who would have been a genuine candidate but wasn’t nominated veteran Kings power forward Daniel Kickert.


It might seem like a cop out, but because I’m going with Te Rangi for another award, I’m going with Weeks for this one.

We’ll never know if the Breakers season might have turned out different had he started and played more minutes ahead of teammate Shea Ili, but Agent 97 sure did all he could with New Zealand this season.

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He finished up with career-high numbers right across the board of 10.1 points and 2.4 assists. That went up another level in the last 18 games, where he averaged 13.2 points and 2.8 assists.

Given he did that off the bench, he deserves to take out the best sixth man honour.

Most improved player


Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets)

Another award with plenty of legitimate candidates is the most improved player.

What your criteria is likely determines who you think is a real chance. Should it be for a player who has improved to the best form of his career? Is it a veteran who has got back to his best after some lean years?

Or is it someone who was previously most improved, then had some tough seasons and now has risen again.

If you want to go for a veteran who has got back to some brilliant form, you can’t overlook Melbourne’s Dave Barlow.

If you want a previous winner of this award who has risen again this season, then you go with Illawarra’s Todd Blanchfield.

But for me, it should be an award that rewards someone getting to the best form of their careers and that leaves Anthony Drmic, Jarrad Weeks, Kyle Adnam and Reuben Te Rangi as the contenders.


Matt Hodgson has had a terrific season but not significantly better than his best in Adelaide. And Nick Kay has been brilliant for Perth but it’s not a huge leap from the standard he was already setting.

So from those that leaves, I have to go with Bullets forward Te Rangi.

The significance of his growth this season can’t be overstated. He has turned himself into a genuine quality NBL player and he’s done it through developing his game.

He has always been naturally gifted athletically but often turnovers could creep into his game and he was never a great shooter.

Boy, has that changed this season. Te Rangi is cool and composed now out on the floor and his three-point shooting has gone through the roof. He made 56 threes for the season at an impressive percentage of 45.9.

With his career-high numbers of 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 rebounds across the board, he deserves this acknowledgement.

Coach of the year


Trevor Gleeson (Perth Wildcats)

Another one tough to judge and there are plenty of strong candidates, but with the Wildcats set to claim top spot it’s tough to look beyond Trevor Gleeson.

Despite now being a triple championship winning coach in Perth, for whatever reason Gleeson doesn’t always get put in discussions as one of the great coaches, but he deserves to be.

His track record speaks for itself and his performance this season to get the Wildcats not only to a 33rd straight playoff appearance but to do so on top of the table must be commended.

The Wildcats’ season looked shaky only a month ago. They had started so well winning ten of the first 11 games, but then things began to unravel as they lost eight of ten games with a playoff berth anything but certain.

But under Gleeson’s coaching, the ‘Cats got back on track and coming into Sunday have won six straight games and the coach deserves plenty of credit for that.


All-NBL First Team
Andrew Bogut (Sydney Kings)
Nick Kay (Perth Wildcats)
Lamar Patterson (Brisbane Bullets)
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Casper Ware (Melbourne United)

All-NBL Second Team
Shawn Long (NZ Breakers)
Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)
Nathan Sobey (Adelaide 36ers)
Melo Trimble (Cairns Taipans)
Jerome Randle (Sydney Kings)

These teams were tough to pick as well given the amount of quality players in the league.

But to narrow it down, I went with two frontcourt and three predominately backcourt players for each team.

In terms of the bigs, you have Andrew Bogut, Nick Kay, Shawn Long, Daniel Johnson, Tai Wesley and Brian Conklin who deserved consideration.

In the First Team, I went with Sydney’s Bogut and Perth’s Kay. In the Second Team, New Zealand’s Long and Adelaide’s Johnson. But you could have gone any combination and Wesley is decidedly unlucky to miss out.

The guards in the league sure made it difficult to narrow down too. Bryce Cotton, Nathan Sobey, Casper Ware, Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Cam Gliddon and Melo Trimble all have claims for a spot.

Jerome Randle Sydney Kings

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

But in the All-First Team, I went with Cotton and Ware. I just couldn’t go any other way.

I went with three guards in the All-Second Team with Randle, Trimble and Sobey making it. Even then, I feel for Lisch and Gliddon highlighting the depth in the league.

Lamar Patterson is the standout small forward so he got that spot in the All-NBL First Team.