NBL MVP Awards Night: Who wins the five awards for NBL21?

Bryce Cotton is aiming for his third NBL MVP. Photo: @PerthWildcats Twitter

The 2021 NBL Andrew Gaze MVP Awards Night is upon us, and 18 men have been named finalists for the six awards on offer.

Bryce Cotton will be looking to add another Andrew Gaze NBL MVP to his trophy cabinet, while Brian Goorjian is the odds-on favourite to be the coach of the year after an outstanding campaign with the Illawarra Hawks.

These are the seasons that were for the 15 finalists, and our predictions for who will walk away with the awards.

NBL MVP

Nathan Sobey

Now on the Boomers shortlist for the upcoming Olympics, Sobey’s rise with Brisbane has been deservedly rewarded by finishing as a finalist for the MVP Award. Sobey has been terrific for the slowly improving Bullets this season, leading the way on both ends, cementing himself as the face of the new Brisbane line up seeking to return to finals action.

Sobey’s points output speaks for itself – he finished second in the league for points per game (21.1) and field goals made per game (7.2). By also playing the second most minutes per game across the season with 34, he has shown how valuable he is to Brisbane’s chances going forward. He’s a worthy NBL MVP finalist.

READ: NBL21 Season Review: Brisbane Bullets

Bryce Cotton

An obvious choice, Cotton has been instrumental to Perth’s run to second spot. If you want any indication of the impact the point guard has had on the Wildcats this season, see how they fared when Cotton missed the back end of the season to a leg injury that has ruled him out of the finals. With a chance to claim the top spot off of Melbourne United in the final two rounds, the Wildcats badly missed their star shooter, losing to Illawarra and United to wind up in second spot.

The two-time NBL MVP has been electric for Perth, lighting up the Wildcats on their offensive end by averaging a league high 23.5 points per game. Cotton is also third in the competition for assists with 5.7 per game, while also having an impact defensively with nearly 2 steals per game. To cap it off, Cotton’s importance to Perth can be shown by his minutes – the guard averages the most minutes per game out of any player in the NBL with 35.5, working tirelessly for his team every time he steps on the court. If that doesn’t spell valuable, then nothing does.

Tyler Harvey

Harvey may have made the shortlist controversially ahead of United’s Jock Landale, but the Illawarra guard is very worthy of this gong after a stellar season. The Hawks third place finish coincides with Harvey’s brilliant form, as the sharp shooter averages 20.4 points per game – making him the third highest in the league in 2020/21.

With around 1.5 steals per game, Harvey has also been important defensively for the Hawks to stake his claim for NBL MVP. Just over 7 points per game and the equal most three pointers made per game (3.4) balances out Harvey’s claims for the MVP award, as his wonderful year was consistent and crucial to the Hawks’ resurgence.

NBL MVP prediction: It’s hard to go past Cotton. Statistically he has done everything required, topping many stat charts. But his impact on court has also been immense to another strong Wildcats side searching for yet another title.

NBL Coach of the Year

Brian Goorjian

The Hawks and Boomers coach proved his worth in 2020/21, leading a remarkable Illawarra resurgence that deserves rich recognition. Goorjian is the clear candidate for the award, sitting as a mastermind at the helm of Illawarra’s sharp return to form. Illawarra crashed out of the finals against Perth, unable to get the chocolates and cap a stunning turnaround season for the hawks. He now turns his focus to Boomers training camp in just over a week.

Dean Vickerman

Another obvious choice. The coach of the best side in the league, who has rebounded into top spot with a dominant regular season performance, is always going to be up there for coach of the year. His decision making across the board has been crisp, shaking up a United side to bring out the best in their offence and strangling sides defensively. Vickerman’s use of bench players like Hopson, Baba and Lual-Acuil has been instrumental to improving their depth, as his sharp basketball mind could take the Melbourne franchise to another title this season.

Trevor Gleeson

Always a staple in the finalists for this award, Perth’s coach has once again been cool and confident in leading the Wildcats to a second-place finish on the ladder. Raising his 450th game at the helm of Perth this season, he consistently brings out a consistent and strong side that is incredibly tough to beat, especially when it comes to finals time. The Perth narrative may not be fully completed for Gleeson’s side, but his sharp leadership deserves recognition for another successful season.

COTY prediction: Although Vickerman and Gleeson may be the best and most consistent coaches in the league – particularly Vickerman for his wonderful efforts this season – it’s Goorjian’s to lose. Such a remarkable tale deserves an award to cap it off.

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NBL Sixth Man of the Year

Jo Lual-Acuil

Big Jo has been a weapon on both ends of the court for a United side that has improved out of sight in NBL21. Just over a block per game (6th in the league), a field goal percentage of just over 50% and over 5 rebounds per game tells the tale of an elite season off the bench, as Lual-Acuil has been able to do anything coach Dean Vickerman has asked of him. For that, he is a worthy candidate for the Sixth-Man award.

Kyle Adnam

The South East Melbourne Phoenix bench member has been phenomenal for his side in NBL21, coming into the game at key moments to deliver clutch wins for his developing roster. Memorable performances such as his efforts in the Phoenix’s Throwdown win over United late in the season and his 20 point game in a losing effort to the Bullets highlight a stunning campaign for the shooter.

Averaging just over 4 field goals made per game and shooting at over 36% from beyond the three point arc, Adnam’s points off the bench have been vital as the Phoenix fought to cement a maiden finals appearance. His ascent also had him in conversations for Most Improved.

Scott Hopson

The second United member to make the shortlist, the American guard has come into his own this season with some vital shooting efforts down the stretch. Averaging 12 points per game including a three point shot percentage of around 35%, Hopson quickly became Vickerman’s first choice for a bench rotation in big matches.

Hopson’s maturity with ball in hand and cool decision making has added another dimension to United, while his athletic post abilities round out his accurate shooting capabilities. He may not be the favourite to snatch this award, but his consistency across the entire season is worthy of a nomination.

6MOTY prediction: Being the best side throughout the season, it’s no surprise two United members make the final three. Adnam is a great third choice, but it’s hard to go past Lual-Acuil, who has quickly become one of the competition’s best big men despite being a bench rotation.

NBL Most Improved Player

Jordan Hunter

Sydney Kings centre Jordan Hunter has been terrific this season. Now 24 years old out of Saint Mary’s in the NCAA, Hunter has scored nine points and averaged over a block per game. At six-foot-ten, his presence around the rim has been vital for the Kings without Andrew Bogut, and he has shot a staggering 73 percent from the field this season. It has been a remarkable rise for the Kings centre.

READ: NBL21 Season Review: Sydney Kings

Sam Froling

Another season at the Hawks has produced his best output for Sam Froling, younger brother of established talent Harry. Froling became a key cog in Goorjian’s side this season, averaging 11.5 points and seven rebounds a contest. Combining his athleticism with his length, the 213cm young gun has refined his inside craft to score over his opponent with consistency. Still 21 years of age, the sky’s the limit and he may be eyeing a Boomers appearance in his near future if he continues on his trajectory.

Finn Delaney

Delaney’s sixth season with the Breakers was by far his best. The New Zealand native has represented his country at the FIBA World Cup – and played Summer League with the Dallas Mavericks – but took his game to a new level in NBL21. In 36 games, he averaged 16.2 points, up four points from the year prior. He has taken his game from two minutes a game in 2015-16 to 33.5 minutes in 2021, and has been one of the Breakers’ most important players and a shining light on a tough season.

MIP prediction: The Breakers could quite easily be sitting dead last in NBL21 if it weren’t for the output of Finn Delaney this season. He has been a fantastic find and could be set for a career overseas in the near future.

NBL Defensive Player of the Year

Tom Abercrombie

The Breakers’ Abercrombie has been a stalwart of the side for years, and his defence has always been a trademark. He is only averaging the 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks, but it is so much more than the statistics for what he brings on the other side of the ball. Abercrombie works tirelessly in passing lanes and transition defence, defends the pick and roll well, guards off-ball superbly and takes charges in the paint. In his older age he can’t rely on athleticism to get the job done, so he consistently beats his opponent to the spot and outsmarts the wisest of offensive players.

Mitch Norton

The perfect pair for the offensive juggernaut that is Bryce Cotton, Mitch Norton has stepped up to fill the huge shoes of Damian Martin. In his three seasons at the Wildcats, Norton has steadily improved, but his defensive output in NBL21 sees him in the running this year – he has taken the leading guard of each team every game, while only giving up 2.1 fouls per game for the second-placed Cats.

Justin Simon

In his first season, the Hawks’ Justin Simon has clamped just about everyone in the NBL. Simon averaged 1.8 steals per ball game, and almost a block as well. Showcasing his incredible athleticism on highlight plays, he also embodied the discipline and fundamentals required of his role. Simon leaves areas to be desired on the offensive end which has let his team down at times, but he is so important to Illawarra and was a huge reason for its rise this season.

DPOY prediction: Tom Abercrombie is deserving of the defensive player of the year, and to do it after breaking the all-time games played record at the Breakers is incredible. At the Andrew Gaze MVP Awards Night, he should get it.

NBL Rookie of the Year

Josh Giddey

Wow. The kid fed into the hype, and got better and better as his campaign wore on. Triple doubles and insane court vision defined his brief stay in the NBL. Giddey averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his 28 games. His shooting let him down at times, but if he spent another year in the NBL he could have been walking away with the MVP, such was his incredible rise in the league.

READ: NBL21 Season Review – Adelaide 36ers

Dejan Vasiljevic

In his first season in the NBL, Vasiljevic did not disappoint. The shooting mastery was sensational, and the Kings needed every bit of it. An effective field goal rate of 56 percent has him in third spot in the entire league. His shooting was off the charts and his rate of improvement over the campaign was brilliant for the Kings. He averaged 15.4 points for Sydney in under 28 minutes per game.

Justinian Jessup

Jessup was a brilliant pickup for the Hawks. His ability is sometimes unmatches on a basketball court and he can do things others dream of. Over 13 points on just 42 percent from the field wasn’t what he’d have hoped for from an efficiency standpoint, but he shot from distance and knocked down almost two threes per game while recording 1.2 steals per game on the defensive end. Jessup needs to get his shooting right, but he could be anything at the next level.

ROTY prediction: Josh Giddey. Next stop, NBA lottery.

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