NBL awards finalists revealed: Kane Pitman picks his MVP, ROY, coach of the year and more

The NBL22 awards nominations are locked in, with coaches and players around the league set to cast their votes to determine the eventual winners.

A panel including myself, Andrew Gaze, John Casey, Damian Martin, Liam Santamaria, Marc Hinton, Matt Logue, Derek Rucker, and Anthony Stewart presented nominations for each of the major awards, with coaches and captains then casting their vote to determine the finalists.

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, April 27 during a live broadcast (time TBA), with the MVP, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Best Defensive Player and Rookie of the Year set to be revealed.

It should be noted that players and coaches were unable to cast votes for players on their own team.

The All-NBL First Team, All-NBL Second Team, Executive of the Year, Referee of the Year, Gametime by Kmart Award and Fans' MVP will also be announced on the night.

The nominations are as follows, with my picks below.

Andrew Gaze Most Valuable Player

Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Jaylen Adams (Sydney Kings)
Jo Lual-Acuil (Melbourne United)

My pick - Jaylen Adams (Sydney Kings)

If you had of asked me three rounds ago, I would have said Bryce Cotton, but I've changed course in recent weeks, with the Kings continuing to rattle off wins while the Wildcats scuffle.

Truthfully, either one of Adams or Cotton would be a deserving winner, with the individual talent on either team the easy argument for the Wildcats superstar.

According to jordanmcnbl.com, Perth has outscored teams by a staggering 22.5 points per 36 with Cotton on the floor this season, with only South East Melbourne's Mitch Creek in the same stratosphere in that category. Put simply, the Wildcats would not be sniffing the postseason without Cotton.

The Kings on the other hand are 16-5 when Adams plays, including a barn burning 13-game win streak where Adams filled the box score by averaging over 19 points and six assists per outing. They too, are dominant when he is on the floor, outscoring the opposition by 10.6 on the season per 36 minutes.

As well as being a scintillating scorer with a series of game winners on the season, Adams is also happy to facilitate, leading the league in assists per game.

For me, it's Adams, but now it's over to the coaches and players.

Lindsay Gaze Coach of the Year

Chase Buford (Sydney Kings)
Dean Vickerman (Melbourne United)
Scott Roth (Tasmania JackJumpers)

My Pick - Scott Roth (Tasmania JackJumpers)

On paper, the JackJumpers appeared to be one of the teams who would be down the lower rungs of the standings.

Instead, they enter the final weekend with a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. From top to bottom, the JackJumpers have bought in on the defensive end, overcoming a lack of size to be one of the most difficult teams to play on a nightly basis.

Buford and Vickerman may well face off in the Grand Final series, but it's hard to deny the remarkable achievement of Roth in the first season of the franchise.

Most Improved Player

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (Melbourne United)
Keanu Pinder (Cairns Taipans)
Yanni Wetzell (New Zealand Breakers)

My pick - Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.

Taking the starting spot of Grand Final MVP, Jock Landale, I was unsure whether JLA would be ready to take the step from role player to featured star.

Vickerman and the United locker room were adamant he was, and they were correct, with the 27-year-old becoming a physical force in the paint on his way to averaging 16.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

From coming off the bench to becoming the featured offensive player on the top team in the league feels like reasonable criteria for Most Improved Player.

Sixth Man of the Year Presented by Marsh Insurance

Clint Steindl (Tasmania JackJumpers)
Shea Ili (Melbourne United)
Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Illawarra Hawks)

My Pick - Shea Ili (Melbourne United)

It's easy to assess the influence of Ili on United's success by seeing his name on the finalist list for Best Defensive Player despite coming off the bench.

"Shea just has that next level tank that is so amazing. I think it's been great to see Delly known as that defender but then to see Shea and say, 'wow, that's pretty elite,'" Vickerman recently told ESPN of Ili's defensive motor.

Along with his play on the defensive side of the ball, Ili is oftentimes trusted in closing lineups, hitting a number of big fourth quarter shots on the season, while knocking down 40 percent of his attempts from long range overall.

I have Rathan-Mayes a very close second, but the two-way play of Ili gets the nod for me.

Damian Martin Trophy for the Best Defensive Player

Antonius Cleveland (Illawarra Hawks)
Shea Ili (Melbourne United)
Xavier Cooks (Sydney Kings)

My pick - Antonius Cleveland (Illawarra Hawks)

This is the closest race of all the awards across the three nominated players in my opinion. Ili is hurt by his low average of 23 minutes per game, with United still producing an elite defence when he is off the floor.

According to Spatial Jam, United's defensive rating when Ili is on the floor is 99.6, which is exactly what the league-best team rating is for the season across all minutes. The Kings defensive rating is 6.7 points per 100 possessions lower when Cooks is on the floor, while the Hawks is 6.8 lower with Cleveland on the court. They are both major difference makers.

Both Cleveland and Cooks are the barometer for their team on that end, with each providing positional versatility on the perimeter. To the credit of Cooks, he has largely played out of position on the season, starting at the four on an undersized Kings team.

Raw box score stats are often overrated, though Cleveland joins only Yannick Wetzell in averaging greater than one block and one steal per game. The Kings have been a top defensive team for most of the season, while Cleveland's impact has been credited for turning around a Hawks team that started the season brutally on that end of the floor.

I can't sit on the fence, so give me Cleveland.

Rookie of the Year Presented by Champion

Bul Kuol (Cairns Taipans)
Luke Travers (Perth Wildcats)
Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers)

My pick - Bul Kuol (Cairns Taipans)

It's been a tough season for the Taipans, with a number of injuries derailing any ability to gather momentum.

Kuol has been a shining light throughout however, averaging just over ten points per outing, while looking more comfortable the longer the season wore on.

The highlight was a career-high 26-point outburst in a February win against the Brisbane Bullets, where he drilled eight of his ten attempts from long range. In addition to the outside shooting, he's comfortable putting the ball on the floor, with the free-throw line becoming an additional weapon.

Kul has 59 3-point makes and counting, topping Shane Heal's longstanding record for 3-point makes as a rookie. It's been an outstanding individual season.

My ALL-NBL First Team (three outside, two inside players)

Jaylen Adams (Sydney Kings)
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Vic Law (Perth Wildcats)
Xavier Cooks (Sydney Kings)
Jo Lual-Acuil (Melbourne United)

My ALL-NBL Second Team (three outside, two inside players)

Josh Adams (Tasmania JackJumpers)
Antonius Cleveland (Illawarra Hawks)
Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)
Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Yannick Wetzell (New Zealand Breakers)

I'm selecting Vic Law as an outside player. Forget the positions, Law goes to work on the perimeter and is an outside player. If Lamar Patterson can be selected as out outside player two years in a row, I'm banking on eligibility for Law.

Jarell Martin, Robert Franks and Duop Reath are very unlucky and could easily be selected, but with the eligibility rules the way they are, it was impossible to fit them all in. The big man division this season was absolutely stacked.

As always, let me know what you think about my selections.