The Blitz has come and gone and now let’s take it to the next level! With an early look at the new players, and what we know from the returnees, it’s time to take a look at who to keep an eye on for the major awards throughout the season.
Check back every fortnight for an updated watchlist. Who’s solidifying their spot? Who dropped out? Who’s jumping in the mix? Who are my top five?
Most Valuable Player - Andrew Gaze Trophy
It’s always a bold strategy to pick anyone other than the three-time MVP as a potential favourite heading into the season, especially with Bryce Cotton looking fit and healthy. There’s definitely a few early candidates to watch, however I think it’s Mitch Creek who has one of the strongest chances to hold the Andrew Gaze Trophy.
The South East Melbourne Phoenix superstar, Creek does it on both ends of the floor, at an extremely high level. An All-NBL calibre player, Creek is the heart and soul of a Phoenix team that enters NBL22 with one goal in mind — a championship. They return their core, who were one game away from a Grand Final berth, and add some exciting pieces to the mix to nicely compliment guys like Creek.
The biggest positive coming from the small Blitz sample is that his outside stroke looks even better than we have seen the last two seasons. If he can knock down the three at a high level, it makes him an even tougher matchup for opponents.
If the Phoenix want to go all the way this season, it will likely be on the back of an MVP season from Mitch Creek.
Best Defensive Player - Damian Martin Trophy
The best thing about the defensive player of the year award, is that now Damian Martin has retired, there’s now a number of players who could be seen as the best defender in the league. No doubt that coach Adam Forde was smart in highlighting star importing signing, Tahjere McCall, as a likely front runner for this award.
We saw McCall show at the Blitz exactly why he will be one of the league’s best defenders in NBL22. Much like what we saw from the NBL21 Best Defensive Player, Justin Simon, McCall’s ability to impact the game on the defensive end is elite. It’s not only with steals and blocks, which he will get as well, but he consistently gets in the lane for deflections and forces his matchup into tough shots.
There will be plenty of matchups, all across the league, that will test how good of a defender Tahjere McCall really is (Cairns’ first game actually — enter Bryce Cotton). But from the small sample we saw at the Blitz, he wants those challenges, and he’s ready for them.
Most Improved Player
The Most Improved Player is an award that will have people talking from week one. That’s because the early favourite seems to be Olympian Ryan Broekhoff. From the first minute of the Blitz where he knocked down back-to-back threes, to the last quarter of the game Sunday where he hit four straight to get the Phoenix the win — is Rowdy back?
Everyone knows that Broekhoff struggled to find his way when he joined the Phoenix in the middle of the NBL21, and just as it looked like he was coming good, was struck down by injuries. He sure does look refreshed and reenergised ahead of what could be a massive season for him.
It’s definitely going to be a talking point if he does continue to have his name firm up for this award, seeing as all the incredible achievements he’s had in his career. So it’s important to note that the Most Improved Player is awarded who has “demonstrated significant improvement when referenced against their entire career to date.” Let the debate begin!
Best Sixth Man
The Best Sixth Man award is sure to have a lot of changes throughout the course of the season, with players still finalising their roles within teams. Some players will lose their eligibility if they work into a consistent starters role, and others will become candidates if they star off the bench. Yet there’s two main chances that are tough to split after what we saw from the Blitz.
New Zealand guard Jeremiah Martin was a beast in the pre season. Coming off the bench and providing a consistent scoring punch, looked to be exactly what the Breakers need going into NBL22. His ability to attack the hoop, both in transition and the half court, make him an easy choice to keep an eye on for this award. No doubt there will be games that he gets put into a starting role, but with the Breakers youth finding their way in the league, Martin coming off the bench seems to be a stroke of genius.
The Illawarra Hawks have a stacked guard lineup, behind the NBL’s splash brothers, Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup. Which is why Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ role off the bench in the Blitz was so impactful. He’s a player who can take a lot of pressure off Harvey and Jessup, in terms of both scoring and facilitating. The Hawks only played a couple of games in the pre season, but early signs are that Rathan-Mayes is not only an excellent signing for Brian Goorjian, but an early Best Sixth Man contender.
Rookie of the Year
This is another award that is sure to have people talking from now until the end of the season. The reason being is that yes, Luke Travers is eligible and very likely to be in the hunt for it. It’s hard to fathom Travers growth over the last 12 months, especially when you consider he opened NBL21 as a starter, whilst still a development player.
An offseason which saw him get stronger and fine tune his game, Travers looks primed to have a huge rookie season for the Wildcats. He’s already seen himself jump into the top 100 on some NBA draft boards, and after the Blitz, there’s no reason why he wont keep climbing.
Liam Santamaria said that he’d love to see Travers put up the elusive 5x5 game. It’s very possible, as he’s one of few players in the league who truly does a little bit of everything. So if he manages to achieve that, can we give the ROY mid season?
Coach of the Year - Lindsay Gaze Trophy
It’s probably going to be seen as taking the easy way out with this early pick, and fair call to be honest, but it’s mighty hard to go past Brian Goorjian. The Hawks only had the two Blitz games, due to covid cancelations, but their roster looks primed to make a run to the top. With Goorjian coming off his historic Bronze medal, his incredible finals record in the NBL and their deep roster, there’s every chance that he can make this a special year for Illawarra.