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As the star player in arguably the league’s best squad, it’s no surprise Perth Wildcats’ Bryce Cotton is hot favourite to win the NBL’s MVP award for the 2019-20 season.
The shooting guard has the highest average points per game (22.48) and is number one for steals.
Arizona-born Cotton came third somewhat controversially in last season’s MVP award behind Sydney Kings’ Andrew Bogut and Casper Ware (then with Melbourne United), despite Perth winning the league.
He did however, take out the award during the previous 2017-18 campaign.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson proclaimed Cotton as undoubtedly the league’s best player last month - after the 27-year-old’s dominant display; posting 25 points and seven assists in a big win over South East Melbourne Phoenix.
“He’s the MVP of the league without a question,” Gleeson said.
“What he puts up with – he gets double-teamed, gets hit defensively all the time and he still produces under pressure.
“And he’s unselfish. He’s more team-focused and what’s best for the team.
“I was shocked last year (when he came third). He does it day in, day out.
“He’s on the whiteboard of every team coming in here to stop. It’s either to trap or hit him or run him through multiple picks.
“He handles all that and still produces. It’s not like he’s one dimensional.”
Cotton is the bookmakers’ comfortable favourite to hoist the Andrew Gaze Trophy for a second time.
Scotty Hopson has impressed in his debut season for the New Zealand Breakers.
The 30-year-old is averaging 19 points, four assists and six rebounds a game, plus an impressive 47 per cent field goal average.
The Breakers' improvement in the second half of the season can be attributed to Hopson's clutch shooting.
His buzzer-beater against Brisbane in late December was one of the best moments of the season.
Breakers coach Dan Shamir said Hopson is one of the best players he’s ever coached.
"I have coached a few great players who have made it to the top of the Euro League and to the NBA, but a guy like Scotty is one of the best players I've ever coached," Shamir said.
"Scotty has everything – talent, personality, ability to lead the team – and having two players like that is a real gift for a coach.”
The respect is clearly mutual, with Hopson heaping praise on Shamir.
"I think this year has been successful for me - first and foremost because of playing under Dan Shamir and the system he's put in place. It's suited my game really well," Hopson said.
"I've got a good understanding of how he runs things and then the system he likes to run, and I think it just suits my game."
While all 15 candidates for this year’s NBL MVP award are indeed worthy winners, only one man truly fits the bill as the most valuable.
Scott Machado’s presence - as the pivotal piece in an entertaining Cairns Taipans puzzle - has seen last season’s bottom ball club crack the top three in thrilling fashion.
Mike Kelly’s run-and-gun offence has been led to perfection by the star point guard, who’s made league history in the 40-minute era - with over 200 assists in a single season.
Such productivity has been unmatched by his peers in 2019-20 but he hasn’t stopped there, piling on 16.77 points per game, along with 1.35 steals.
Simply put, without Machado’s magic gracing Kelly’s crop, the likes of Majok Deng, Kouat Noi, Mirko Djeric and Nathan Jawai fail to flourish in the same manner.
His true, traditional approach to the position has allowed the Brazilian-born American to make an impact star Snakes Cameron Oliver and DJ Newbill – contenders in their own right – have only benefitted from.
And while the Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats lead the race to make the grand final, the Taipans’ potential MVP could yet add a championship ring to his accolades come March.
The fact the Brisbane Bullets are in the NBL finals race is solely because of one man – Lamar Patterson.
During the past two seasons he has been one of the league’s headline players, but his performances during the second half of the campaign transformed a struggling Brisbane outfit into a team on the cusp of finals basketball.
The superstar import averages the third highest scoring output in the league with 21.5 points per game, with the free-scoring swingman possessing an innate ability to find the hoop when his team needs it most.
The former Atlanta Hawk has exploded for eight games with 29 points or more, while also averaging six rebounds and four assists.
But most of all it has been the 29-year-old’s ability to lead from the front and lift his Brisbane team to the peak of their powers.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the NBL’s biggest names, including Gaze who the MVP medal is named after.
“When Brisbane’s season was more or less on the line, he has been very impressive with some very important performances where he was almost impossible to stop,” Gaze said.
“The Bullets got to a point quite early when they had must-win games – much earlier than they would have liked – and Lamar responded with some of his absolute best basketball.
“When you go through tough circumstances, as they have, you need strong leadership - and from the outside looking in, Lamar has provided that leadership in spades. He’s been fantastic."
The stats don't lie - Casper Ware's accuracy this season has been way off - at 38 per cent from the field, compared to Patterson's 47 and Cotton's 42.
But Ware has still shot goals - producing 19.7 points per game (saved in part by his 78 per cent free throw accuracy) and some dazzling displays including a season high in Round 5 against Melbourne United of 34 points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Sydney Kings star also secured 33 points against Perth in Round 13 and has posted 21+ points in 13 games.
Ware's other major contribution for much of the season has been his physicality and defensive brilliance, busting down screens and frustrating some of the best guards in the league.
"What I love about him is that his approach doesn’t change," Sydney Kings coach Will Weaver said in response to questions around Ware's accuracy.
"He works the same way the days he makes shots and when he misses shots.
“His game is so much more than just shot-making.”