Stars like Chris Goulding, Josh Childress and Jerome Randle draw in the crowds and headline the commercials. They enjoy the longest lines at the signing sessions and it’s their jerseys you’ll most often see on the streets and in the stands.
There are other players, however, who are often the engine rooms of NBL teams. These guys are the unsung heroes of the League; operating below the radar while seeking little in the way of magazine shoots or TV spots.
These are some of the NBL’s most underrated players.
ADELAIDE 36ERS: BRENDAN TEYS
Teys burst on to the national scene during the 2014 playoffs when his hard-nosed play helped Adelaide defeat Melbourne in the Semi Finals and push the Perth Wildcats to three games in the Grand Final series.
The 25-year-old is only paying 12 minutes per night for Joey Wright this season, but he’s precisely the kind of player whose value is most appreciated by his team-mates.
“Brendan stays under the radar but he’s very consistent and works very hard,” says 36ers point guard Jerome Randle.
“He does his job well day in and day out. He’s solid on defense, knocks down open shots and is a vocal player on both ends of the floor.”
The 36ers signed Teys to a new three-year deal in July last year, ensuring the Queenslander will be donning the blue and red until at least 2018.
CAIRNS TAIPANS: SHAUN BRUCE
The Taipans have endured a topsy-turvy season thus far but one definite positive has been the play of reserve point guard Shaun Bruce.
The 25-year-old scored in double-figures in four consecutive games while covering for injured import Markel Starks, including two super-impressive 17-point performances in Round 13.
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) January 5, 2016
Bruce’s form has been a little up and down since then as he has adjusted to Starks’ return form injury. Nonetheless, 2015/16 has been a coming-out-party of sorts for the Horsham product – a season in which he’s proved some doubters wrong and shown that he belongs in the NBL.
“Everyone outside our team was able to see what Shaun is capable of when Markel (Starks) went down for those few games,” Taipans captain Cam Gliddon told nbl.com.au.
“But we see that aggression, leadership and scoring ability at practice every day. He continues to get better and better and is hungry to succeed.”
ILLAWARRA HAWKS: KEVIN WHITE
After four seasons as a reserve with the Sydney Kings, Kevin White has started the vast majority of Illawarra’s games this season and head coach Rob Beveridge absolutely loves what he has brought to the table.
“[Kevin] is one of the most underrated players out there,” Beveridge said recently.
“He’s 6’3”, he’s strong, he’s very good laterally and he can defend post players, wings and guards.”
He also has the respect of his team-mates. Oscar Forman, for instance, didn’t hesitate to name White has Illawarra’s most underrated player.
“Kevin is an unselfish player who does whatever is asked of him,” Forman said.
“He starts us off by taking a tough defensive assignment and playing full court defence to get the team going.
“He plays a role and plays it very well and we can count on his energy every game.”
MELBOURNE UNITED: BRAD HILL
It’s possible that Melbourne United’s Brad Hill has achieved the full circle of over/under-appreciation over the course of his career.
Blessed with oodles of potential when he entered the league over ten years ago, Hill is currently with his sixth NBL team after stints at Adelaide 36ers (twice), South Dragons, Cairns Taipans, Sydney Kings and Wollongong Hawks (as they were then known).
Signed late in the pre-season as an injury replacement for David Barlow, Hill has been effective in his reserve role for Melbourne this season. The 29-year-old has provided stable minutes behind small forward Todd Blanchfield and has even played some spot minutes at the four, enabling Dean Demopoulos to run some interesting small-ball line-ups.
“I don’t know if you would say he’s underrated, because people around the league have always spoken highly of him, but I hold Brad Hill in very high regard,” said Melbourne assistant coach Mike Kelly.
“He was let go by Illawarra and came in late with us. He fit in quickly and has been great on and off the court. He has been unselfish and professional and has made some big plays at key times in games.”
Hill’s ability to knock down the open three-point shot has been important for United this season, averaging just over one long range attempt per game and connecting on close to 40 percent of them. He has played 10+ minutes in three of Melbourne’s past four games and with Igor Hadziomerovic out for the rest of the season, Hill has quietly become an important piece to Melbourne United’s puzzle as they head towards the playoffs.
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS: TOM ABERCROMBIE
It’s crazy to think that a player as highly credentialed as Tom Abercrombie could be considered underrated but, amazingly, he is.
Having played his entire NBL career with the New Zealand Breakers, Abercrombie is a four-time champion, a Grand Final MVP (2011) and an All-NBL First Team forward (2012).
He even recently became the club’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing a record previously held by Kirk Penney.
Yet, championship coach Dean Vickerman responded immeditaly when asked who he thought was his team’s most underrated player.
“He’s our best two-way player,” Vickerman explained after naming Abercrombie.
“He’s the hardest player to sub out as he can guard three or four positions and he always shoots a high field goal percentage.”
High-profile team-mates Corey Webster, Cedric Jackson and Mika Vukona get most of the headlines, but Abercrombie’s production has flown somewhat under-the-radar over recent times.
PERTH WILDCATS: TOM JERVIS
Despite playing only 13.3 minutes per game off the bench, Tom Jervis leads the Perth Wildcats in blocks per game (1.2) and trails only Matt Knight in rebounds (4.8). He has scored in double figures four times this season and has also grabbed 10 or more rebounds on four occasions. Remarkably, Jervis recorded a double-double in only 12 minutes of action against New Zealand in late November.
“Tommy is so reliable, efficient and hard-working that whenever he is on the court I know good things will happen,” Wildcats captain Damian Martin said.
“His timing on blocking shots is as good as anyone else’s in the league and it gives the perimeter guys confidence to apply more pressure to the ball knowing that if we get beaten, we have Tom in the key to help us out.”
Martin believes Jervis’ willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of the team makes him one of the league’s most underappreciated talents.
“He’s very much an underrated post player and in my opinion our best player at knowing their role, playing it to the best of their ability and helping our team in any way possible.”
SYDNEY KINGS: RHYS CARTER
Rhys Carter has had to build a separate wardrobe in his house to store his vast collection of NBL jerseys.
The quintessential journeyman, Carter has played for seven different clubs since debuting as a development player in 2002. He is a two-time champion and the only player in NBL history to play in three consecutive Grand Finals for three different clubs (Perth 2013, Adelaide 2014 and New Zealand 2015).
When he signed with Sydney during last off-season, Carter made it clear what he hoped to achieve while in the Harbour City.
“I’ve learned a lot and I want to be a presence in the locker room and pass on some of my experiences to the younger guys,” Carter said.
According to head coach Joe Connelly, that’s exactly what he’s done.
“Rhys is someone who has grown on me with his positive energy, being a mentor to the younger players all while increasing his on court production,” Connelly said.
“He has made this growing process for the team a really fun process, in spite of the losses. I, and the team, really appreciate his contributions.”
TOWNSVILLE CROCODILES: NICK KAY
Nick Kay is arguably the most underrated player on the NBL’s most underrated team. In his first professional season, Kay has been a pillar of strength for the Crocs, averaging 9.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while shooting at over 50 percent from the field.
“I think a lot of people around the league recognise Nick’s enormous potential but don’t know how good he is right now,” Crocs assistant coach Greg Vanderjagt said.
“He’s got such a high IQ, has adapted to the physicality and speed of the NBL very quickly as a rookie and I think is an underrated defender. He guards the on ball screen action pretty well and is good in switch situations guarding quicker guys.”
Kay is highly-fancied to take out this year’s Rookie of the Year Award and Vanderjagt believes the 205cm forward/centre is in for a long NBL career.
“With such a mature and level head on his shoulders as well as his superior work ethic, he’s going to be a good player in this league for a long time.
“The bottom line is our team functions very well when he is on the floor.”