There are two races heating up in the NBL: the one for MVP, and who ends up making the inaugural play-in tournament.
Both are making for an exciting end to the 2022-23 season, where every single game seemingly has something on the line.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley take a deep dive into those races for this week's 3x3.
Should a team's win/loss record have an impact on the MVP award?
Kane Pitman: Xavier Cooks fits the best player on the best team criteria, but for the remaining MVP contenders, the logjam in the standings renders the win-loss record as a virtually pointless marker.
For most of the season, I've had Mitch Creek, Bryce Cotton and Keanu Pinder in the chasing pack, with two of those names battling just to make the Play-In Tournament while the other's team has won four straight without them in the lineup. I've still got Cooks winning it so it ultimately might not matter.
Olgun Uluc: Yes
This season makes that question interesting in two ways, though. The first is that I believe Xavier Cooks is slowly running away as the league's Most Valuable Player, and his Sydney Kings are at the top of the table, so it's easy to be consistent here. The other wrinkle here is that spots 2-8 are separated by only a few games, so punishing anyone for his team being in, perhaps, fifth place, but that team is only a game or two behind the one in front of them, doesn't make much sense.
Peter Hooley: Yes, it should.
If you remove the Coach of the Year trophy, the MVP is really the only award where a team's performance should matter, in my opinion. I'm not suggesting that if you finish fifth and miss out on a top-two spot by one win, or something similar, that it should be an immediate deterrent from winning MVP, but it's more looking at those teams that struggle to win games and have been carried by one individual who shines every night. In NBL23, I find it hard to hear a compelling case for someone whose team finishes out of the top-four, against the likes of Xavier Cooks. Even if Cooks' numbers did not stack up against another candidate, him performing at a very high level on a team that finishes top, would be enough for me to believe he's the MVP.
Will Melbourne United make the play-in?
Kane Pitman: I think they might run out of time which I get the sense will please rival teams.
United have ripped off six wins from their last eight games, ranking third in offence (116.3 points per 100), fourth in defence (109.3 points per 100) and second in overall net rating (+7.0 per 100) behind only the Sydney Kings. Simply put, they are playing like a contender. The trouble is, they still need to jump two teams in the standings with only five games to play. Two of those games come against the physical New Zealand Breakers and they may need to do so without Isaac Humphries (knee) and David Barlow (concussion). It still looks like they'll run out of time.
Olgun Uluc: Probably.
That may be a bit too hopeful after Isaac Humphries and Dave Barlow went down with their respective injuries, but United is still playing really damn good basketball, and those guys will likely be back before the regular season is up. The majority of their remaining games being on the road is a major obstacle, but it just feels like they'll be favourites going into each of them, while other teams vying for a play-in spot face each other enough times to maybe open up a spot for United to sneak in.
Peter Hooley: It's going to be very hard now
The Isaac Humphries injury couldn't have come at a worse time for United, who will need to go close to winning every game to make the play-in tournament. Marcus Lee is a stud and was huge in getting them that important win in Tasmania, but their depth in that position for the next few weeks will be tested. With multiple games against Adelaide and New Zealand, I struggle to see them getting enough wins to make the play-in now. I also hate to bring it up, but that loss in Perth might be the one that costs them a chance at winning it all.
Speaking of the MVP, who is that guy for the stacked New Zealand Breakers?
Kane Pitman: The no frills star of this squad: Dererk Pardon.
Pardon is an undersized centre, standing 6'8", yet he consistently gets the job done on both ends for a Breakers team looking to clinch a top-two position. Pardon is finishing a scorching 66.7% of his two-point attempts and is in a battle with South East Melbourne big man Alan Williams as the best rebounder in the game, particularly on the offensive glass. He loves boxing out, he loves setting screens and simply loves doing the dirty work that Mody Maor demands.
Olgun Uluc: I have Dererk Pardon.
He's the anchor on both ends of the floor, and my favourite to win the NBL's Best Defensive Player award right now. Mody Maor may get more production from a few of his other guys on a nightly basis, but it feels like the way Pardon goes about his business is the main reason why the Breakers have the hard-nosed, physical identity that's been the backbone of their success this season.
Peter Hooley: Jarrell Brantley.
I have every reason to say that Will McDowell-White is the Breakers' most important piece, but I am starting to think it's Brantley. If you watched that Adelaide win, his defensive presence was unbelievable, and he set a tone from the opening tip. But more than that, it was his positivity around the group when he was both on the floor and on the bench that seemed to make the team find a new level. Brantley encapsulates everyone that is Breakers basketball right now, and he will have a massive say in their success to end the season.