Illawarra Hawks trio poised to swoop
WITH just seven rounds of action left before the NBL play-offs, the race for the Most Valuable Player is hotting up as teams push and jostle for higher finishing positions.
Last round losses by the NBL's leading two franchises, Perth and New Zealand, underline how important it is for team studs to step up and get it done when games are on the line.
This season's MVP battle looks wide open, although a handful of players have put their hands up as early favourites for the highest individual honour.
Classy guards Corey Webster (New Zealand), Kevin Lisch (Illawarra), Jerome Randle (Adelaide) and Jermaine Beale (Perth), as well as big man AJ Ogilvy (Illawarra) have emerged from the pack as the standouts after 11 rounds of bashing and banging bodies.
Derek Rucker, who took out the MVP in 1990 in his first season with the Brisbane Bullets, said he believed Lisch was the player to beat for the top honour.
"He's a creator who makes everything happen for Illawarra. He scores, he sets everything up for Kirk Penney and Ogilvy who feed off him," Rucker said.
"He's the motor and the playmaker, but I'd have all three of those guys in the running."
Rucker, a respected and astute commentator on the game, said Webster's form had dropped recently, while Adelaide's pint-sized Jerome Randle was well in the mix because he was so dynamic offensively.
"He's one of the game's most exciting players, but teams are starting to scout him," Rucker said. "He's quick, he handles the ball great, scores from anywhere and is a feisty competitor."
Former Melbourne Tigers and Brisbane Bullets championship-winning general manager Jeff Van Groningen, who has recruited many of the best NBL imports in the past few decades, and regularly travels to the US scouting talent, said he thought Ogilvy was in front of the pack.
"He's a walking double-double," Van Groningen told APN when asked for his MVP pick.
Van Groningen watched Ogilvy play as a freshman at Vanderbilt College in Tennessee and rated him highly even back then.
"Even as a first year player there were people over there talking about him as a NBA prospect," Van Groningen said.
"The NBL is such a guard-dominated league, so when you have a rare commodity who can have such a big impact as AJ does, it's a big point of difference in that there are not many who can go with him athletically.''
Rucker, meanwhile, said he had hopped onto the Illawarra express following its big win over the Breakers in New Zealand at the weekend.
"New Zealand was undefeated at home and if they (the Hawks) can go over there and do that, that's a big win," he said.