Kings star Xavier Cooks edges out Cotton, Creek to claim MVP award

Xavier Cooks was crowned the NBL's 2022-23 Most Valuable Player on Tuesday evening, capping off a spectacular 12 months for the Australian forward.

The Sydney Kings' imposing two-way star tallied 120 votes, edging out Bryce Cotton (96 votes) and Mitch Creek (80) for the Andrew Gaze Trophy, the league's top individual prize.

Cooks entered the season coming off winning last season's Grand Final MVP award, and followed that up by continuing to lead his Kings to an NBL-best 19-9 record going into this postseason. He averaged 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists a game during the regular season, shooting a career-best 59.6% from the field.

That trio also led the All-NBL First Team selection for the season, joined by Tasmania's Milton Doyle and Sydney's Derrick Walton Jr.

While Cooks was the runaway winner of the MVP award, the voting for three of the league's major trophies were extremely close.

Adelaide 36ers wing Antonius Cleveland won his second straight Damian Martin Trophy for the league's best Defensive Player, netting 37 votes and just beating out the New Zealand Breakers' Dererk Pardon (34 votes), as well as Melbourne United's Shea Ili (26 votes).

The 36ers had the NBL's second worst defensive rating (115.8) but Cleveland remained one of the league's most effective point-of-attack defenders over the course of the season.

The winner of the NBL's inaugural Next Generation award was the Cairns Taipans' Sam Waardenburg, who finished his impressive rookie season averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

The Kiwi picked up 47 votes, just edging out the Illawarra Hawks' Sam Froling (45 votes), and overcoming a mid-season definition change for the award; the league had replaced its Rookie of the Year award -- which Waardenburg was heavily favoured to win -- in the middle of the season, with all players under the age of 25 by April 30 of the relevant season being eligible.

Waardenburg's Taipans teammate, Keanu Pinder, was also a recipient of a trophy on Tuesday, walking away with the Most Improved Player award for the second year in a row; the first time that's happened in the NBL's history. The big-man averaged 17 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, up from 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a game last season, and was among the NBL's MVP conversation for much of the season.

Pinder was joined by Pardon as the 'inside' players on the All-NBL Second Team, while Barry Brown Jr., DJ Hogg, and Chris Goulding rounded out the group.

Brown Jr. also ran away with the league's Best Sixth Man award, with the Breakers guard netting an overwhelming 73 votes. The next best was the Bullets' Tyler Johnson (41 votes), while Tasmania's Rashard Kelly earned 26 votes. Brown Jr. came off the bench for the Breakers but was among the league's leading scorers, averaging 19.5 points per game.

The Taipans' improvement from the second worst record in the league to the third best -- 9-19 last season, to 18-10 this season -- was good enough to see Adam Forde win the Lindsay Gaze Trophy for the Coach of the Year, beating out New Zealand's Mody Maor and Sydney's Chase Buford. The team's General Manager, Mark Beecroft, was also rewarded, winning the Executive of the Year award.

The awards were voted on by the league's head coaches, assistant coaches, and captains in the final weeks of the season.

Every 2023 NBL Award Winner

Xavier Cooks (Sydney) - 120 votes
Bryce Cotton (Perth) - 96 votes
Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne) - 80 votes

Most Improved Player
Keanu Pinder (Cairns) - 48 votes
Will McDowell-White (New Zealand) - 46 votes
Sean Macdonald (Tasmania) - 34 votes

Best Defensive Player
Antonius Cleveland (Adelaide) - 37 votes
Dererk Pardon (New Zealand) - 34 votes
Shea Ili (Melbourne) - 26 votes

Best Sixth Man
Barry Brown Jr (New Zealand) - 73 votes
Tyler Johnson (Brisbane) - 41 votes
Rashard Kelly (Tasmania) - 26 votes

Coach of the Year
Adam Forde (Cairns) - 64 votes
Mody Maor (New Zealand) - 52 votes
Chase Buford (Sydney) - 34 votes

Next Generation Award
Sam Waardenburg (Cairns) - 47 votes
Sam Froling (Illawarra) - 45 votes
Luke Travers (Perth) - 24 votes

All-NBL First Team
Xavier Cooks (Sydney) - 54 votes
Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne) - 45 votes
Bryce Cotton (Perth) - 54 votes
Milton Doyle (Tasmania) - 42 votes
Derrick Walton Jr (Sydney) - 41 votes

All-NBL Second Team
Keanu Pinder (Cairns) - 33 votes
Dererk Pardon (New Zealand) - 22 votes
Barry Brown Jr (New Zealand) - 37 votes
DJ Hogg (Cairns) - 30 votes
Chris Goulding (Melbourne) - 23 votes

Executive of the Year
Mark Beecroft (Cairns)