The top 15 players in the NBL

The rolling NBL top 15 is back for another season.

For those new to the format of this rolling list, there will be four versions dropped throughout the season, with significant change inevitable as the season rides the annual rollercoaster.

Bryce Cotton, Xavier Cooks, Mitch Creek, Antonius Cleveland, Robert Franks, Tahjere McCall and Chris Goulding return from NBL22 version 4.0, ensuring plenty of new faces.

Personally, imports are always the most challenging to rank in preseason, as unfamiliarity with the league annually takes a number of players some time to adjust. New Zealand have been particularly hard to read, with a new coach, major roster turnover and the assumed boost of returning home adding a major element of unknown despite measured confidence from within the camp.

Additionally, players entering the season building to full health like Brisbane's Nathan Sobey or late additions to the league like Zhou Qi could quickly slide into the list by the second iteration.

Either way, let's be honest, there will be complaints, so let's dive into it!

No.1 Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)

By his own admission, Bryce Cotton finds no struggle in seeking his own motivation for success.

"It's such a journey, metaphorically speaking, climbing to the top of the mountain. Once you get there, there's a new challenge seeing how long you can stay there," Cotton told ESPN's Olgun Uluc at the NBL Blitz in Darwin.

Cotton has sourced that motivation while sitting at the top of that mountain. Now that he is no longer the reigning MVP and the Perth Wildcats missed the postseason, just how concerned should everyone be?

No.2 Xavier Cooks (Sydney Kings)

I'm not convinced that there is close to enough appreciation for what Cooks was able to produce in his first healthy season in years.

In an era where positional versatility is arguably the most coveted asset in a player, Cooks was a connector for the Kings. Defending multiple positions, shifting between scoring and facilitating from the forward position, Cooks helped the Kings tick. The Grand Final MVP was icing on a brilliant season.

'He's a menace': Cooks' journey from unknown commodity to NBL MVP contender

No. 3 Antonius Cleveland (Adelaide 36ers)

36ers head coach C.J. Bruton had this to say on coaching against the reigning Best Defensive Player last season.

"He was a pain in the ass. He was the toughest SOB if I'm being real. His athleticism, he could change a game, once I thought we were close he could get three steals and the momentum would shift and I'd be calling a timeout that I didn't want to call."

Speaking with opposition players and coaches around the league, the respect for Cleveland is off the charts.

No.4 Mitch Creek (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

Like the entire Phoenix roster, Creek started NBL22 on an absolute tear. At times it felt like he was tasked with carrying the entire team's fortunes as injuries and inconsistency dropped the club out of the postseason.

Not present at the Blitz, it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gates for a squad already ravaged by injury before a ball has been tipped. If healthy, a genuine MVP candidate.

No. 5 Aron Baynes (Brisbane Bullets)

Seeing Baynes back on the floor at the Blitz in Darwin was an absolute joy. I'm reasonably expecting it will take some time to get back into the weekly grind of professional basketball and with that, this ranking could likely be conservative by the next instalment.

Though it came in short bursts, the direction of Baynes on the floor is clearly driving and setting the standards for the Bullets. One of the worst defensive teams in the league a season ago, you should expect a sharp rise with the addition of the Boomers legend.

No. 6 Rayjon Tucker (Melbourne United)

My preseason MVP pick (keeping in mind that I don't pick Cotton because he's an automatically finalist if healthy).

Not only is Tucker's athleticism at an NBA level, but United are going to lean on him heavily to score. I'm not totally convinced about the offensive firepower on the Melbourne roster, and I would expect the Wisconsin Herd franchise leading score to put up 20+ a night.

No. 7 Robert Franks (Adelaide 36ers)

Franks put up 18 points and nine rebounds on a Bullets squad that appeared to sometimes forget the star big man was on the floor.

For context, Lamar Patterson attempted more shots per game than Franks, a mind-boggling stat considering the 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from long range clips Franks produced. A walking double-double and All-NBL first team threat.

No. 8 Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)

Still the most important player on the Melbourne roster. While last offseason included an Olympic campaign in Tokyo, the lead in to NBL23 has left a clean slate for the shooter who bends the opposition defence more than any other player in the league. He doesn't appear to be showing any signs of slowing down despite Dean Vickerman hinting at managed loads moving forward to ensure his best comes in the postseason.

No. 9 Justin Robinson (Illawarra)

A big chance to lead the league in assists in NBL23.

First-year head coach Jacob Jakomas told ESPN they have at times, gently reminded Robinson to continue to look to score during the short initiation period in Illawarra, as he finds his feet in a backcourt partnership with Tyler Harvey. Another player who could easily rise here.

No. 10 Tyler Johnson (Brisbane Bullets)

The biggest name import entering the league in NBL23. Johnson's NBA resume is well known, though he has played limited basketball over the last 12 months.

The type of backcourt player Nathan Sobey has been searching for over the past few seasons. I expect both players will feature on this list at some point if the Boomers bronze medallist returns to full health with his persistent and frustrating knee issues hopefully behind him.

No. 11 Justin Simon (Sydney Kings)

Returning to the league after a one season absence, Simon gives the Kings an elite defender to combine with Cooks. While hunger can be a question for teams looking to go back-to-back, Simon has one goal in mind.

"I've won a couple of defensive player of the year awards but I'm not too much into that, I really want to win a championship."

No. 12 Mitch McCarron (Adelaide 36ers)

With a complete roster overhaul, McCarron looks set to resume his role on the loaded Melbourne United championship team from NBL21 when he received All-NBL honours. That season the 30-year-old was a live triple-double threat and I suspect that might return this campaign.

No. 13 Tahjere McCall (Cairns Taipans)

McCall stuffed the stat sheet last season but became turnover prone as he was tasked with the role of best defender while also running the offence on a nightly basis. Based on play at the Blitz, the addition of the sweet shooting D.J. Hogg and continued growth of Bul Kuol among others can lighten the load for the second-year import.

No. 14 Josh Magette (Tasmania JackJumpers)

The veteran point guard admits he had no idea how his Australian journey would pan out, yet 12 months later he feels he has found a second home for him and his family. Like the entire Tasmania squad, Magette grew throughout the season, becoming exactly the floor general Scott Roth envisioned when the American was initially signed.

No. 15 Luke Travers (Perth Wildcats)

This one is my most predictive of the top-15 but after spending time with the Wildcats in Darwin, teammates and staff are convinced NBA draftee Travers has returned to Australia with renewed confidence. Not your typical star prototype, Travers fits the Cooks mould of being able to a little bit of everything on both ends in a blueprint that NBA teams love from their role players. A big leap should be the expectation.