Is Bryce Cotton the NBL’s most under-rated player?


NBL player Bryce Cotton. Photo: DaHuzyBru (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bryce Cotton signed for the Perth Wildcats in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) in January 2017.

What was initially meant to be a three-month escape from Europe has turned into a home for the former Providence College standout.

In the six years Cotton has been in Australia, he has racked up accolade after accolade.

These include becoming the third player to win three or more Most Valuable Player awards, with Andrew Gaze being the only player to have more than Cotton with seven.

Cotton talked about his basketball journey on Liam Santamaria’s podcast The Huddle.

“It’s not often anybody in any sport gets to be in the conversation of being the greatest anything, so if you’re in that conversation I feel like you owe it to yourself as well as the people who supported you over the years to see how far you can go,” he said.

While he’s still considered the best player in the league, Australia’s sports media and the sport’s fans are potentially overlooking him.

In the past two seasons, Cotton finished second twice in the MVP race (behind import Jaylen Adams and Australian Xavier Cooks who both played for the Sydney Kings).

The MVP is a regular season award, meaning any games that are in the post-season, like the Semi-Final and Grand Final series, do not count.

The Wildcats finished 5th and 6th on the ladder in those seasons, missing the NBL Semi-Final series by the slimmest of margins.

Adams and Cooks went on to win championships in their MVP seasons – but should team success warrant an individual award?

Perth’s lack of success seems to have tarnished Cotton’s individual accomplishments.

While he would still make the All-NBL First Team in both seasons NBL analyst and former MVP Corey Williams argues that he shouldn’t be in the conversation for MVP, because of this.

In his MVP season Adams averaged 1.4 more assists and 1.5 more rebounds than Cotton in the regular season, but missed seven games that year which is the equivalent of a quarter of the season.

Cooks is a different story – while he did average a solid stat line of 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, Cotton had a career-high year in scoring and rebounding averaging 23.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

What makes Cotton stand out in comparison to these other players is that while they might only play one or two full seasons in the league, Cotton has been here now for seven seasons.

Opposition teams know exactly what they are coming up against – they strategize with him in mind and run film sessions on just on how to stop him but game in, game out Cotton still finds a way.

Since the NBL moved from 48-minute games to 40 minutes in 2010, no player is scoring at the level of Cotton.

According to SpatialJam, in the 200 games he’s played for Perth, the six-time scoring champion is averaging 22.4 points per game.

The next best player who has played more than 150 games is former Melbourne and Sydney import Casper Ware, who across 157 games played an average of four points less than Cotton.

Since entering the league Cotton has scored 4,486 points, which is more than a thousand points more than NBL veteran Daniel Johnson in second place.

He has more assists (851), more steals (286) and the most minutes played in comparison to any other player in that period.

The only player that has more three-pointers than him (584) is Olympic bronze medallist Chris Goulding (636).

Simply put, Bryce Cotton is on another level in comparison to any other player that has stepped foot in Australia and New Zealand in the last decade.

Tasmania JackJumpers’ Head Coach Scott Roth (who coached Cotton in the 2020 season) said on The WaterBoys radio show that he is the best player outside of North America.

Roth, who played and coached in the NBA for numerous clubs, is held in high regard in the international basketball community.

“I’ll put him up against anybody, and being around him, you know the character and what he’s built like,” he said in the 2021 interview.

Australian basketball may or may not undermine the greatness of Cotton, but with reports that the sport’s governing body no longer supports him in his bid to become a citizen, we might as well enjoy what is in front of us while we can.