By Ollie Nash
Four seasons, two MVPs, two Grand Final MVPs, a three-time All-NBL First Team selection, three-time scoring leader and three championships. It is a hell of a resume and it’s not done being added to yet, not even close, not even kind of close.
Bryce Cotton is 27, turning 28 in August and has just signed a three-year deal with the Perth Wildcats. He’ll be 30 when the deal is done and guess what? He still won’t be close to finishing and could potentially have another ring or two on his hand.
There are a lot of stars in the NBL at the moment; Shawn Long, Chris Goulding, Scott Machado, Mitch Creek and Lamar Patterson to name a few, but not many have what Cotton has. I am in no means comparing him to Michael Jordan, no way, but he has that innate ability that Jordan had to put up numbers and win basketball games. LeBron James has done it, so has Steph Curry, all of them playing well with others within a system but producing at a high level individually. In general terms, consistency in scoring and facilitating but the ability to come up clutch and make a big play.
Is he helped by the Perth system? Of course, I mean they haven’t missed the finals since 1987 and they had won six titles before Cotton got there. But has he upgraded them to a higher level of confidence and superiority in the league? Yes.
Watching the game, you’ll see everything I’ve just discussed with your own eyes, but here are the numbers to back it up. Since coming to the league, he has averaged 20.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He joined the team midway through his first season which explains their slightly down year, but he’s helped them to records of 15-13, 16-12, 18-10 and 19-9. That’s a pretty good four year run. In the playoffs during this run he’s averaged 23.2 points on 44 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three, four rebounds and five assists.
For a guy who stands 182 cm, not quite 6-foot, they’re impressive stats. They’re even more impressive considering how he gets them, especially his points. His ability to hit jump-shots is one avenue, especially off the dribble contested shots which happens regularly due to his height. But what became apparent to any doubters in this years’ playoffs was his ability to attack the rim and be physical.
Sydney, with their tall and long line-up went hard at Cotton every time he attacked the basket. A bit like the Detroit Pistons “Jordan Rules” in the late 1980s, the Kings weren’t going to let Cotton drive and score at the rim, he had to earn them at the line or shoot a jump-shot. I’m four centimetres taller than Cotton, but if you tell me to continually drive and get hit by 213 cm Andrew Bogut, 193 cm and 104 kg Jae Sean Tate or 199 cm Brad Newley I will happily decline. Cotton never took a backward step though, going to the free-throw line nearly nine times a game through the three grand final matches.
It’s part of that mindset that he has that only the superstars in every league seem to possess. The ability to be continually go at you and go at you, despite the physical toll and the little voice in your head saying, “take the easier option, take a jump-shot, save your energy.” Again, it’s similar to Jordan. No matter who you threw at him he was going to attack and attack and attack until he broke you down, because he knew he was mentally stronger.
I’d never seen that side of Cotton, but it was clear this season and as I said earlier, it helped him put up numbers but also contributed to wins. He drew two or three guys to him every time he drove to the bucket leaving open teammates everywhere. It meant Nick Kay was in good positions and could average 20 points and eight rebounds in the grand final series. It meant spot of shooters like Clint Steindl could put up 11 points and just above two three-pointers a game.
There may have been better individual seasons from imports in NBL history but this kind of dominance over this long a period has never been seen and the scary part is it’s only getting started. Pair Cotton at his absolute prime at 28 into his early 30s with Perth’s ability to replenish their roster and stay competitive and the next five years look awfully good for the Wildcats and dangerous for the rest of the league.
Cover Photo: Getty Images