The penultimate round of the NBL ended the streak for the Sydney Kings, while the Perth Wildcats appeared to show some signs of life.
With one round to play, all eyes are on the team from Western Australia and the plucky Tasmania JackJumpers, who refuse to go away in pursuit of a playoff position.
Kane Pitman, Peter Hooley and Josh Garlepp are back ahead of the final weekend of the regular season, with the MVP race, interesting stats and breakout performers all on the agenda.
Kane Pitman: In a recent chat with ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz, I asked how he evaluated young talent on great teams, where the opportunities may be more difficult to come by.
He responded by saying he preferred it, with the role on those teams more likely to replicate what will come at the next level. With that in mind, the recent play of Ariel Hukporti in Melbourne and Makur Maker in Sydney deserves significant attention.
Hukporti and Maker have earned minutes on the defensive end, with both able rim protectors, willing rebounders and possessing a desire to mix it up physically with more experienced opposition.
The advanced on-off numbers paint a particularly good picture for the United big man, with the team +10.8 per 36 minutes with him on the floor, the best mark on the team (smallish sample alert of 393 minutes).
There is a youthful exuberance when either get their shot, which had added an exciting element to two teams with championship aspirations. NBA teams aren't looking for box score stats, they are looking for translatable skillsets, and both these guys have some of those.
Peter Hooley: One of the best parts of the season so far has been the extra opportunities given to some young talent.
Whether it was due to injuries or COVID-19, we have seen numerous players get a chance to showcase themselves. More to that, we have seen players grab that opportunity with both hands.
Ben Ayre for the Taipans is a perfect example. He's someone that never gave up and just hung around waiting for an opportunity. Adam Forde gave him one, and with the injury to Scott Machado, he got his chance and never looked back.
There are a huge number of young players who are about to start their NBL1 season, who are just waiting for an opportunity to get on an NBL floor. It's an exciting time for Australian basketball, and with the talk of adding more teams to the league in the future, the opportunities are going to keep on coming.
Josh Garlepp: Dean Vickerman is coach of the year.
Whether right or wrong, the narrative behind an athlete or coach's season often adds weight to their end-of-season award push.
Melbourne United's Dean Vickerman has claimed two Coach of the Year trophies, NBL18 and NBL19, but despite United sitting on top of the ladder, we are far more likely to reward emerging success than sustained brilliance.
Just look at former Perth coach Trevor Gleeson, with his only COTY nod at Perth coming last season.
Tasmania's effort in their debut season has been unbelievable, particularly with the way they've played together without Will Magnay, while Sydney's ability to completely turn their season around and thrive in a new system has been astonishing.
If Tasmania's Scott Roth or Sydney's Chase Buford claimed this year's COTY they would both be deserving recipients, but all I'm saying is consistency, like Vickerman's, might be less flashy but difficult to sustain.
Which team is taking the Perth-Illawarra matchup?
Kane Pitman: Based on recent form it would be impossible to pick Perth.
While it may seem like the Wildcats have everything to play for, a win for the Hawks would set up a game against the rival Kings on Sunday, with home court in the first round of the playoffs potentially on the line.
Perth took the last meeting, with Cotton and Vic Law exploding for a combined 52 points, while Hawks big man Duop Reath could only manage three points on 1-for-8 shooting.
If Law misses, it could be one sided, but a lot has changed since late January, and I think the improved defence of Illawarra should and will get the job done.
Peter Hooley: Illawarra.
The Vic Law injury will have a huge impact on this result, but whether he plays or doesn't, I still see the Hawks getting over the line. They are playing some inspired basketball for the last few weeks, and only just went down to the Kings in an overtime thriller.
Tyler Harvey seems to have found his groove and the rest of the squad is rolling. The Hawks know that they'll likely be facing the Kings in the semifinals, so they'll want every chance to get an extra home game in that series. It won't be easy, as Perth is playing for something even bigger, but I think the Hawks take this one in a thriller.
Josh Garlepp: Illawarra.
Decades of post-season culture is on the line for the Wildcats this weekend, but Illawarra's form is too much to ignore ahead of Friday night.
The Cats welcomed back strong contributions outside of Bryce Cotton and Vic Law against Cairns with Luke Travers, Michael Frazier and Jesse Wagstaff all scoring in double figures off the bench.
However, the Hawks' depth to throw at Cotton and their list of talented scoring big men make Illawarra look more likely to claim their first win over Perth for the season.
Who is the NBL22 Most Valuable Player?
Kane Pitman: Three weeks ago on ESPN's The Jump, I said it would be almost impossible for Bryce Cotton to be usurped as the NBL22 Most Valuable Player. I spoke too soon.
As the Wildcats were scuffling, the Sydney Kings continued to win, with star guard Jaylen Adams now the frontrunner for the award, in my opinion.
The Kings are 16-5 with Adams in the lineup and 2-3 with him on the sideline. He's fourth in the league for points per game, first for assists and is the man with the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
During the 13-game winning streak, Adams put up 19.3 points per game while dishing out 6.6 assists, drilling several game-winning buckets in the process. Whoever wins out of Adams or Cotton would be deserving, but I now have the Sydney star with his nose in front.
Peter Hooley: Jaylen Adams
When you think of who the most valuable player to their team is, you immediately think Bryce Cotton. However, let's not forget the poor start to the season the Kings had when Jaylen Adams was hurt.
It took Adams to become one of the best players in the competition for the Kings to roll out 13 straight wins. Even on a couple of nights where Adams struggled to shoot, he ended up making clutch plays to win the game. Rewind your mind to a game in Adelaide, Adams' step back three on Bairstow to win. Then cast your mind back to his game-tying poster dunk on Brisbane. And finally, his deep three in Bendigo against the Breakers, after starting 1-10 from the field. He's an NBA level talent for a reason, and I think he's the MVP this season.
Josh Garlepp: Jaylen Adams
No player has had a bigger impact on a top-two side than Jaylen Adams with Sydney.
Even on nights where he's shot the ball poorly, he's found a way to step up when his team needs him.
A common rebuttal to Adams' case for MVP is that Bryce Cotton's removal from Perth would have a greater impact on the side's wins than Adams departure for the Kings. That's true, and he'd be a worthy winner, however, the Cats will likely scrape into the top four for NBL22, opening up an opportunity for a new name on the Andrew Gaze trophy.
What is a stat that stands out from the regular season?
Kane Pitman: 114.
The amount of transition plays Antonius Cleveland has been credited with in NBL22. That number is a staggering 30 more than Melbourne United's Caleb Agada in second with 84, with the star Hawk's generating a decent 1.11 points per possessions in those opportunities.
Also, in the top eight for the category are teammates, Justinian Jessup and Tyler Harvey, with the Hawks second in the league overall for points per possession in transition. After a slow start, Illawarra now sit fourth in the league for defensive efficiency (points conceded per 100 possessions) with live ball turnovers a death trap against Brian Goorjian's squad.
It also makes them one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch, with Cleveland a barometer for their success on both ends.
Peter Hooley: 79.5
What's this number? Well, this is the scoring average for the JackJumpers this season.
It's second worst in the league, just one point more than the Taipans. Yet, the JackJumpers are on the verge of winning 17 games in their inaugural campaign. They've done it together and they have done it on the defensive end with toughness. Yes, they had their nights where they couldn't miss, but more often than not, they got the job done simply by grinding down their opponent and refusing to lose. It's been one of the more incredible stories we will ever see from a first-year team, in any professional sport.
I think everyone wants a seat on the JackJumpers train after this #NBL22
Josh Garlepp: November 3rd, 2019.
It's more of a date than a stat. That was the last time Bryce Cotton scored in single digits in a regular-season fixture for Perth.
Against Adelaide on Thursday night Cotton managed just seven points as the 36ers forced everyone but the three-time MVP to hurt them.
Sunday Dech's effort was relentless in front of his hometown crowd, but last week's aberration speaks more to Wildcat's consistency than pointing out his flaws.
*Stats in this article via jordanmcnbl.com and spatialjam.com