Hungry Jack's NBL
Studs and Duds: Round 10
At the conclusion of each round, NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria lets us know who made the grade and who deserves a little shade.
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
To nobody’s surprise, Cotton was the headline act once again this week.
The man is just the studliest of studs and while others displayed a bit of post-hub letdown in Round 10, the MVP continued to stamp his authority on the league.
Cotton averaged 32 points per game across his team’s 2-0 weekend, putting 28 on Cairns and a season-high – and rather poetic – 36 on Adelaide.
Such was Cotton’s influence last night, 36ers coach Conner Henry felt compelled to speak on him in historical terms.
“He’s the best import not only in this league but he’s also the best import to ever play in this league,” Henry stated.
You know what? I agree. Homicide’s been banging this drum for a while now and with what Cotton’s achieved since arriving four years ago, I really don’t think it can be denied.
However, I will say this: Leapin’ Leroy was no joke.
What we’re all experiencing right now with Cotton is what those around the league experienced with Leroy Loggins throughout the 1980s.
I mean, this was his league at that time.
Yes, Andrew Gaze is a 7-time MVP but the great man didn’t start winning those trophies – or championship rings – until the 1990s. Prior to that, the road to the NBL title went through Leroy, just as it goes through Cotton right now.
Think about this for a second: from 1982 to 1987 Loggins played in six straight Grand Finals with two different clubs! I mean, c’mon… that’s LeBron James type stuff. For most of the 80s Leroy either won the championship or had to be beaten for someone else to claim it.
Sure, there were other dominant players at the time – Phil Smyth, Mark Davis, Cal Bruton and James Crawford, just to name a few – but none of those guys were quite at Leroy’s level.
Throughout that decade, Loggins won three titles, claimed three MVPs and was named Grand Final MVP in 1987. The thing is, there really should be two more of those trophies sitting on his shelves.
Unfortunately, no Grand Final MVPs were awarded for a number of years in the early ‘80s, effectively robbing some NBL greats of some key pieces of silverware. Leroy, for instance, had a 30 piece in the ’82 decider and put 41 on Adelaide in the championship game of ’85. He should be given those trophies retrospectively.
Oh, and by the way: Leroy was also named the league’s Best Defensive Player multiple times. Including in ’87 when he achieved the rare feat of being named MVP, DPOY and GF MVP in the one year (something only two others, Sam Mackinnon and Chris Anstey have accomplished).
The guy was an absolute freak.
Anyway, I digress. Cotton is great. He really is greatness personified and he’s probably already the greatest import ever.
But as we revel in the joy of watching Cotton do his thing, let’s never forget how similarly dominant Leapin’ Leroy was in his time.
Speaking of legends…
Elgin Baylor (Los Angeles Lakers)
Rest in Peace, great man.
The Kings are back in the studs this week after a 2-0 round that included a belting of their rivals from south of the border.
After finishing the Cup on a high, the Kings returned home to give Melbourne the royal treatment before squeezing over the line against the Snakes.
It goes without saying but this is a team that’s really starting to hit its straps. Their defence is disruptive, they move the ball, Jarell Martin is healthy and Casper Ware is up and about. All of which has resulted in an impressive three-game winning streak and their first winning record of the season.
“We’re trying to hit our momentum now, especially with the home games we’ve got coming up,” head coach Adam Forde said.
“This is a fork-in-the-road moment for us in the sense that we can either continue our form and rise or we stay with this ‘win one, lose one, win one, lose one’ and we miss finals.”
Of course, it’s not just the imports who have been playing well for Sydney. Jordan Hunter was massive against Melbourne, as was Didi Louzada, while Daniel Kickert and Shaun Bruce made some big-time plays down the stretch against Cairns.
One under-the-radar King, however, is deserving of his very own individual shout-out…
Craig Moller (Sydney Kings)
How about the impact Craig Moller’s having right now!
Moller was Sydney’s second-best player against Brisbane last week and then continued his influential play throughout Round 10.
The long-limbed forward stuffed the stat-sheet in the win over Melbourne, posting 9 points, 6 boards, a career-high 6 assists and 2 blocks, with the Kings outscoring United by 24 points while he was on the floor.
He then backed that up with another high-energy display against Cairns, including a game-leading effort on the glass.
“Craig’s been fantastic the last month,” Kings veteran Brad Newley said.
“His passing and his rebounding have been exceptional and it’s good to see it paying off for him.”
Ben Moore & Yanni Wetzell (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Another guy who had a big impact this week was Ben Moore, who stepped up brilliantly for South East Melbourne in the absence of Mitch Creek.
In fact, so did the rookie, Yanni Wetzell, as the Phoenix came from behind to pull off a thrilling win over Adelaide.
Moore put up 23 & 10 in the overtime dub while The Pretzel had 22 & 6 – the pair combining for 72 percent shooting from the field and 90 percent from the stripe as well as a very impressive 9 assists.
“They (Moore and Wetzell) had a nice little synergy going there which was great,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said.
“I thought they were both outstanding… tremendously proud of both of them, they had a load to carry.”
The Phoenix are expecting Keifer Sykes back this week and they’ll continue to ramp up Dane Pineau. But with their best player still on the sidelines, SEM will need more of this kind of production from the ‘Nankervis Brothers’ moving forward.
Harry Froling (Brisbane Bullets)
Another who excelled in a starting role this week was Brisbane big man Harry Froling who posted a season-high 20 points against New Zealand.
Froling’s minutes have been up and down all year but, with the Bullets releasing Orlando Johnson last week and illness spreading throughout the team, the big fella was ready to answer the call.
“Drej’s been harping on staying ready, putting in the work and waiting for your opportunity,” Froling commented postgame.
“Tonight I got the start and just tried to do the little things; getting on the boards, setting good screens and all that sort of stuff.”
He also gave us one heck of a highlight, draining this incredible shot from behind the backboard!
“When you do the little things it’s funny what happens down the line. You start hitting some miracle shots,” Froling added.
(Just quickly… watch that clip again and check out the kid sitting behind the Brisbane bench wearing a Larry Bird jersey. With Froling channeling the legendary Celtic on the floor, the presence of that jersey in the highlight was a nice little touch.)
Okay, we’ve been here a number of times before so let’s not spend too much time on the Snakes.
After all, this squad has now lost five in a row and has claimed victory just once across their last nine games.
They’re struggling. Their body language is poor and head coach Mike Kelly has a big job on his hands to bring that group together.
In the meantime, fingers crossed that Kouat Noi is okay after his ugly spill in Sydney on Sunday.
Cam Oliver (Cairns Taipans)
Before we move on from the Taipans, though… it was another sub-par week on the hardwood from Oliver.
The talented import put up just 6 points and 6 boards in his team’s loss to Perth and then backed that up with just 7 and 7 in Sydney.
Let’s be brief here as I’ve spoken on this a lot.
The big fella’s clearly unhappy and those emotions are majorly impacting on his play. His energy levels are low and he’s constantly settling for bad shots from long range. It’s primarily on him to turn those things around, no doubt about it.
But if this team wants to win games, unlocking Space Cam is the most important thing for them, as a collective, to do. And for me, that means surrounding the Machado-Oliver pick-and-roll with knock-down perimeter shooters. Clear the lane of help defenders and let that man roll into some space.
Conner Henry (Adelaide 36ers)
It’s time for Brandon Paul to a) start and b) get plenty of shots. Let’s go!
United broke their losing streak on Sunday with a gritty win over the Hawks but they can’t escape this column after the ‘Homicide in Homebush’ on Friday night.
“We had our poorest performance of the season up in Sydney,” head coach Dean Vickerman said.
“Credit to them (the Kings), they played really well. We try to stay pretty level as a team, win or lose, but then you have some outlier games and that one was really poor.
“We had some good, honest meetings after the game and the next day about how we didn’t play to our identity… we just didn’t play like us.
“There were some times when it got too hard and it hadn’t gotten too hard all year. We’ve had some losses and some periods where we were poor but we fought back.”
The positive for United is that their performance on Sunday was much-improved. They gave up too many offensive boards, sure, but they generally worked harder defensively, keeping the Hawks to just 65 points. That’s the second-lowest total from any team this season. Definitely something for Melbourne to build on.
Speaking of the Hawks, they battled admirably in Melbourne on Sunday but ultimately fell short against a United team desperate to bounce back.
The issue in this one was their inability to create good looks through offensive execution. Brian Goorjian’s men took early shots and wound up connecting on just 5 of their 25 attempts from long range. Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Deng Deng – three guys who have been shooting the lights out recently – combined for an ugly 3-of-20 from beyond the arc.
“If you look at Tyler’s shooting percentage, Deng’s shooting percentage, Adel’s shooting percentage and Justinian’s shooting percentage they were all shots that were contested and a lot of them were early,” Goorjian commented postgame.
“On the offensive end, that was the key to the loss tonight. Just bad shots.”
Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier for the Hawks. This squad has been smashed by the schedule so far this season and next up is a trip out west to face the hottest team in the country.
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