It's NBL award season.
The finalists have been determined for MVP, DPOY, MIP, COTY, 6MOTY and the newly created Next Generation Award.
Seven media members from across the country were responsible for nominating the shortlist for finalists for the awards, before the coaches and captains voted to reach the three top names. Winners to be announced on February 7 at the Andrew Gaze MVP ceremony at Crown Casino in Melbourne.
Andrew Gaze Most Valuable Player
B. Cotton (Perth)
M. Creek (SEM)
X. Cooks (Sydney)
The frontrunner: Xavier Cooks
The best player on the best team in the league, Cooks has put together a sensational season on the back of claiming the Grand Final MVP last year. With Cooks on the floor, the Kings are outscoring teams by an average of 17.2 points per 100 possessions. In terms of raw plus-minus, he is +206 on the season, the best mark in the league. The second ranked player is Dejan Vasiljevic, who is way down at +131. Even among his teammates, Cooks is a class above and his impact extends far beyond traditional box score stats.
The unlucky: Keanu Pinder
Pinder deserved a mention here despite not being a finalist as his rise continues to be one of the remarkable stories of the league. He was absolutely in the MVP discussion until a string of injuries halted his momentum. Eighth in the league for scoring and second for rebounding, the Cairns big man will be hoping for some better luck entering the postseason.
Linsday Gaze Coach of the Year
A. Forde (Cairns)
C. Buford (Sydney)
M. Maor (New Zealand)
The frontrunner: Chase Buford
The Kings are by far the best team in the league and Buford is well on the way to winning two titles in two seasons. Despite losing three star imports from the championship winning squad, the Kings have maintained their watertight paint defence to sit at the top of the standings from start to finish. Buford missed out last year after an outstanding first season in the league but it would feel wrong to deny him this honour after two dominant seasons.
The unlucky: Mody Maor
No NBL team has had to deal with adversity quite like the Breakers over recent seasons. In a campaign where 'normalcy' was set to resume, New Zealand were once again derailed, this time by an internal covid outbreak that took the team off the court for multiple weeks. Despite major roster turnover, the Breakers have sat in the top four for offence and defence throughout the season. Maor's people management has been exemplary and the first-year head coach has completely transformed the franchise.
Most Improved Player
K. Pinder (Cairns)
S. Macdonald (Tasmania)
W. McDowell-White (New Zealand)
The frontrunner: Keanu Pinder
From 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds last season to 17.0 points and 9.3 rebounds this season. The box score production has exploded with his ability to physically dominate games going to another level. Pinder would be the first two-time (and back-to-back) winner of the award if he gets the nod.
The unlucky: William McDowell-White
McDowell-White was superb with the Boomers in the offseason and has carried the high-level of play through to the NBL season with New Zealand. Averaging 6.2 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game, he is a tidy game manager who rarely makes mistakes. There has also been a major uptick of scoring aggression, with a 29-point explosion against the Cairns Taipans earlier this month a highlight. Further consistency with the 3-point shot is the next step, with that mark still down at 29.8 percent despite increased willingness to let it fly.
Sixth Man of the Year
B. Brown Jr (New Zealand)
R. Kelly (Tasmania)
T. Johnson (Brisbane)
The frontrunner: Barry Brown Jr
On a structured, methodical Breakers roster, Brown has been the wildcard.
The high octane guard is 24th in the league for minutes per game (27.9), yet his is third in the league for scoring (19.4). The definition of a microwave scorer, with the American putting up double-digit scoring in every game he has appeared in.
The unlucky: No one
Rashard Kelly has been a solid player for the JackJumpers without displaying the game breaking ability of Brown. In an awards season where there could be multiple winners in each category, this one is a lock. Just give it to Brown.
Damian Martin Trophy for the Defensive Player of the Year
A. Cleveland (Adelaide)
D. Pardon (New Zealand)
S. Ili (Melbourne)
The frontrunner: Dererk Pardon
Pardon is an undersized five defending well above his 6'8" frame on most nights. The import big man anchors one of the best defensive units in the league, protecting the paint and playing with extreme physicality. Opposition teams are shooting 59% at the rim against New Zealand, which is below league average. This award could be shared between Pardon and Jarell Brantley if it is to be a New Zealand representative.
The unlucky: The Sydney Kings
The finalists for DPOY were the most questionable for mine. Shea Ili has played just 13 games this season, which is too few to be up for nomination, while Antonius Cleveland has been electric at times, the 36ers rank eighth for defence overall and it would feel odd for him to take the award. The Kings have had the No. 1 ranked defence for much of the season and either (or both) Justin Simon or Xavier Cooks should have been a finalist and should feel hard done by.
Next Generation Award
L. Travers (Perth)
S. Froling (Illawarra)
S. Waardenburg (Cairns)
The frontrunner: Sam Froling
Froling is likely to walk away with an award we didn't believe he was eligible for two weeks ago. The Illawarra Hawks big man is putting up 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists a night, playing a lead role on a team that has been devastated by injury. Still just 22 years old, he will once again be eligible for this award next season if there are no further tweaks to the criteria.
The unlucky: Sam Waardenburg
Ultimately, voters will need to make a decision between stats on a losing team or contribution to a winning team. Waardenburg is a true rookie (albeit older than Froling) and appeared a lock for Rookie of the Year before it was scrapped. The big man from New Zealand has tallied 10.2 points per game and reeled in five rebounds for good measure. Unlike Froling, Waardenburg is well down the list for the Taipans when it comes to offensive options, but he's found a way to be a valuable contributor on a team contending for the title. His outside shooting has continued to improve, with his clip now up to 34.5% on the season. Are we certain Waardenburg couldn't have put up Froling level numbers on this year's Illawarra squad? I would be more than fine with the 23-year-old walking away with this award.
Data for this article sourced from spatialjam.com and realgm.com