Tag: Bryce Cotton

NBL Free Agency Update: Kings, Phoenix and Wildcats

TO wrap up Draft Central’s National Basketball League (NBL) Free Agency updates to this point, we delve into the moves made by the reigning premiers, the Perth Wildcats, and last season’s runners-up Sydney Kings. We also look deeper into how the NBL’s newest team, South East Melbourne Phoenix, is shaping up for their second season in the country’s top basketball competition.

SYDNEY KINGS

Even though the Kings have made minimal changes to their line-up for NBL21, last season’s minor premiers have still made some noteworthy signings for the upcoming campaign. Firstly, for Sydney, it was their decision to re-sign Craig Moller on the NBL’s newly introduced club option rule. Moller’s re-signing got the Kings going in regard to outlining what their squad would start to look like, currently holding Brad Newley and Jordan Hunter under contract. To help bolster their side with young and exciting faces, the Kings re-acquired one of the biggest surprises of last season, Shaun Bruce, as well as fully recovered Xavier Cooks to the fold.

With the retirement of potential Hall of Famer, Kevin Lisch, and the future of Andrew Bogut unknown, the allowance of new signings for the Kings has also increased. The poaching of another sought after NCAA graduate from the United States took place, as former Miami Hurricane, Dejan Vasiljevic, made his way down-under to continue his successful basketball career. The three-year-deal between the Kings and Vasiljevic embodies the next few years of transition that the purple and gold will undertake, as they start to bring in new talent. Furthermore, 21-year-old Angus Glover will make the hour and a half drive northbound to Sydney, after putting pen to paper on another three-year contact under Will Weaver. Having served as a key part of Matt Flinn’s rotation last season with the Hawks, Glover would average a modest 5.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

Contracted:

Brad Newley
Jordan Hunter

Re-signed:

Shaun Bruce
Xavier Cooks
Craig Moller (Club Option)

Signed:

Angus Glover (The Hawks)
Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami Hurricanes)

 

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

Following the retirement announcements of two of their most senior players and leaders in Tai Wesley and Ben Madgen, head coach Simon Mitchell now has his hands full to try and re-shuffle his squad for the NBL21 season. The additional losses of star shooter John Roberson to Spanish side Estudiantes and Dan Trist to the New Zealand Breakers, as well as promising young prospect Yanni Wetzell due to his European opt-out clause, does not make life easier for the Phoenix.

While the losses to this point have been sizeable, the Phoenix administration have made headway in reconciling this dilemma. The re-signings of Chicago-native Kendall Stephens and pivotal power-forward Dane Pineau, both of whom were members of the Phoenix’s inaugural season, will look to suit up in the green for at least one more fixture.

In terms of new additions, two members of the Brisbane Bullets can now look forward to some less consistent weather, as both Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi announced their intentions to move South. Gliddon, an Australian Boomer, has represented his country on numerous occasions, having served the green and gold at both the 2017/2018 FIBA Asia and World Cups. Linking back up with teammate Mitchell Creek will be an added bonus to the team’s morale when the season’s preparations start to ramp up. Te Rangi, who was a late inclusion in this year’s NZNBL representing the Canterbury Rams, looks to continue his rapid development in Australia’s top-flight. Te Rangi helped the Rams to an unexpected title run, which saw the team make it all the way to the competition’s semi-finals, despite finishing the regular season with a 4-10 record and finishing at the bottom of the standings.

Contracted:

Adam Gibson
Kyle Adnam
Mitchell Creek

Re-signed:

Dane Pineau
Kendall Stephens

Signed:

Cam Gliddon (Brisbane Bullets)
Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets)

 

PERTH WILDCATS

After what was a hectic start to their off-season movements, with both Nick Kay and Bryce Cotton opting out of their contracts and then Cotton re-signing for three-years, the defending champion Wildcats have well and truly started to rebuild their squad, as they endeavour on yet another successful NBL season.

The first of many was the Club Option taken on big-man Majok Majok, as the Wildcats look to centre their offseason on obtaining big bodies and after Majok’s contributions last season, one would not argue how valuable he is to Trevor Gleeson’s squad. Next up in the batting order, is fourth-year player Todd Blanchfield, who has transferred to the West Coast after two years with the Hawks, averaging over 13.5 points and 45 per cent shooting from the field during his time in Wollongong.

To help reinforce Perth’s backcourt, 36ers guard Kevin White will help mentor his younger peers in his fourth year of NBL action. The 33-year-old will look to step in where Damian Martin left off after his Hall of Fame career came to a fitting end after winning his sixth NBL Championship and with the re-signing of Taylor Britt and purchase of John Mooney, some fresh legs will look to insert some explosiveness into the depth of Gleeson’s gang.

Contracted:

Clint Steindl
Jesse Wagstaff
Luke Travers
Mitchell Norton
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk

Re-signed:

Bryce Cotton
Majok Majok (Club Option)
Taylor Britt

Signed:

John Mooney (University of Notre Dame)
Kevin White (Adelaide 36ers)
Todd Blanchfield (The Hawks)

Kestelman and NBL begin planning for 2020-21 season

DISCUSSIONS are taking place for the beginning of the 2020-21 National Basketball League (NBL) season. In an update from NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman, he said the league was constantly in talks with the nine clubs surrounding the upcoming season start and structure.

“It’s been very pleasing to see Australia leading the way when it comes to bringing COVID-19 under control and life beginning to return to some normality as restrictions are now being eased,” Kestelman said.

“We are also heartened by the steps other sporting leagues have made as they return to play and we will monitor their progress and work with the relevant health authorities and government as we look ahead to the start of our next season.”

In terms of a start date, it was yet to be confirmed, but Kestelman did give a hint that it would be later than the usual early October date.

“It is our intention to start our season after the AFL and NRL have completed theirs,” he said. “The lifeblood of the NBL is its fans and basketball is a product for live fan entertainment and we will be doing everything possible to start our season in front of our much loved fans.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the clubs and the Australian Basketball Players’ Association (ABPA) over the coming weeks and months and will provide further updates as more information becomes available. But we are taking a very positive and proactive approach.”

Kestelman said he was buoyed by the amount of players who had recommitted to the clubs, including a number of players, such as reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton, who had chosen to explore options but ultimately chose to stick with the reining premiers, Perth Wildcats.

“With the current uncertainty around other basketball leagues, the NBL will remain a highly attractive option for players from both Australia and New Zealand as well as around the world,” he said. “The NBL is one of the best leagues in the world outside of the NBA and Australia will be one of the safest places in the world to play.”

“We are delighted that the overwhelming majority of contracted players have already recommitted to the league and we have no doubt the NBL will remain of a world class standard to be enjoyed by fans across Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world.”

NBL Free Agency – May: How each team stands after contract opt-outs

LAST month the National Basketball League (NBL) announced it would need to reduce player payments across the board, slashing contracts by up to 50 per cent and reducing the maximum amount of imports to two per club. This had a ripple effect on the clubs and we take a look at who has fared best and who is not looking so good as of May 4 – the close of contract-opt outs. The information has been compiled thanks to Aussie Hoopla’s NBL free agent tracker and recent announcements by the clubs and league.

Note: The below rankings are not saying this is the ladder positions, but more how they have fared in terms of the quality lost or uncertainty over the lists for next season. The least impacted to the hardest hit.

#1 South East Melbourne Phoenix

There is not much more you could ask of the Phoenix thus far, having re-signed their star player in Mitch Creek and the bulk of the list being retained thus far. A perfect off-season would be retaining John Roberson and then seeing if they could snatch a third big name such as Terrico White. There is not much to write other than the Phoenix are in a good spot thus far coming into season two.

#2 New Zealand Breakers

With more players linked to the Breakers than departing, the New Zealand-based side could take advantage of a number of the Australian teams losing quality imports. The Breakers have been rumoured to consider an All-New Zealand side which would be an interesting move, but one that could help in terms of long-term success and continuity. The experienced Tom Abercrombie, as well as Corey Webster, Jarrad Weeks and Finn Delany are all signed up for next year, and a lot will depend on what happens with Scotty Hopson, but the Breakers are looking alright.

#3 Cairns Taipans

If there is a side that would be nervous about the unknown of the pandemic, it would have to be the Taipans. They got their act together on court this season, largely thanks to the likes of Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver doing their thing up either end of the court. While both have either agreed or are expected to return, there would be a question mark over them given the current circumstances. If they re-sign them, Cairns could be title favourites with the sides above them all having players opting out of contracts.

#4 Illawarra Hawks

As it stands, the 2019/20 wooden spooners at least will have continuity in their list for next season. While LaMelo Ball is obviously a huge – but expected loss – the starting line-up that carried the team through the second half of the season remains intact. They have likely lost Daniel Grida due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and are waiting to see what happens with a number of uncontracted players. The only way is up for the Hawks next season and perhaps having continuity in the side will help.

#5 Adelaide 36ers

While the 36ers might have lost a coach over the off-season, they have replaced Joey Wright with Connor Henry who signed a three-year deal for the club. Everything looked good for the next season until Jerome Randle devastatingly did his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Europe. With him all but certain to miss next season and doubts on Eric Griffin as well in terms of re-signing, the 36ers will put plenty of weight on the younger brigade such as incoming recruit Josh Giddey and the ever-improving Harry Froling. Had Randle stayed fit, the 36ers would be in the top four at this point of the untouched preseason, but the injury hurt them badly.

#6 Brisbane Bullets

On face value, the Bullets have signed up most of their quality starters. But there is a Lamar Patterson-sized question mark over their list for the 2020/21 season. Patterson was expected to re-sign for another season prior to the pandemic, but like many it is unknown what impact the contract reductions and restrictions will have on the imports. If he signs, they could easily fly into the top four, if he does not, then they lack that dominant big man. Especially with Matt Hodgson opting out of his contract.

#7 Melbourne United

United have been able to re-sign those players who had multiple-year deals which is the first step towards season 2020/21. The reason they are lower down on the list is two of their best players are either departing or are expected to depart in Shawn Long (South Korea) and Melo Trimble (one-year deal). They missed out on Giddey and could be losing veteran Chris Goulding in a year. Basically, United will look to try and sign up a few more names to give some certainty about the look of their roster next season.

#8 Sydney Kings

The Kings have lost Casper Ware and Xavier Cooks at this stage, with both players opting out of their contracts and looking elsewhere. Andrew Bogut and Jae’Sean Tate are among those out of contract and of course Didi Louzada is headed for the NBA. Just a lot of question marks over what their 2020/21 roster could look like at this point in time. After a huge season and showing what the Kings were capable of a mix of bigs and smalls, the grand finalists will have some work to do in order to get back to the pointy end of the season.

#9 Perth Wildcats

It has been a real gut-wrenching period for the Wildcats thus far, losing their two best players in Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay who have opted out of their contracts and look at other opportunities for the 2020/21 season. With White also rumoured to be considering a move to Victoria, the Wildcats unbelievable reign in the NBL finals could be in danger. But we know how well the organisation is run, and with more space opening up, expect them to poke the eyes out of quality local talent.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #1 – The entire NBL Grand Final Series

EVERY sports league for every season is structured for one particular moment. To see which group of individuals were talented and cohesive enough to hold up a certain trophy high above their heads. A symbolic gesture of rising above the rest. Sure, the seasonal stories are entertaining, and learning about new or transforming players is fascinating but at the end of the day, they are all just subplots. Subplots consisting of factors and details that our sports brains have naturally laid out on a timeline that ends and begins with the labelling of champions. Everything in sports leads to that ultimate prize. Which is why it was so unlike any other year that in the middle of a highly anticipated grand final, the Sydney Kings pulled out due to a fear of a new and deadly virus.

The first game of the NBL Grand Final Series between the Kings and the Perth Wildcats went exactly as expected. The game was high paced at a high intensity as the Wildcats crawled out of Sydney victorious by a singular basket. Fans had set a high bar of expectation for the rest of the series, but news quickly emerged that they would not be able to attend Game Two. With the ever increasing fear and spread of COVID-19, the two juggernauts of Australia basketball were forced to play the most awaited game all the season by the fans, without a fan in attendance.

From the very first tip off, it just never felt right. Sydney tied the series with a 97-83 demolition. But without the screaming supporters, the constant distracting chants, and the atmosphere created only when thousands of people react to the same thing at the same time as passionate as they possibly can. Personally, it looked kind of uncomfortable. Perth would go on to win Game Three, but that feeling fans would get watching Miles Plumlee slam it down on two defenders to only hear the bench and a few coaches cheer, would not go away.

But at least the fans were not too furious. At the end of the day, sports is not everything. But when the Sydney Kings pulled out of the grand final all together, the fans were a little less accepting. Questions like do we reschedule the remaining games? Is this it? Are Perth now champions? Flooded every fan’s minds simultaneously. Not even the Wildcats were sure what happened. Everyone had been working for a common goal for 12 months, and were this close to seeing it through and then, it just stopped. After a stage of unprecedented confusion, Perth was awarded champions and Bryce Cotton would take home finals MVP. The series would always be remembered as the craziest moment in not just the season, but in the history of the NBL.

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10: #1 – Bryce Cotton

Given that this season’s League MVP would go on to win the NBL Title, the Finals’ MVP and lead the competition in scoring and steals, it would make perfect sense that Bryce Cotton would rank at the top of the pack in this season’s edition of Draft Central’s NBL Top 10. However, the decision to put Cotton at number one was not so clear cut.

Season performances from the likes of Scott Machado, Scotty Hopson, Lamar Patterson and others, made the decision to put Arizona-born guard at the top of the list, one that wouldn’t be decided until the postseason. While 22.48 points per game (league leader) is all well and good, Cotton’s consistency separated himself from his piers during the season, as only once would he put up single digits in all 27 of his games, scoring four points against the Breakers back in early-November. He would also hold himself responsible to a 42 per cent field goal accuracy rate, one of the best amongst guards and forwards collectively.

Defensively, Cotton would once again lead the competition in another major statistical category, this time in steals. On eight separate occasions, Cotton would accumulate three or more steals during a contest, which would help him attain an average of 1.75 steals per game throughout the season. Cotton’s contributions carried his team throughout 27 encounters, as on several separate days he would put up monumental performances. Notably his 36 and 39-point efforts against the Sydney Kings in Rounds 6 and 13, his 34 points against the Breakers in Round 7 and his 42 points against the Taipans in Game one of their semi-final series.

As the Wildcats would grind away at the Kings’ ladder-leading position throughout the season, their ability to not fall into losing slumps helped the Wildcats maintain an ongoing winning form. Not losing three games in a row, helped Perth secure second position and home-court advantage leading into their series with the Taipans. Following their 85-72 win over the Brisbane Bullets, Cotton would receive his second MVP Award as well as his third All-NBL First Team selection alongside teammate Nick Kay. But the individual accolades were trivial compared to the major prize of a potential championship.

The 27-year-old made his intentions known in Game One against Cairns as mentioned earlier, but Games Two and Three required a different approach of play by Cotton. With the Wildcats going down by 11 to Cairns away from home in Game 2, Cotton would walk away with a measly 11 points, three assists and two rebounds. In Game Three, however, he would facilitate the ball in a fashion that had not occurred all season, as he dished out eight assists in the deciding Game Three contest, aiding his side in the 11-point triumph.

Moving on to face the Kings, all that could be said in the Grand Final series was Sydney’s inability to stop the scoring of Cotton. Putting up 30-point games on two separate occasions would set the reigning-MVP up for a 30-points per game series win and the defining performance for him and his team, winning their fourth title in five years. While Cotton awaits to hear back from the Australian government in regard to his citizenship request, as mentioned to the Arizona Daily Star, he was relieved to receive the title given the unfortunate fashion that it was obtained. “It felt just as amazing to be acknowledged as the champions,” said Cotton. “It was almost like watching Selection Sunday. We were just kind of sitting around waiting to see what the verdict was going to be.”

The guard had cemented his own dynasty with his third chip in his extensive NBL career thus far. Of course the news coming through yesterday was that Cotton had opted out of his contract with the Wildcats for season 2020/21 after the NBL’s decision to cut player payments by up to 50 per cent and limit import numbers. The agreement put in place is that Cotton will search for opportunities overseas, however the Wildcats have retained his rights should he choose to honour the contract for next season. In other words Wildcats fans, he cannot play for another NBL team. It will be Perth or international for the star guard.

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10 #2: Scott Machado

THIS season’s main facilitator and the second Cairns Taipans player in Draft Central’s top 10, Scott Machado takes out second spot on the countdown after an impressive 2019/20 campaign. His journey goes all the way back prior to the season’s opening tip, following the signing of Cameron Oliver to bolster the Taipans’ frontcourt. Mike Kelly and his coaching staff were in need of someone to control the flow of games and elevate the offensive performances of those on the floor at any given time. The decision was Machado, who was signed with the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers at the time. The signing would strengthen Cairns’ backcourt, as Machado would go shoulder-to-shoulder with DJ Newbill, who was a part of the Cairns’ side that went 6-22 the season prior and was eager to make this time round a very different story.

Despite Cairns’ good intentions, they lost their opening three encounters, but a hard fought 99-76 blowout win against the Wildcats got the ball rolling for the Taipans. Machado’s 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds were a significant factor in that game. Falling to 2-6 after a debilitating loss to the Illawarra Hawks in Round 6, the Taipans faced a crossroads on whether this season would turn out similar to last, or if they were to change the way they conducted themselves on the court and start to climb the standings. They chose the latter.

Led by Machado, the Taipans won five of their next six contests with their point guard obtaining two double-digit assist games over this period. It was rather a big shock to the Taipans faithful when they had back-to-back losses handed to them in Round 11, falling to the Wildcats and the Phoenix, but the way Cairns bounced back would define their season. In their remaining 12 outings, the Taipans would go on streaks of five and four games, losing once to the Kings and twice to finish their season, with the third seed already locked up by that stage.

Machado averaged an elite level 16.4 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds in his side’s monumental run to the finals, helping Cairns secure a 16 win and 12 loss record at the end of the season, locking up a matchup with the Wildcats and MVP Bryce Cotton. Game One would prove to be massive for Machado, as he would shoot a massive 61 per cent from the field, whilst collecting 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 39 minutes of play, arguably his best individual performance all season. Machado would continue to put up solid numbers for his team in Games Two and Three, averaging 16 points per contest. But, Trevor Gleeson’s side had too much depth, as they snatched Game Three and moved on to the Grand Final Series to face the Kings and defend their title.

To encapsulate Machado’s breakout season, he was awarded some consolation as the NBL Fans’ MVP, averaging 16.1 points per game in NBL 2020, as he led the league in assists with 7.9 dimes being dished out every time out for the 29-year-old. He also earned himself a spot in the NBL’s All-NBL First Team and runners-up in the MVP votes count behind Cotton. Whether the “big-three” returns again next season for the Taipans or not, it is without a doubt Machado was to be ranked second in Draft Central‘s top 10, if not first, had he edged out the Wildcats in the semi-finals.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #7 – Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch

THERE is not a singular moment in a regular season that is as surely promised to be an unforgettable night than in a grand final rematch. Not only do we get to see the two best teams going at it, but the bad blood in the air practically creates an atmosphere only likened to that of a finals game. One team seeking revenge while the other seeks credibility, but when it ends with a final buzzer beater to win the game, it is pure magic. How else could you explain Bryce Cotton hitting the game winning shot, against the team he beat in the grand final? It is as if that game was so great that there just must have been supernatural powers behind it. That there was real magic. Either that or Cotton is just so far ahead of the rest of the league, that he can be held to seven points in the first half and still finish the game with 27.

The Wildcats were coming off their largest loss ever at the RAC Arena, so the stakes to perform for their fans against Melbourne were as high as ever. The game went just as you would expect. United’s Chris Goulding came out firing with nine of the team’s first 11 points, all from beyond the arc, helping secure a 22-19 lead to end the first. The second was more of the same style of back and forth baskets, ending the half at 44-42. If you watched this game, you would personally know that not one fan in the Melbourne Arena or anyone watching at home felt conclusive about which team was going to come out on top. That is when Cotton knew it was time to step up. Beginning the second half by drilling a three to give his team the first lead all night. The Wildcats fed off that first play and did not look back, leading by just four points heading into the fourth. So far the game was already at legendary status, as it transformed from a competitive game to an all-out battle. Melo Trimble (21 points) and Goulding (17 points) led a 16-4 run in the fourth. This was it, their one chance for redemption. For revenge. To prove that last year’s finals outcome was not going to follow them for the new season.

The Wildcats were on the clock, down by eight points midway through the fourth. Cotton was not giving up that easy as he cut down that lead one possession at a time. However Trimble would sink an abundance of doubt in every Wildcats fan, as he tied the game at 93-93 with 32 seconds left. Cotton proceeded to throw up an unbalanced, illogical haywire of a shot that bounced hard off the backboard and miraculously went through the hoop. Game over, Cotton raised his hand and waved at the shocked United players walking to the locker room with their head down. When Cotton waved, he was not just waving off the disgruntled Melbourne fans in their own arena, or just the Melbourne players who only seconds prior had hopes of actually winning. He was also waving off the critics, the people who for some reason did not believe Cotton was the man of this league, the best player. Like all of the great moments Cotton was a part of this season, he again showed exactly why this league is in his hands.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview
#7 Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #8 – Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview

IT was a game that everyone had circled on their calendar. Two juggernaut teams going at it, in what most assumed was as a preview for the grand final. But what made it iconic was just how insanely similar this game was compared to what transpired in the grand final. Well, except for the presence of actual fans, but tune in for that moment in the coming week. Looking back at this game in retrospect, it was like looking through magic crystals, we were staring right into the future but at the time we didn’t know it. Watching how Casper Ware would be nowhere to be seen on defence. Or how the Kings were so dependent on scoring in the paint that the lack of versatility led to their eventual demise. But most importantly, how Bryce Cotton would dominate the Kings with crafty jump shots and second chance points.

That was the main takeaway leaving this game, a reminder of just how remarkably talented Cotton really is, scoring a casual 39 points on one of the best defences in the league, 18 of which came in the fourth quarter as Cotton led the charge for a double-digit lead. Just to add to all of that, he also set a then career-high eight three-pointers in the 98-85 victory over the Kings. He left the game leading the league in points and steals, while becoming the first player in NBL history to drop 200 points on the same team in the same season – technically he dropped 222, but who is counting? He also left the game as the indisputable best player in the league, killing off any debates between him and fellow contemporaries. Clearly Sydney coach, Will Weaver just could not find an answer for him all season. But the funny thing is that there really should not be blame put on the Kings’ coaching staff for failing to contain Cotton, because the fact is no one in the league can stop him. He is just in a tier all of his own. 

To be that good against a team that obtained the most wins all season is simply unbelievable, so it is no speculation to suggest that when these two teams faced each other in the grand final, Cotton and the Wildcats had a certain edge over their adversary. A mental imprint, stamped on each player from the Kings with highlights of this night, as the 39-point performance sunk overwhelming fear and anxiety into their hearts. This is the effect of legends, and after this season and postseason, Cotton should be remembered as a NBL legend. Just like how this one night forecasted how the NBL finals would play out, this season might act as an early prediction of what the next five years of the NBL have in store.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview

Opinion: What would happen if five Australians returned home to play in the NBL?

WHAT would happen in a reality where five of the best Australian NBA players returned to their home towns to play basketball in the NBL? Why? Maybe the NBA gets shut down because of the coronavirus, maybe they all just consequently and simultaneously become so patriotic for Australia that they take their talent to the Aussie leagues. It may sound silly, but Troy Hanning explains what it could mean for the NBL.

1 Ben Simmons (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

If you put Ben Simmons on the Melbourne Phoenix, it is a guaranteed championship. It is that simple. The only thing Simmons cannot do is hit a jumper from 10 feet away from the basket. 

But in a league where defenders are just a little slower to react and maybe a little shorter at the rim, Ben would average 40,15 and 10 by driving down to the rim and either dunking it or dishing it off to open cutters. Ben’s number one asset is that he is a point guard in a small forward’s body. He can dribble and dish at an elite level, and to add onto that, is 6’8″. That’s like being the most skilled driver in a race, and having the best car. If Ben was not 6’8″, with his elite dribbling skills and ability to find the open men, Ben would still be an elite point guard. Although his inability or insecurity to shoot long range jump shots is sometimes comical, the best of the best defenders have all taken a step back, anticipating the drive and still got scored on. So it is not like this limitation impedes on his impact on the game. 

Simmons clearly has confidence issues because it is not that he cannot shoot, it is that he choose not to. There are plenty of videos showing Simmons hitting threes at training or at a pre-game warm-up, efficiently. In fact his shot is actually pretty nice, but he has refused to shoot every year, which only adds to the pressure to shoot more. But when he comes to the NBL, he will have a little less media coverage and a little less attention. Maybe that lack of pressure serves to help Simmons’ shot. But even if he never gets better at shooting, or even never gets better at basketball, he is already a top 20 player on the planet, at only 23-years-old. So his biggest concern should not be his shooting, but his teammates, and that’s why South East Melbourne Phoenix is a perfect destination for the star. Simmons could have just as easily been signed by Melbourne United in this reality, but the temptation imagining him playing alongside John Roberson and Mitchell Creek, two men feared for their long range abilities, was just too much. 

Because for as great as Simmons is, we have never really seen him play in a system built to maximise his abilities. Which is honestly a compliment to Ben because he has been this good with teammates that constantly clog up the middle of the floor. If Ben was put in a team surrounded by four knock down shooters, the potential would be unlimited. Not to mention having the best shooter in the league in Roberson by your side, is a great way to start.

2 Dante Exum (Melbourne United)

In this reality, not only does Dante Exum sign with Melbourne United, but he also gets a completely new makeover, jumping from the point to the small forward. Do not get me wrong, Exum is a good point guard, but after contemplating every scenario of Exum at the one, the consensus was that the team is just too built around the backcourt of Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, to alter anything there. But surprisingly, this really works. Exum would be replacing Mitch McCarron’s spot in the rotation, who, while is a fairly decent scorer for the team, is just the one to make way in the starting five. Exum, who is a 6’6″ guard with a 6’9″ wingspan, would be used as a versatile small ball three who can make plays and defend nearly anyone on the court. World renowned as a phenomenal defender, who is athletic, long and quick, capable of shutting down anyone in front of him. It is fair to say that United would be lucky to have him in their arsenal. 

Although whenever anyone talks about Exum, it is never about what he’s done in the pros, but about his potential. But to be fair, he has never been put in a position to succeed. When he was drafted to the Utah Jazz, they already had point guard Trey Burke, so immediately Exum was coming off the bench. And once Burke left, the Jazz, while also prompted by the starting of Rudy Gobert, became one of the best defensive teams in the league. But that progress was stunted with an unfortunate torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). He then was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who are simply a poorly run organisation, especially for a young player. That’s why in this reality, Exum can get as far away from Cleveland as possible, and be put on a team where he is given more attention, hopefully elevating his growth. With Melbourne United, Exum will be for the first time in his career, put on a team that highlights his strengths. 

Because the potential of Exum is a real thing. His performance in the FIBA Under 19s Championships where he led the Emus to the semi-finals is evident. Along with him finishing second in the lane ability drill at the NBA Draft Combine, literally a test to see how quickly you can sprint, shuffle and back pedal around the key. In United, with Trimble, Long and Chris Goulding all averaging over 17 points a game, Exum just needs to be reliant on defence. This role would suit his playing style almost perfectly, as by being the leader of the defence, he is contributing to the teams success immediately while being able to take his time to work on the offensive fundamentals patiently. The upside of this reality is endless, but even if Exum can never quite find his groove offensively, every team wants a ‘stopper’, who can lock up anyone, and Exum just fits this role naturally.

3 Aron Baynes (New Zealand Breakers)

With lineups getting smaller and smaller every year, and bigs becoming less relevant from one generation to the next, some people are beginning to question whether a team centred around a big, can still be a serious contender. The answer is that the evolution of the game has not led to the extinction of a valuable big man. Rather, it has fostered a period of evolution. Luckily for New Zealand, Aaron Baynes is the poster boy of a big man that has evolved successfully with the changing times. From attempting a combined seven threes in his first five seasons to 168 this season, the progression is evident. That’s a 2400% difference, keep in mind the season ended prematurely. A lot of the time bigs who can shoot are lanky, awkward ‘athletes’ who can’t hold their own with the physicality and toughness required in the paint. That is not Baynes. If coach Shamir wants a player to protect the paint, grab boards, then either hit an open three or bully his way to a bucket. That is Baynes. 

You can already picture it, Baynes setting a brick wall screen for Corey Webster, faking the roll, getting it and splashing it from the top of the three. The only real knock on Baynes (and nearly every other big man), is that he cannot create his own shot. Lucky for Baynes, the Breakers are full of selfless playmakers like Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry. But what stands to benefit the Breakers more than anything is Baynes’ esteemed experience. How often do you sign an upstanding veteran, whose played on four incredibly different teams with different expectations. From playing in two NBA finals to tanking, Baynes has seen it all, and has gathered a squeaky clean reputation. Nothing is worse than when you make a big free agent signing and the guy rolls in thinking the team revolves around him just to quickly become dismissive and deterred when things do not go his way. But Baynes’ teammates have had nothing but praise for the big man in each one of his stops, leading us to believe that his induction and progression with the Breakers would be more the same. If only this signing happened one year earlier, who knows, maybe RJ Hampton would stay another year. Baynes provides a similar physical presence to the likes of Andrew Bogut, and that guy has a pretty successful resume in the NBL. Just a classic bruiser in the paint who can attack the basket, hit a mid range and be a defensive nightmare for slashing guards.

4 Joe Ingles (Adelaide 36ers)

Having been born in the suburbs of Adelaide, the 36ers are the lucky team to sign Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. The former NBL Rookie of the Year left the league in 2009, and with his recent decline in minutes and his move to a bench role in the NBA, a return to the NBL might be more imminent than some believe. Ingles would be an asset to any team he plays on, because fortunate for Ingles, his skill set mixed with his size is exactly what every team in the modern NBL or NBA is looking for. A 6’8″ small forward who can be a team’s best playmaker while also shooting a career 40% from three. That’s because every value Ingles possesses, is transitional to any team or league Ingles is on. So when he joins the 36ers, he will still be an elite shooter, who can run an offence while also rebounding well, hence he will make the team better. Because of this versatility, he would also be the focal point of the offence, an important label every team needs yet the 36ers struggle to have, as the top three scorers of the team are all within five points difference of each other. Clearly Adelaide has the talent, but when you finish seventh in a nine team league, the roster just needs a superstar, a guy who can be the best player on a championship team in the NBL, that is Joe Ingles. 

What is crazy is that Ingles might actually be getting better. While the 32-year-old’s stats might only show a steady pace, Ingles limited experience in the NBA hints he still has more to learn, especially compared to other similarly aged athletes in the league. A great example of this development is in how he has been getting his three point shot off. In his first five seasons, 85 per cent of his threes came off assists, where Ingles would be waiting patiently somewhere on the three point arc for a driving cutter or fellow wing to whip him the ball, giving Joe an open shot. However this year, we have seen the Aussie begin to actually dribble into three-point attempts, coming down the court in transition or around a screen. This added element has not only expanded Ingles’ offensive skill set, making him a more lethal shooter from outside, but is evidence that Ingles still wants to grow as a basketball player. That desire to improve at his age, where he has already reached the NBA, and is already famous, and already has a bountiful salary, is a much less rare commodity then people would believe. That attitude is contagious and would really benefit a player like Harry Froling, who like Ingles, won the Rookie of the Year in 2019, and might have aspirations to one day play in the NBA. Coming from similar backgrounds, Ingles’ mere presence on the team might keep the future centrepiece satisfied and in 36ers jersey for a long time. 

5 Thon Maker (Perth Wildcats)

While Maker was born in South Sudan, he and his family moved to Perth at the age of five. He already has experience on the international scene for the Boomers and has an Australian passport. For this experiment given his hometown, Maker would qualify to play for the Wildcats. Maker is listed at seven feet and has a career accuracy of 32 per cent from three-point range. If that is not all you need to know about Maker before understanding how valuable a player like he is, he also possesses great leaping ability to go with his super-elite reach and wingspan. He can also run the floor, showing good ball-handling, passing, and shooting tools.

For other teams, there might be a little friction when a NBA player comes in and takes your spot, but this is one of the rare occasions where the team and the player just fit perfectly. In terms of dropping Maker at the five, it would look like the Perth Wildcats would have two options about how to execute it. First is to put Miles Plumlee at the four, accompanied by Maker at the five. This twin tower dynamic would wreak havoc in the paint. Just imagine Bryce Cotton sliding through massive screens to get a shot off, confident that one of the two giants will get the offensive rebound. Or if Cotten cannot get the shot off, since they are screen heavy, one of the two will likely have a mismatch they can exploit in the low post. However, having two slow centers risks the team being a liability when opponents inevitably try and switch the big fellas on the quicker guard. 

Although another plan of attack would be to just throw Plumlee on the bench. This is not an insulting adjustment because Plumlee has now more responsibility than ever. He is now the leader of the second unit and as a veteran with lots to contribute, he would thrive in this role.  When he subs in, there are going to be mismatches everywhere for the Wildcats to capitalise on. Since every contending team has at least one person sacrificing their talent for the better of the team, Plumlee would have to take the step back in order to win.

No matter how it happens, this team is much better with Maker than without. One of the Wildcats’ few flaws is their rebounding, so having a seven-footer who despite lacking strength, does not shy away from contact, is a clear advantage. The little to big dynamic of Cotton and Maker would sell out arenas, not just because it is an entertaining novelty, but there really is no ceiling to how good they can be. If they could master the pick and pop, they would be unstoppable. That is not an exaggeration, it would nearly be impossible to get over a screen from Maker fast enough to deflect him getting it and then trying to disturb the seven-footer shooting a jump shot. Maker and Cotton would be the evolution of the pick and roll. For him to ever reach this ceiling, it would take an incredible work ethic, which by all accounts Makers has, and a surge of confidence, which a league like the NBL can help foster.

2019/20 NBL season review: Perth Wildcats

IN the final instalment of the NBL season reviews by Draft Central, we look at the journey of the Perth Wildcats’ 2020 season and the rather unfortunate way that they would secure their fourth title in five seasons and their fifth in seven.

Here we go again

From the beginning, the kitchen sink was thrown at the Wildcats as they faced the team they beat in last season’s Grand Final series, Melbourne United. In what was the perfect way to kick off the 2020 season in front of packed RAC Arena, both teams were ready to get their seasons off on the right foot.

With both Bryce Cotton and Melo Trimble claiming their stake as two of the best guards in the league, they would lead their squads through four quarters of tightly contested basketball. But, thanks to a strong final quarter by the Wildcats, a single point would be all that separated the two sides on the day, as the Wildcats would squeeze by with a 94-93 victory starting off their campaign with a favourable result. Trevor Gleeson’s team would continue their good run of form with four victories in their next five contests, with their first blunder of the season being against a new and improved Cairns Taipans, that was getting ready to take the competition by storm.

Around came November, where Perth would struggle throughout a week and a half losing two out of three contests, going down to Brisbane at the Armoury and getting routed by 19 points away in Sydney, the only loss the Wildcats would endure from the Kings throughout the whole season. Reaching the halfway point of the season with a record of nine wins and five losses, the Wildcats sat rather contently in second place, as it was clear that they remained one of the top two contenders in the League. Nonetheless, the Wildcats needed to avoid getting complacent, as just below them a major storm was brewing in the mid-table logjam, as six different clubs were all vying for a postseason berth, with just a game and a half separating third and eighth position in the standings.

While Perth never really produced any substantial winning streaks on their way past Round 20, it was their ability to keep their losses to a minimal over the span of the entire season. During the second half of Perth’s season, they would string together three victories in a row on three different occasions, keeping them out of reach of the jostling teams below. After finishing one win better than compared to last season, Perth had established itself as one of the League’s best offensive sides, averaging more than 90 points per contest, led by their superior backcourt and solid front court. So, it was only fitting that they would square off with the Taipans in the semi-final round of the playoffs, given they were a very similar style of team.

MVP vs MVP

Following the regular season, it was announced that Bryce Cotton of the Wildcats would be awarded the NBL’s Most Valuable Player with Cairns’ guard Scott Machado falling eight votes short of Cotton. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Machado, as he would be awarded the title of Fans’ MVP. But individual accolades for these players pale in comparison in what is the ultimate goal for any team sport, that being the championship. While Cotton had already received two titles in his time at Perth, Machado was looking to earn his first in his debut season.

Game One was as expected for those who attended. An offensive showdown would go down at RAC Arena with both teams blowing each other out of the water in each of the opening two quarters. With the second half being a much closer affair, Cotton would undertake most of his side’s scoring duties as he would have a career best night, piling it on for 42 points and six assists in an overtime classic and breaking the hearts of Taipans fans looking to wrap up the series in two games.

Keen to force a Game Three, Cairns’ head coach Mike Kelly made a point of limiting Perth’s weapons. Cotton and Nicholas Kay, the Wildcats’ two leading point-getters were held to just 21 points. Meanwhile the Taipans’ ‘big three’ made an impact in front of their home crowd accounting for 41 of Cairns’ 85 points, as they went on to tie the series up winning by 11 on the night. With Cairns tying the series up for a deciding Game Three, the more than 10,000 people that witnessed the match held a slight nervousness as Gleeson and his coaching staff had yet to find a way to weaken the combo of Machado, Dj Newbill and Cameron Oliver.

With both sides neck and neck for every quarter, the contest remained one that could have gone either way at any stage, but Perth had figured out a way to limit the production of Newbill as he would only manage six points on the night. However, it was Cotton that wasn’t making his usual impact either, which meant someone needed to step up when it counted. Terrico White, the second part of Perth’s backcourt made his statement game in the series, racking up 26 points and four rebounds. Further aided by Kay’s 24 points, the Wildcats would squeeze out a semi-final clinching Game Three triumph by 11 points once again, 93-82 and the right to defend their title against the Sydney Kings.

Cementing the Wildcats dynasty

The Kings were for the first time in a Grand Final series since the 2008 NBL season and had not won a series since 2005, which made home-court advantage much more important. However, history was made that was not in control of either of the teams, therefore cutting short a series that was destined for at least a Game Four.

With more that 11,500 people packed into Qudos Bank Arena, Game One was fully loaded to be a big game. Both sides trading quarters seemed to be the trend of the opening contest of the series and most people knew that the game wouldn’t be decided until the final stages of regulation. This would come to fruition, as with only a couple minutes remaining, a massive three-point bomb by Damian Martin would put the Wildcats up by three, which was followed up by Cotton’s two made free throws. These actions would prove to be enough, as the Wildcats would steal Game One on the road.

It was Game Two that the new COVID-19 restrictions had been enforced and this seemed to influence the concept of home court advantage, as Sydney came out strong in front of a silent RAC Arena, winning three out of four quarters in a bid to tie the series up. While Cotton’s 27 points was valuable, it was not enough to get the Wildcats over the line, as they went down 83-97 and were now heading back to Sydney.

Both teams prepared themselves for any other series game not knowing that it would be the deciding game, as following Game Three, the NBL and both teams would decide to finish the series and end the season following this contest. Nevertheless, Game Three would go ahead as Perth would explode out of the gate with a barrage of opening quarter points, getting out ahead 29-18 after ten minutes of play. This would allow Perth to keep Sydney at arm’s length as they would secure a relatively convincing 111-96 victory, putting them up 2-1 in the series.

While the series would be cut short and the Wildcats would collect their fourth title in five years and cement themselves as one of the greatest franchises ever, there’s perhaps no other team more disappointed than Perth at how this season ended, so perhaps another title run next season would convince the franchise.

The pride of WA

Bryce Cotton

Up there with amongst the best point guards in the League’s history, Bryce Cotton further added to that as he would lead his side to yet another NBL title. In the process he would also collect a third title of his own, a second NBL finals MVP, a second league MVP, a third All-NBL First Team selection and a third scoring title. On the season he would average 22.5 points, 3.7 assists and almost four rebounds a game shooting at 42 per cent from the field. However, the 27-year-old will look to make another title run next season given the circumstances surrounding this season’s end.

Nick Kay

Completing his second season, Nick Kay proved his mettle once again providing lots of production in numerous statistical categories. This would secure him a second title and a second All-NBL First-Team selection, alongside Cotton as he remained the Wildcats’ constant in their long and arduous 2020 season. Kay would finish the season with a steady 15 points per game while facilitating three assists every time out on the offensive end. Meanwhile, he would gather an awesome 7.6 rebounds every contest which paved the way for numerous double doubles throughout the season.

The Coach’s corner: Trevor Gleeson

Like his counterpart Will Weaver, Gleeson was devastated by the series ending in the fashion that it did, but he still remains extremely proud of the efforts his side made during the season, as he reflected in a statement by the Wildcats.

“It’s extremely disappointing, but I’m proud of the way we represented the red jersey, our city, and our amazing fans. “I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves in a challenging environment and the way we prepared and played,” said Gleeson.

“We worked hard for this moment, earned this moment, and to have the opportunity torn away from us is really disappointing. “We were the best team throughout the Grand Final Series.”