STORY OF THE WEEK
Can you actually underestimate an MVP?
Because if so, Perth Wildcats guard Bryce Cotton might somehow be the most underrated superstar we've seen in the NBL for a long time.
Everyone knows the talent is off the charts and everyone knows he has proven his worth in the clutch time and time again. In short, he's scary-good.
He's the quietest loud playmaker in the league, and yet again proved his incredible worth to both the Wildcats and the league on Friday night, before coming through in the clutch one more time on Sunday.
In a season full of high-scoring guards, Cotton took the elevator all the way to the top against Brisbane, dropping a season and league-high 37 points - hitting four of his eight attempts from beyond the three-point arc.
But it was his final successful attempt that was the sharpest dagger of them all, nailing a step-back triple over a plucky Brisbane defence to lead the short-handed Wildcats to a thrilling 90-87 win at a raucous RAC Arena.
And it was absolutely a case of deja vu for the Bullets, having already been stitched up by a Cotton game-winner earlier in 2018.
Bryce Cotton shot down the Bullets as time expired. 😈🔥 pic.twitter.com/uO8MUGHD2I— Perth Wildcats (@PerthWildcats) January 15, 2018
Given the Wildcats were without starters Terrico White (hamstring) and Damian Martin (calf) and then lost Angus Brandt to an ankle injury, it was truly an MVP performance from Cotton.
The win not only ensured Perth remained undefeated at home, but kept the Cats firmly entrenched at the top of the table, having only suffered the lone defeat -- coincidentally to the Bullets -- in Round 3.
On Sunday, he really made sure of it, lock stock and barrel, with a back-breaking three just as the Illawarra Hawks threatened to run over the top of the depleted Wildcats at the WIN Entertainment Centre.
Having kept the hosts at arm's length for much of the contest, Perth stumbled as Illawarra made a late charge, the Hawks cutting the deficit to just six points with under three minutes to play.
But Cotton refused to yield, coming off a screen at the top of the arc and burying both the shot and the Hawks.
His numbers -- 19 points, four rebounds, three assists -- paled in comparison to Friday night's virtuoso performance but he was no less heroic, especially when it mattered most.
And something else to note: in his second full season with Perth, Cotton is averaging 22.6 points, 4.1 boards and 2.0 assists per game, hitting 36 percent from the three-point line.
Given he shot 45 percent from deep during last year's MVP masterclass campaign, here's a thought sure to give opposition coaches more than a shudder and a sleepless night. He can still get better.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Bryce Cotton (PER) - Could it be anyone else? 37 points and the game-winner on Friday night. 19 points and the game-clinching three on Sunday afternoon to keep the Wildcats a step ahead of the chasing pack.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
G: Bryce Cotton (PER) - See above
G: Casper Ware (MEL) - Dropped 34 points -- including the go-ahead bucket, his 12th and 13th points of the final quarter -- to quarterback United to a last-gasp win over Cairns.
F: Brad Newley (SYD) - After enduring some horrendous stretches of play last round, Newley came out firing in Round 5, powering his way to a game-high 26 points in the dominant win over Adelaide on the road. Added six boards and four assists in an excellent all-round performance.
F: Nick Kay (PER) - Proved to be a superb foil for Cotton over the course of the weekend, averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds, while doing yeoman's work in the absence of Brandt and White.
C: Andrew Bogut (SYD) - Continues to prove he doesn't need to post big scoring numbers to be dominant. Scored just eight points against the 36ers but controlled the defensive court on his way to 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots, and crucially, a road win over Adelaide.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
A shorter slate of games for Round 6, with only five games scheduled. New Zealand tips the round off by hosting Melbourne United on Friday, while the struggling Cairns Tapians find their season gets no relief, hosting Perth on Saturday night.