Kai Sotto wins NBL fans MVP at awards ceremony as Jaylen Adams named Most Valuable Player

The groundswell for Jaylen Adams to win the NBL MVP was too strong to ignore, but it was international support that helped a teen sensation shock. ALL THE WINNERS

Adams denied Perth superstar Bryce Cotton a fourth MVP, which would’ve seen him join the legendary Andrew Gaze in the record books.

The Kings star couldn’t be denied, though, following a dominant season at both ends of the floor.

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Adams averaged 20.1 points, 5.14 rebounds and a league leading 6.14 assists to steer the Sydney to the finals.

The former Milwaukee Buck is the first King to win the MVP since Andrew Bogut in 2019 and joins Chris Williams and Matt Nielsen as other Sydney stars to lift the Gaze trophy.

Adams winning the MVP was expected, but there were a host of other surprises on the night.

The biggest shock was the fan MVP vote, which was awarded to Adelaide 36ers’ Filipino centre Kai Sotto.

Sotto produced a decent season for the 36ers, averaging 7.52 points and 4.48 rebounds, but he isn’t anywhere near the league’s MVP.

It appears the passionate Filipino vote got the 36ers big man across the line.

The most noticeable divergence in opinion was the Most Improved Player, which experts and fans alike thought would be awarded to Melbourne United big man Jo Lual-Acuil Jr following a dominant season stepping up to a starting role after Jock Landale’s departure to the NBA.

Instead, the gong was given to Cairns Taipans forward Keanu Pinder, who has significantly improved compared to last season with the Adelaide 36ers.

Pinder averaged 4.8 points and 4.31 rebounds in 17 minutes on the floor at the 36ers.

His statistics have doubled at the Taipans this season, averaging 10.86 points, 7.57 rebounds in his 22.4 minutes on the floor.

The other shock was the Defensive Player of the Year.

United guard Shae Ili was the favourite before being trumped by Illawarra Hawks guard Antonius Cleveland, who was a defensive beat for Brian Goorjian’s Hawks.

NBL Award winners

MVP

Jaylen Adams (Sydney Kings) 105 votes

Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats) 94 votes

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (Melbourne) – 62 votes

Defensive Player of the Year: Antonius Cleveland (Illawarra Hawks)

Sixth Man of the Year: Shea Ili (Melbourne United)

Coach of the Year: Scott Roth (Tasmania JackJumpers)

Rookie of the Year: Bul Kuol (Cairns Taipans)

Most Improved Player: Keanu Pinder (Cairns Taipans)

Fans’ MVP award: Kai Sotto (Adelaide 36ers)

All-NBL First Team: Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (United), Vic Law (Wildcats), Bryce Cotton (Wildcats), Antonius Cleveland (Hawks), Jaylen Adams (Kings)

All-NBL Second Team: Mitch Creek (Phoenix), Xavier Cooks (Kings), Matthew Dellavedova (United), Chris Goulding (United), Josh Adams (JackJumpers)

GOORJIAN RESPONDS TO KINGS’ REFS RANT

Illawarra Hawks coach Brian Goorjian says he is “disappointed” and “uncomfortable” with the criticism directed at one referee by Sydney Kings’ coach Chase Buford and forward Xavier Cooks.

Buford and Cooks publicly called out and named an official – Chris Reid – after and during Sydney’s last round loss to the Hawks, which could result in a fine from the NBL.

Goorjian voiced his concerns with the comments ahead of Friday’s Game 1 in Wollongong.

“I was really disappointed … I‘ve been in this competition for a number of years. There’s no bias. There’s no favouritism with these guys,” Goorjian said.

“What we have now in the competition, you have the ability to challenge a call. So, if you have a problem, challenge it, but to call a referee out personally, at halftime and after the game, where does that take us into this series?

“What does that do with the opportunity for this guy (to ref the series)? How are they going to feel coming into the game?

“You’re stirring a box … I’m uncomfortable with it.”

Buford, meanwhile, is confident extra rest this week will help keys stars Jaylen Adams and Jarell Martin fully recover for Friday’s blockbuster semi-final series opener against the Hawks.

ROTH’S REWARD

Coach Scott Roth has done a stellar job leading Tasmania to a surprise finals appearance in the franchise’s first season – now he is set to be financially rewarded.

JackJumpers officials set Roth a target of winning half their games to activate significant bonuses in his contract.

The passionate mentor exceeded everyone’s expectations to win 17 of the club’s 28 games to qualify for the finals.

Roth, the Coach of the Year favourite, could be in for more financial windfalls if he can steer the JackJumpers to an unlikely grand final series.

It’s fair to say that it will be Roth’s shout at the team’s end of season function.

JESSUP’S EYES ON THE PRIZE

Illawarra’s NBL Next Star guard Justinian Jessup is on a “mission” to finish his two-year Australian tenure on a high in the NBL finals.

That’s the message from Hawks coach Brian Goorjian, who says Jessup is locked in and ready to dominate.

“I think for Justinian last year sometimes it came down to his mindset and year two in the league is a real advantage for him,” Goorjian said about Jessup, who dropped a game-high 24 points in last Sunday’s win over the Kings, including five threes.

“He isn’t going to be here after two more weeks: this is it. Last year he wasn’t aggressive and making it his, but you’ve seen it over the last couple of weeks that there is a tenacity to him to go out of this league firing. Make or miss.

“That opens up everything for everyone else, so his mindset will be slapped over his back this week.”

LUAL-ACUIL JR PRIMED

Star Melbourne United centre Jo Lual-Acuil Jr has a big week in front of him. The MVP candidate celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday, before preparing for his 100th NBL game Thursday’s semi-final against the Tasmania JackJumpers.

The seven-footer also finished the season having broken another United franchise record, tallying 57 blocks, the most in the club‘s history across the course of a regular season.

United are expecting to be at full-strength for the semi against the JackJumpers, with Matthew Dellavedova (mouth), David Barlow (concussion) and Jack White (soreness) all set to return.

United will also have a host of VIP guests at the Tasmania semi-final.

NBL21 Finals MVP Jock Landale will watch his former side battle it out from the Melbourne United Legends Box, while four-time NBA Rookie of the Month winner Josh Giddey will take in the game courtside.

FREE AGENCY RAMPS UP

The Brisbane Bullets sent the hoops rumour mill into overdrive on Wednesday when they released a statement saying: major announcement: marquee player on a multi-year deal.

Boomers and NBA big man Aron Baynes was the first name on everyone’s lips given he has been linked to the Bullets in the past.

Baynes is recovering from injury as he looks to return to the NBA, although the NBL could be an option to prepare for one last stint in the world’s best league.

In the end, Brisbane didn’t announce the veteran Boomer, with the club holding a press conference to re-sign star guard Nathan Sobey.

Elsewhere, United re-signed NBL Next Star Ariel Hukporti for one season as the German big man looks to further hone his craft for a shot at the 2023 NBA draft.

PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT CONFIRMED

The NBL has confirmed it will introduce an NBA-style play-in tournament next season, with the final format yet to be finalised.

League commissioner Jeremy Loeliger says the play-in tournament is guaranteed to shake-up the end of the season run for teams.

“We are very excited to announce that our finals campaign will include a play-in from next season, and believe it will add greatly to the excitement and intrigue as the season’s finalists are determined,” Loeliger said.

“We are assessing multiple models of how the play-in will be structured and how many teams will be included, and will make further announcements in the near future.

“We have seen how successful the play-in concept has been in the NBA and the numerous benefits that it has delivered to fans.

“Teams will stay in the hunt for the championship for that bit longer, finals spots will be decided in new and innovative ways, and an extra layer of excitement will be added for our fans.”

NBL FINALS DRAW

Melbourne United (First) vs Tasmania JackJumpers (Fourth)

Game 1: Thurs, Apr 28 from 7.30pm (AEST) at John Cain Arena

Game 2: Sat, Apr 30 from 8pm (AEST) at MyState Bank Arena

Games 3: (If required): Mon, May 2 from 7.30pm (AEST) at John Cain Arena

Illawarra Hawks (Second) vs Sydney Kings (Third)

Game 1: Fri, Apr 29 from 7.30pm (AEST) at WIN Entertainment Centre

Game 2: Sun, May 1 from 3pm (AEST) at Qudos Bank Arena

Games 3: (If required): Tue, May 3 from 7.30pm (AEST) at WIN Entertainment Centre

Originally published as NBL22 Awards: Jaylen Adams crowned NBL MVP, Kai Sotto wins fans’ award as Filipino voters support countryman

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