This season has been one of the most tumultuous, exciting and unpredictable in recent memory. There’s been a brand new (yet old) club, a former MVP player sacked because of poor attitude, all-time great dunks (plural) and a schedule that has bucked the trend of most sports leagues and let the underdog win more often than not.
The talent level has risen considerably as well, with multiple Olympians returning to Australia. A smattering of former NBA talent has also joined the party, and the best part is that every game can be watched anywhere in the world for the low, low price of only five dollars a month. What more could one ask for?
It’s close to the halfway point of the season, and with all of these exceptional players, it’s time to spread some kudos to the best players so far. Here are the midseason NBL awards.
The Andrew Gaze Trophy for Most Valuable Player
Winner – Brad Newley, Sydney Kings
Usually, the MVP award goes to the player on the best (or second best) team in the league. Winning is the most valuable skill to possess, and in the last twenty seasons, the MVP award winner was on the minor premiers or second on the ladder eleven times.
To say that Brad Newley has been the best player on the best team is a tremendous accolade with the calibre of his teammates like reigning MVP Kevin Lisch, Olympian Aleks Maric and former NBA starters Steve Blake and Josh Powell. His first NBL season after playing overseas has been spectacular.
From a purely statistical standpoint, he has been the best of the best. He is currently fourth in the league in scoring (18.3), fifth in assists (4.0), second in rebounding for guards (4.9), first in shooting for guards (52.6%) and one of only two players to average at least fifteen points, four rebounds and four assists.
The advanced statistics love him too, slotting in the league’s top six in at least six different categories including PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and FIC (Floor Impact Counter). These might not mean much to the average fan, but it solidifies his credentials with basketball tragics as the best of the best.
To get a read on how good Newley has been for the Kings this season is to simply watch him play. His control of the game and ability to get what he wants is spellbinding. Newley is strong, quick and has a fantastic handle on the ball. He has the complete game and is a huge reason why the Kings are favourites to win the title.
Runner Up – Torrey Craig, Brisbane Bullets
Lindsay Gaze Trophy for Coach of the Year
Winner – Andrew Gaze, Sydney Kings
It helps a coach to have such a stacked team that some commentators have called it ‘arguably the best team on paper in history.’ However, the way Andrew Gaze has corralled and massaged the egos of such a fantastic squad is award worthy. Gaze has taken the league by storm with his courtside antics and fatherly coaching and has been a wonder to watch, and the team has responded.
Sydney has been on top of the ladder for eight of the nine rounds in the first half of the season and has been the benchmark of defensive intensity, giving up the least amount of points per game with a measly 79.8 points, the only team keeping opponents under eighty points.
It could be seen as the easy way out to pick the coach on the best team, but when a team came dead last in the previous season and with all the hype and pressure that comes with having such a talented team, Gaze has shown that he is worthy of this award.
Runner Up – Andrej Lemanis, Brisbane Bullets
Best Defensive Player
Winner – Aleks Maric, Sydney Kings
It’s hard to put into values that easily digestible how good a player is at defense unless you watch every single game of the season. Defense doesn’t have many statistics that can be weighed against each other as the offensive end does. Fortunately, there are now advanced statistics to help us out.
The main category is Defensive Rating, which is the number of points a player allowed per 100 possessions. Aleks Maric is second in the whole competition at 101.6, second only to Damian Martin at 99.6 but is, unfortunately, ineligible because he hasn’t played enough games to qualify. He’s also top five in Defensive Win Shares which is an estimate of the number of wins a player produces on defensive possessions. Maric is also top ten in steals and blocks in the league, and the Kings are the best defensive team in the land so by the numbers he’s a standout.
Just like Newley and his award, the best way to understand how much of a defensive game changer Maric is, just watch some Kings games. He’s helped by some great teammates but the way he controls the paint is immense. He gets overlooked by his more hyped teammates, but Maric can change games without scoring a single point.
Runner Up – Torrey Craig, Brisbane Bullets
Best Sixth Man
Winner – Cameron Bairstow, Brisbane Bullets
“To be eligible for the Best Sixth Man Award, players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started.” That is the official statement from the NBL, so, unfortunately, Rotnei Clarke and his incredible streak coming off the bench in the past four games are ineligible as he has started ten out of Illawarra’s fourteen games.
One player who would probably not enjoy winning this award because he is only coming off the bench because of minute limitations due to injury is Cameron Bairstow. The former Chicago Bull has shown his immense skill as a super sub, coming in second in points (11.7) and first in rebounds (6.3) for bench players. Equalizing every player’s output to 36 minutes, Bairstow would be averaging 22 points, and 12 rebounds a game.
Bairstow is a force when he is on the court and a major focus for the Brisbane Bullets and his, the team, the league and the fans sake he gets healthy enough to play decent minutes and can lead the Bullets to greener pastures. Bairstow would gladly give up this award if it means he is healthy enough to become a full-time starter.
Runner Up – Tai Wesley, Melbourne United
Most Improved Player
Winner – Nathan Sobey, Adelaide 36ers
This award race is the easiest to select, as Nathan Sobey has completely changed his production in a way that not many would have expected. Here are his season stats this season compared to last:
It’s like an entirely different person has inhabited Sobey’s body to become a genuine All-Star contender (if the game existed). All his statistics have increased, some astronomically.
When Daniel Johnson was struck down with injury, it was Sobey who took up the mantle of being Jerome Randle’s running mate, and his confidence has soared ever since. He looks poised and ready to showcase his vast skills, and now that Johnson is healthy, the 36ers are shooting up the ladder.
Runner Up – Matthew Hodgson, Adelaide 36ers
Rookie of the Year
Winner – Majok Deng, Adelaide 36ers
With the 36ers going with a youth movement it was always a possibility that the Rookie of the Year would come from Adelaide. Deng has been a great addition to the team after excelling at Louisiana-Monroe University the last two seasons.
In the NBL, he is leading all rookies in points (5.55), blocks (0.75) and PER (14.74) and is second in rebounds (2.45). Like all rookies, his minutes and production have been up and down, but a promising sign is that Deng has increased his point output in every month so far, going from 5.2 in October to 5.6 to 7.0 in December.
A rangy 208cm combo forward, Deng has all the signs of being a long-term player in the league. He has been in the league for a couple of months now so expect more confidence and responsibility to take him to the next level in NBL basketball.
Runner Up – Anthony Drmic, Adelaide 36ers
All NBL First Team
Outside – Brad Newley, Sydney Kings
MVP gets an automatic selection to the first team.
Outside – Kevin Lisch, Sydney Kings
One of the best two-way players in the league and is an MVP candidate.
Outside – Jerome Randle, Adelaide 36ers
Leading the league (for qualified players) in points and third in assists.
Inside – Torrey Craig, Brisbane Bullets
May suit up as an SF but is leading the league in rebounds puts him as an inside player.
Inside – Daniel Johnson, Adelaide 36ers
When healthy is the best big man in the competition.
All NBL Second Team
Outside – Rotnei Clarke, Illawarra Hawks
Is capable of winning games off his own back with his strength and shooting.
Outside – Travis Trice, Cairns Taipans
Had a slow start but is one of the best scorers in the league with fantastic passing ability to boot.
Outside – Casey Prather, Perth Wildcats
Unlucky not to be in the first team but the talent in the NBL this season is phenomenal.
Inside – Greg Whittington, Sydney Kings
The best ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in the league and is a major reason why the Kings are leading the league.
Inside – Jameel McKay, Perth Wildcats
Leading the league in blocks and top ten in rebounds and field goal percentage. Exactly what you want from a centre in the league.