With all due respect to Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard, the world’s most intense point guard battle this week will take place Down Under in the NBL Grand Finals.
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats) and Casper Ware (Melbourne United) are two of the most electric playmakers on the planet, and they'll be going head to head after leading their teams to the NBL’s biggest stage.
Both point guards bring championship experience, swagger and a ridiculous amount of skill to the table. They may be small, but as Trae Young said a couple days ago “You can say what you want to about size, but when you’re the most dangerous person on the court, it doesn’t matter.”
Cotton and Ware are pint-sized monsters who embody that attitude.
The 6-foot-1 Cotton was a star with Providence, making First-Team All-Big East twice and winning MVP of the conference tournament in 2014. He often plays off-ball as a shooting guard, but he’ll bring the ball up himself as well. Regardless of where he starts the play, he can finish it from anywhere.
Cotton is the NBL’s leading scorer at 22.5 points per game. He has limitless range, and he’s nearly impossible to stick with when he’s slithering around screens. He’s also a tough finisher around the rim with either hand, he’s electric in transition and he has one of the meanest step-backs this side of James Harden. That combination is why he has produced some of the biggest scoring explosions in league history.
When he led Perth to the 2017 championship, he set the NBL record with 45 points in a playoff game while the Red Army raged on.
On this day (2017) Bryce Cotton dropped an all-time NBL Finals best and career high 4⃣5⃣ points for the @PerthWildcats against the Hawks.— NBL (@NBL) March 5, 2019
Could we see him top it in the #NBL19 Finals?#SeeIncredible #NBLFinals pic.twitter.com/ipAcgNIx3t
Although matching Cotton is a tall task, 5-foot-10 Casper Ware is unafraid of the challenge.
Ware was a two-time Big West Player of the Year at Long Beach State, and he has made the All-NBL First Team three straight times. Like Cotton, he has some recent team hardware in his trophy case too, winning the 2018 NBL title with Melbourne.
This season, Ware looks hell-bent on defending the crown. In a tough semifinal matchup against Andrew Bogut and the Sydney Kings, Ware came out swinging, dropping 17 points in the first quarter.
He finished with 30 to help his team book another spot in the Grand Finals series.
Ware has been unstoppable all season, ranking third in the NBL in points (18.8) and second in assists (4.7 per game). If you give him an inch of space, he’ll hit a pull-up three in your face. If you crowd him, he’ll blow by you for the mid-range floater. Stay with him long enough to stop the floater and he has the strength to lower his shoulder and finish through contact.
Cotton and Ware are incredibly fun to watch, and they’ll be putting up highlight-reel plays throughout the best-of-five series, which you can catch live or on-demand right here on FloHoops.
How They Got Here
Both teams finished the regular season 18-10 in a three-way tie with the Sydney Kings. Perth earned the No. 1 seed due to tie-breaker scenarios, while Melbourne claimed the No. 2 seed.
In the semifinals, Perth swept the Brisbane Bullets, winning game one 89-59 and game two 84-79.
Melbourne also dominated their semifinal matchup, sweeping Sydney with a 95-73 win in game one and a 90-76 win in game two.
Perth and Melbourne played each other four times this season, with both teams winning twice. Two of those games went to overtime, making this the first time in NBL history that the two teams in the Grand Finals played two overtime games in the regular season.
Both teams won their two games at home, so home-court advantage could be pivotal in this series. Game five, if necessary, will be held in Perth.
Other Key Players to Watch
Chris Goulding, SG, Melbourne United
Goulding won last year’s Grand Finals MVP and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the league. He can catch fire at any moment and has a flair for the dramatic. He averaged 14.9 points per game this year and lit up Perth for his season-high of 29.
Nicholas Kay, F, Perth Wildcats
Kay finished this season as the league’s third-leading rebounder (8.6 per game) and 10th-best scorer (15.2 points per game). His 22 points versus Melbourne in the final game of the regular season tied his best mark of the year.
If Perth are going to dethrone Melbourne, they'll need some big performances from Kay.
Game 1 - March 8, 6:20 a.m. ET
Game 2 - March 9, 10:50 p.m. ET
Game 3 - March 15, 6:35 a.m ET
Game 4 - March 16, 10:20 p.m. ET
Game 5 - TBD
Austin Green is an international journalist and scout covering EuroLeague and NBA prospects in Europe and Australia. You can follow him on Twitter @LosCrossovers.