While some reinforced their opinion with greater levels of frequency and decibels than others – none more so than Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams – few could agree on whether Chris Goulding, Corey Webster or AJ Ogilvy had been the best individual performer during the league’s opening stages.
That was before Jerome Randle led Adelaide to six consecutive wins during December and January, averaging 29 points over that stretch and throwing in a 41-point game on 76% shooting for good measure.
Suddenly, the competing voices in the MVP discussion began to morph into a united one, and that voice was saying Jerome Randle’s name.
Yet Randle was not award the Andrew Gaze Trophy for the league’s most valuable player at the NBL MVP & Awards Night on Wednesday.
That doesn’t change the fact that Randle is still widely regarded as the best player in the competition, and his landslide victory in the inaugural NBL Fan’s MVP reflects that.
Despite suffering an ill-timed late season injury, missing the playoffs and being looked over for league MVP, the Australian basketball public gave their hero a welcome boost when they elected him as the people’s champ.
Randle won 42% of the vote. To provide some context, Casey Prather finished second with 22% while Chris Goulding came in third with 8%.
However, NBL fans are given the luxury of stepping back to observe the season as a whole following its conclusion. That isn’t to say that voting at season’s end is a flawless system by any means.
But it is quite different to the current setup, which involves head coaches placing votes after every regular season game. Each coach has 10 points at their disposal, with a maximum of five points available for any one player.
This game-by-game voting system severely hurt Randle’s MVP chances before he’d even arrived on our shores.
The Sixers star missed the first three games of the season before arriving to replace injured import Kenyon McNeail. Randle then missed two and half games following his late season knee injury, and wasn’t close to 100% for the final two games of the season.
That’s eight games in which Randle was unlikely to have registered a vote.
The argument that the MVP should play the majority of games is a fair one. But for better or worse, the NBL’s voting system made the NBL’s highest individual honour unattainable for the man who was unquestionably the league’s best player.
— NBL (@NBL) February 18, 2016
Last night’s result is unlikely to have come as a surprise to Adelaide 36ers head coach Joey Wright, who last month foreshadowed the notion that Randle could miss out.
“The way our MVP voting works, we don’t pick the true MVP,” Wright said in January.
“We know that for a fact because James Ennis didn’t get MVP of our league. I don’t know how the votes will shake out.”
When it comes to missing games through injury, Randle is all too aware of the damage his time on the sideline did not just to his MVP chances, but to Adelaide’s season.
“I feel like we really had a close grip on the playoffs,” Randle said last night, shifting the attention from individual honours to his team’s fortunes.
“Me going down didn’t help at all. I felt in my heart that if we didn’t get injured that we’d be in the playoffs.”
“I’m disappointed because I expect a lot out of myself.”
Whether the stat sheet or the eye test is your preferred analytical weapon of choice, Jerome Randle checks out as the best in the land either way.
He led the league in scoring (23ppg) and finished second in assists (5.1apg).
When the speedy floor general first arrived on the scene, the 36ers were 1-2. Before he went down with a leg injury against Illawarra in Round 17, he’d led them to a 14-10 record.
Adelaide went 1-4 without their explosive point guard, and were 13-8 with a fully fit Randle in the lineup.
Randle had a hand in just about everything the 36ers did on offence, scoring over a quarter of their points and assisting on around 31% of their points.
His speed warped defences, which allowed both Randle and his teammates to drive into freshly created space, kick the ball out to open teammates, and really get the ball moving in an offence otherwise prone to stagnancy.
Randle was Adelaide’s inspiration. The former California Golden Bear had the heart of a lion and the eye of the tiger. He could be relied upon to inject energy into an occasionally flat Adelaide lineup and get a bucket when his team needed one most.
The 36ers were picked by very few pundits – outside of Adelaide – to make the top four, but his arrival instantly turned them into a championship dark horse.
When the Sixers had Randle at their disposal, they were capable of beating anyone. When they didn’t, they were hard to watch and had little hope of competing with the league’s best.
As horrendously clichéd as it sounds, when Adelaide had Randle, there was a real sense both on the floor and in the crowd that anything was possible.
A feeling that Adelaide were never out of any game, that every night something absurd could and probably would happen, that their star import was some kind of cross between a security blanket and an invincibility potion.
During the peak of Randle’s run – that which featured the 41-point game and six straight wins – the 36ers were selling out the 8,000 seat Titanium Security Arena on a consistent basis for the first time since the early 2000s.
Hell, the Sixers had signed their best player since the early 2000s.
The winning streak didn’t hurt, but make no mistake, Adelaide’s weekly crowds had increased by around 60% because people were coming to see Randle play.
He brought the kind of buzz and ‘must see’ factor that’s usually associated with the superstar imports of yesteryear.
Every home game became an event. It was just about impossible to watch Randle in person and imagine anyone else in the country ascending to his level.
Whether we’ve seen the last of the people’s MVP remains to be seen. On the morning of the NBL’s Awards Night, it was reported that Randle would join former Lithuanian powerhouse Zalgiris Kaunas, winners of the last five Lithuanian league championships.
I'm told Zalgiris Kaunas and Jerome Randle, Australia lead scorer and MVP, finalized deal.
— David Pick (@IAmDPick) February 16, 2016
Randle’s plans beyond the current European season remain unclear, and as a result, so does his future in the NBL.
It’s no secret that Randle thoroughly enjoys playing in Australia.
He has regularly stated that Joey Wright’s willingness to allow his players the creative license to play their game has restored his love for basketball, which dwindled during past European experiences.
“I’m just looking forward to playing after this,” Randle said last night.
“I would love to play in the NBL again.”
The entire city of Adelaide has its fingers crossed.