Here's the second last edition of the top 20! Terrico White drops out after a sustained patch of blah shooting.
All numbers are courtesy of Spatialjam.com and jordanmcnbl.com (particularly those pertaining to play types).
20. Eric Griffin (Adelaide 36ers)
Last week: 18
Griffin beats out Terrico White, but it was close. There is a wild inconsistency to Griffin's game that has returned, and it has coincided with the 36ers' nosedive just as they looked to challenge for the playoffs - stop laughing.
Griffin really should win the Best Sixth Man gong, but his recent pouty displays, the lack of winning, and his own contributions to a turgid defence weaken what should have been a form grip on the award.
19. Mitch McCarron (Melbourne United)
Last week: 20
Mitch McCarron's place on this list has always hinged on defensive excellence, and the ability to morph into anything United needed on the floor. There's a reason why he's unassailable in major minutes plus/minus differential via jordanmcnbl.com. Say what you will about plus/minus as a standalone metric, it still tells a part of the tale when you have a large enough sample size.
Having said that, I'm not sure we have seen such an aggressive McCarron as the version who started the first quarter against the Hawks, in which he merged active defence with sustained intent towards being an offensive threat. We've said it before - when he attacks the rim, good things happen.
That is the version United need for the 30-plus minutes he gets every night.
18. Nathan Sobey (Brisbane Bullets)
Last week: unranked
Sobey shouldered the offensive load against the Breakers, when Lamar Patterson got into foul trouble. We saw flashes of Peak Sobey, with trademark paint finishes after mid-air contortions.
After some indiscriminate hurling from deep earlier in the season, Sobey has been a little more selective in the new year. That's a good thing.
Even accounting for his 5-of-10 display from deep against the Breakers, Sobey is at 30 percent for above-the-break triples for the season.
17. Sek Henry (New Zealand Breakers)
Last week: 17
Henry continues to be the Breakers' best playmaker - when he finds you, it's invariably one of the juiciest looks available - with Scotty Hopson throwing the ball all over the place.
Henry missed his last six three-point attempts against the Bullets, but he's proven that he's one of the best off-the-dribble threats from deep in the league. He might have the meanest step-back.
16. Shawn Long (Melbourne United)
Last week: 16
Long was kept quiet by the Hawks' beefy frontline of A.J. Ogilvy and Josh Boone, who did a sound job of boxing him out of o-board positioning.
Heading into the round, amongst those who have logged at least 400 minutes, Long still leads the league in offensive rebound rate, but Matt Hodgson is closing in.
It has been fascinating to watch him temper his instincts to monster his opponent at every turn, and letting the possession play out.
15. Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)
Last week: 14
Johnson's numbers weren't spectacular against Cairns - 14 points (on 15 shots), eight rebounds and five assists - and he just seemed to get lost amdist the chaos.
Defence has never been Johnson's strong suit, but at least he tried. There was one despondent closeout towards D.J. Newbill, after no other 36er bothered to even whiff at the open shooter.
14. Jerome Randle (Adelaide 36ers)
Last week: 13
So...what's going on with the 36ers? Randle had nine points (4-of-11 shooting), six rebounds, five assists, and five turnovers(!) against the Taipans, in which the game descended to a slow procession of inevitability.
Overall, it was a muted, sloppy, low energy performance from Randle that was replete with some shoddy defence. This season can't end soon enough for the 36ers.
13. Melo Trimble (Melbourne United)
Last week: 15
Trimble's recent metamorphosis from starry starter to sixth man continues to reap rewards for Dean Vickerman.
Trimble's five first quarter assists set the tone for attacking intent, along with his two steals. Steals should never be used as the foundation for supporting someone's defensive chops, but in Trimble's case, one in particular busted up a sure-fire Hawks bucket. He was active.
Even during his cold shooting streak, he never shirked defensive responsibilities.
12. Andrew Bogut (Sydney Kings)
Last week: 10
Bogut remains on this list again despite missing this round of action again.
11. John Roberson (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Last week: 8
An exhausted Roberson hurled three-pointers, desperately trying to lift a Creek-less Phoenix past the Bogut-less Kings. Alas, it was not to be - he was 5-of-13 from beyond the arc.
Inside the arc finishing remains problematic; Roberson barely takes any close-range shots compared to other scoring guards in the league.
It is unfair to call Roberson a one-trick pony, because that one trick is as elite as it gets.
10. Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Last week: 6
Early on against the Kings, it appeared as though Creek would set the terms of engagement early, as he bulled his way to the rim, either with buckets or contested rebounds.
That palpable energy seemed to wane, and he struggled to remain involved thereafter.
Still, Creek defends his arse off which doesn't make the stat sheet. His injury late in the game is a real shame, and the ravages to his body have curtailed the rise of the Phoenix and his own MVP bid.
Let's hope Creek has a speedy recovery - overall, he has had a spectacular season and should be an All NBL selection.
9. Scotty Hopson (New Zealand Breakers)
Last week: 12
Hopson's sudden (and slightly funny) MVP case runs parallel with that of Lamar Patterson's in which recency bias plays an oversized role. Should late season performances have more weight than games earlier? No. That oversimplifies the MVP discourse.
Should Bryce Cotton and Scott Machado be penalised for consistent excellence that almost makes their firm favouritism...boring?
That the Breakers have surged into playoff contention is in equal parts due to the incredible season-long resurgence of Tom Abercrombie, the development of Finn Delany, the career-best form of Rob Loe, and the two-way steadiness and utility value of Sek Henry.
Consider this rather important fact: courtesy of data from jordanmcnbl.com, among all players across the league who average more than 10 points, Hopson sits above only the following in efficiency - Casper Ware, Kouat Noi, Didi Louzada, LaMelo Ball and Tai Wesley. Those names have not exactly been a paragon of offensive excellence this season.
Still, it has been genuinely heartening to see Hopson show more starch and alertness on the defensive end, of late. Like his MVP case, it's not at all airtight (two Taylor Braun back-cuts for buckets spring to mind, as well as jogging back in transition leading to a fourth quarter Lamar Patterson layup), but he is trying (at least a little more).
Again though, this is only a recent development. Why are we penalising players for season-long consistency and sustained two-way play?
8. Cam Oliver (Cairns Taipans)
Last week: 11
Has Cam Oliver had an easier night in the NBL?
He paraded into the paint against a 36ers defence that was so bad, it was almost comical. He got to any spot he wanted on the court with zero resistance, zero fight, and zero attention to detail by Adelaide.
Again, when Oliver tries to do too much, he struggles. He threw the ball all over the gym with five turnovers.
7. Casper Ware (Sydney Kings)
Last week: 7
With no Didi Louzada of late, Ware has had to shoulder a tiny bit more of the defensive load, at least from the tip until Deshon Taylor or Shaun Bruce check in. It will be interesting to see if Ware spends more time checking the elite when the playoffs start. Much will depend on Will Weaver's playoff rotation. Will he tighten the reins?
Against the Phoenix, what we saw glimpses of was the Ware of old.
At his best at United, Ware burrowed to the rim again and again, seeking contact with muscly, purposeful drives. We saw that more methodical approach resurface on Sunday.
6. Nick Kay (Perth Wildcats)
Last week: 9
It's weird that all we hear is how important Miles Plumlee will be for the Wildcats. Plumlee, who can jump really high, I suppose.
But the Wildcats already have one of the absolute premium bigs in their cadre of large humans. Nick Kay can't jump, but he can pretty much do everything, including defend Lamar Patterson for stretches.
With just over six minutes to go in the second quarter against the Bullets, Kay faded away and lofted a sweet jumper over Matt Hodgson. He followed that by battling Hodgson in the ensuing defensive possession, including a ground-bound wrestle which Kay won (of course he did). After snatching the rebound, he staggered up the court in his distinctive gait, before hitting a floater in transition.
There is nothing here that falls within the realm of "spectacular" in the current climate of highlights culture, but that is a spectacular set of skills, combined with remarkable tenacity, by someone who must be a lock for All NBL First team.
You want winning? You recruit Nick Kay.
5. D.J. Newbill (Cairns Taipans)
Last week: 5
It was almost fitting that on the first play of the game, Newbill curled into the lane (don't ask me what Brendan Teys and Obi Kyei were thinking though), caught a pass from Scott Machado, and laid it in.
Newbill defended an assortment of 36ers, including Randle, Anthony Drmic, and even Eric Griffin, strengthening a burgeoning defensive resume.
The surging buzz regarding Hopson is interesting considering Newbill actually scores more, is far more efficient, and is an elite defender.
4. Jae'Sean Tate (Sydney Kings)
Last week: 4
For someone so bulky, Tate's footwork is balletic fluidity. It is breathtaking. He may have ascended to be the league' best inside threat.
Which makes it inconceivable that Tate is still not considered a superstar in this league within some circles. That is truly mind-boggling.
No, he won't score 30 points on a consistent basis but that should not be the arbitrary definition of what constitutes a star. That is a rather simplistic way of thinking about things. He has become the Kings' best two-way player.
3. Lamar Patterson (Brisbane Bullets)
Last week: 3
It's interesting how it merely takes a week for opinions to shift towards shiny new toys - suddenly it's Scotty Hopson this, Scotty Hopson that for MVP. Ah, the fickle cycle.
Of course, Patterson did not help his own cause with defence that oscillated between meh and being all over the shop against the Breakers, and being more focused on the officiating than his own play.
Patterson struggled from the field against the Wildcats, but he was engaged throughout.
On one defensive possession in the third quarter, Patterson played exceptional defence on Bryce Cotton as the Perth maestro danced with the ball along the perimeter, forcing the miss with an excellent contest.
2. Scott Machado (Cairns Taipans)
Last week: 2
We all have off-days.
That was one of those performances from Machado in which there was good (he controlled the first quarter in manner we're so used to) and the bad.
I don't believe we have ever seen Machado over-penetrate so much before, and try to pass out of control in mid-air. Even simple passes, like the kick-ahead to a streaking Newbill (with the score at 87-72) missed its mark by a fair way, leading to a turnover.
1. Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Last week: 1
Cotton's efficiency against the Bullets (25 points on 14 shots) was boosted by a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line, as he relentlessly launched himself at the seams, seeking contact.
Unlike some of the others on this list haphazardly labelled as "superstars", Cotton does not take any plays off, on either end.
He is all over the court - his defensive rebounding has always been underrated (much like his defence which has weirdly picked up steam of late).
He should win the MVP, but as we have seen before, should does not amount to will.
Stay tuned for next week's edition.