29/02/2024

Anneli Maley top scored with 18 points against the Fire. (Photo: Bendigo Spirit/Facebook)

Sometimes, MVP calculations aren't all about scoring numbers. Do we value defence enough when it comes to selecting the best of the best?

Anneli Maley is, at the moment, WNBL22’s most valuable player. 

No, that’s not breaking news, and yes, there are plenty of games to go in the season, but she should be the current favourite due to her ability to value every possession on both ends of the floor. This arguably makes her the most valuable player in the competition.

As we enter the second half of the WNBL season, fans often start to think about who’s had the greatest impact so far, and start to predict who’s going to be awarded the MVP come season’s end. 

It’s easy to look at numbers when analysing who the best player in the league is. One of the top scorers so far is Perth’s Marina Mabrey, averaging 22 points in seven games.

She’s a scoring machine, and has the ability to score from beyond the arc as well as posting up inside. 

The star duo in Adelaide are close to averaging a double double a game. That being Stephanie Talbot, with 14 points and nine rebounds a game, and Alanna Smith with 15 points and eight rebounds. 

Boomers’ import, Tiffany Mitchell is averaging 16 points a game, and 3×3 Australian representative Bec Cole is averaging 18 points a game for the Flyers.

Young gun Shyla Heal meanwhile is averaging 16 points a game for the Flames, whilst Fire import Monique Billings is racking up the points and rebounds, averaging 17 and nine. 

The Capitals, who have a very deep roster, are being lead by their import Brittany Sykes, who is averaging 15 points and five assists a game. 

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But we know it takes more than scoring to be a basketball player. In basketball we often focus so much on the elite scorers, we forget to acknowledge and celebrate the defensive specialists. 

Unfortunately defence isn’t always pretty. It doesn’t always get the fans cheering unless it’s a huge block, but winning games is as much about stopping scores as it is about making them. 

The term ‘defence wins championships’ is often quoted by coaches – probably as a way to encourage their team to value getting stops as much as they enjoy shooting three – but it’s not wrong. 

When it comes to the Most Valuable Player award, we need to look at who impacts both sides of the court, not just the scoring end.

Admittedly not all great scorers are good defenders. When you have a prolific scorer that impacts a game like Mabrey, it’s hard not to reward that player as the best in the league. 

Too many great scorers over the years in the WNBL haven’t valued defence the way they should. It’s one of the challenges a head coach must face – how much do they emphasise defence with their superstar scorers who focus more on field goal percentage than steals?

The mindset of coaches when selecting imports may be shifting. Players such as Canberra’s Brittany Sykes and Perth’s Jackie Young are both great defenders, who can also put the score on the board, especially in transition. 

Canberra Capitals import Brittany Sykes. (Photo: Canberra Capitals)

The other argument when deciding MVP candidates is, are they playing on a winning team? Basically stating that you can’t be the most valuable player in the league if you are not helping your team win. 

It could be argued that if you are making your team the most competitive they can be and winning some games along the way, then it shouldn’t matter. 

If the WNBL MVP award is based on scoring, then Mabrey will be a clear winner. The fact that she may lead her team to a championship makes the argument even greater. 

But if we focus on who is having the greatest impact all over the court, then Maley would have to be the front runner. 

She’s averaging 19 points and 15 rebounds a game, as well as defending multiple positions. She’s the most versatile player in the league, she can play in any spot, even though she’s stretched for height when she’s defending the five.

If effort and impact for four quarters is a criteria, then Maley ticks that box as well. She’s one of the fittest players in the league, which she proved on Saturday when she came back from Opals camp and scored 26 points, collected 21 rebounds and had five steals – just astounding statistics. 

In the next month, we will continue to watch the best players closely as they solidify themselves as MVP candidates. Whether it’s Mabrey, Sykes, Maley. Mitchell, Smith or Talbot, the WNBL will have a worthy winner. 

If the ‘Suzy Batkovic Most Valuable Player Award ‘does go to Maley, it will prove that defence and effort does indeed matter.

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