Another NBL season is in the books, with the Sydney Kings once again saluting in a championship run that saw series go the distance against both Cairns Taipans and then New Zealand Breakers.
To wrap the season, one final top-15 player list is required, with postseason heroics absolutely coming into account with the final placings. If you delivered on the biggest stage, it will be noted.
Let's dive into it.
1. Xavier Cooks, Sydney Kings - 15.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.7 apg (previous rank: 1)
The best player on the best team in the league, Cooks added a regular season MVP to his championship series MVP from last season, a second ring and then jumped straight onto a plane to make his NBA debut with the Washington Wizards. Banged up for the entirety of the championship series, Cooks produced a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double in the clinching game in just 27:41 of playing time. The Kings won those minutes by 17 points and lost the 12:19 he was on the bench by nine points. A proven big game NBL star.
2. Bryce Cotton, Perth Wildcats - 23.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg (previous rank: 2)
Trailing by 13 points early in the fourth quarter of the Play-In game, there was only one man who could save the Wildcats. On the road against a South East Melbourne team in complete control, Cotton sent shivers through the arena with a corner three. Just over nine minutes later he had tallied 20 points in the final frame to go along with three rebounds and three assists to help Perth advance. Still the most feared player in the league and if the Wildcats can find the right roster balance, Cotton makes them instant contenders.
3. Derrick Walton Jr., Sydney Kings - 15.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.1 apg (previous rank: 4)
The championship series MVP.
Eight points in the final four minutes of Game 5 helped lift the Kings from a two-point deficit to an eight-point win. In a series where easy offence was at a premium, Walton was the only player on the floor who could consistently break down the opposition to score on all three levels. He was only player in the league to average 15+ points and 6+ assists per game, while doing so on tidy shooting splits of 47/37/81.
4. Mitch Creek, South East Melbourne Phoenix - 23.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.9 apg (previous rank: 3)
An absolute workhorse. Creek entered the season banged up with numerous ailments and still managed to appear in all 29 games while only trailing Cotton for minutes per game, logging 34 a night. A constant force getting to the rack, Creek finished 62% at the rim and 46% from floater range, with both marks above league average.t
5. Jarrell Brantley, New Zealand Breakers - 16.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.7 apg (previous rank: unranked)
The Breakers were a team that gave me major troubles when compiling this list throughout the season given the even spread of major contributors from night to night. Brantley essentially takes Pardon's slot, with his versatility on the defensive end and ability to take over offensively proving more valuable in the postseason. Brantley took the Cooks assignment on one end and then delivered big time moments on the other, including a 23-point Game 4 performance to extend the championship series. Pardon was the glue, while Brantley is a game breaker. As a duo, they are dominant.
6. DJ Hogg, Cairns Taipans - 18.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.8 apg (previous rank: 10)
Hogg took on a monumental workload during the postseason, with the injury-hit Taipans leaning on their star forward. Across the Play-In win over Perth and first two semifinal games against Sydney, Hogg averaged 27 points per game in a virtuoso performance that threatened to derail the defending champs run. Got better as the season went on with his effortless range a true delight to watch.
7. Milton Doyle, Tasmania JackJumpers - 17.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg (previous rank: 8)
An All-NBL first team member who launched some major offensive outbursts throughout the season. Doyle topped 20 points 12 times across the season, including a 23-point performance to help the JackJumpers keep their season alive in Game 2 at home against the New Zealand Breakers. The one player who could break down the opposition defence consistently from the perimeter, he worked through major defensive attention on a nightly basis while still managing to come up clutch with regularity.
8. Keanu Pinder, Cairns Taipans - 16.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.4 apg (previous rank: 3)
Pinder is one of the biggest 'what ifs' of the NBL23 season. He was a physically dominant force who joined Alan Williams as the other players in the league to average 16+ points and 9+ rebounds. Oddly, the Taipans were 10-9 when he played and 8-1 when he didn't during the regular season. A unique talent as a high usage five who is at his best with the ball in his hands attacking the basket. All eyes will be on free agency with his services in demand at home and abroad.
9. Justin Simon, Sydney Kings - 10.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg (previous rank: unranked)
My good mate and colleague Peter Hooley floated Simon as a championship series MVP possibility prior to Game 1. I pushed back on that idea, believing that if Simon was to be in the mix, something had gone seriously wrong with the Kings' top two players. In the end, both were true.
It was Simon who put the clamps on the previously mentioned Hogg in Game 3 of the semifinal and it was Simon who inspired a remarkable Game 2 road win in New Zealand with Cooks and Walton Jr. out of the game injured. He didn't win MVP, but it's fair to say Walton wouldn't have had the opportunity to win MVP without Simon. Big game dominance propels the Kings lockdown defender onto the list (or maybe I messed up and he should have been here anyway...).
10. Barry Brown Jr., New Zealand Breakers - 19.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.5 apg (previous rank: 11)
A top-three scorer in the league, Brown Jr. was a point of difference on the methodical Breakers roster. Averaging 18.4 points per game, Brown was the leading scorer in the championship series, with multiple huge moments in the fourth quarter to clinch wins in Game 1 and 4. Among the multitude of huge plays, there were also moments where you wished the Breakers would get the ball back in Will McDowell-White's hands and run some offence instead of falling into the isolation tough shot trap. Whether it be New Zealand or elsewhere, the league will benefit from his presence next season.
11. Antonius Cleveland, Adelaide 36ers - 15.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 apg (previous rank: 9)
An All-NBL first team member and back-to-back Best Defensive Player, Cleveland is a monstrous force in the league. There's no question his ranking is impacted by an incredibly disappointing Adelaide 36ers season. That may not be fair, but it's ultimately hard to judge and compare a season on a squad that never found any cohesion.
12. Alan Williams, South East Melbourne - 16.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.8 apg (previous rank: 12)
The South East Melbourne Phoenix were an elite rebounding team and the best in the league at getting to the free-throw line. The physically dominant Williams was the predominant reason for those numbers, with his unique mix of size and touch in the paint causing havoc. In nine games post new year, Williams piled on 17.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game as he adjusted to the league. Year two should be more of the same.
13. Chris Goulding, Melbourne United - 17.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.2 apg (previous rank: 13)
CG43 is not slowing down. In a United season that was derailed by injuries, Goulding let it fly more than ever, putting up a league-leading 9.1 3-point attempts a night and connecting on 38.4% of those. That number is probably still too low for the best shooter in the league, but as Melbourne re-tool once again, Goulding remains the team's best player.
14. Rayjon Tucker, Melbourne United - 17.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.4 apg (previous rank: 14)
My preseason MVP prediction, Tucker took a while to find top gear in NBL23. Part of that was likely growing accustomed to the league, but it mostly felt due to United's lack of a point guard who could run offence and push the pace to maximise Tucker's skillset. In the second half of the season, Tucker averaged 21.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on sizzling splits of 51/41/79.
15. William McDowell-White, New Zealand Breakers - 10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.9 apg (previous rank: unranked)
This could have been Pardon's slot, but McDowell-White was in the box seat for championship series MVP until the Kings fourth quarter explosion. A high-level game manager and strong operator out of the pick-and-roll, he consistently ensured the Breakers offence functioned when the ball was in his hands. He tallied 6.1 assists per game, good for fourth in the league and showed significant development as an in between scorer. Clearly still developing, NBL23 was a huge step and his championship series moments were a major sign of growth and confidence.
Stats sourced from realgm.com and spatialjam.com