The top 20 players of NBL20: 20-11

Players talk up the NBL's newest rivalry (0:51)

Phoenix and United players discuss the 'Throwdown' at the unveiling of a Melbourne mural celebrating the new NBL rivalry. (0:51)

It's the second annual ESPN NBL Player Rankings. For a primer on our unscientific methodology, we detail it in last season's edition.

This year we expand into a weekly edition of a top 20 NBL player power rankings. For our first pass, we look at those projected to be the best in the league to start NBL20.

Things to note again: There's no doubt that this list privileges a proven history in this league. It also privileges those who have hardened experience playing across the world. These things matters, especially when the real thing starts now.

There is nitpicking. There is agonising over little things. And as such, there are always a bunch of starry names who don't quite crack the top 20. That doesn't mean that they won't easily rise as others fall - to emerge next week in our rankings.

Spoiler alert: LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton do not make this week's list. Not when the league is filled to the brim with elite talent with a proven history, either here or abroad. And not when they have yet to be plonked into a cauldron, when games start to really matter.

Yet, they have both been undeniably impressive; both may very well end up here by next week.

Apologies: Kevin Lisch, LaMelo Ball, Aaron Brooks, Corey Webster, RJ Hampton, Cam Gliddon, David Barlow

20. Scotty Hopson (New Zealand Breakers)

Hopson will be fun. He's a dynamite athlete who should be able to feast in transition and live off curls in the half-court. He will rise up and shoot over anyone in this league. When he gets downhill, he will fling himself at the backline defender, contort in mid-air, and finish over the top of his hapless enemy. By all rights, Scotty Hopson is a top-10 talent in this league.

Yet for someone so bouncy, his rebounding effort looks decidedly tepid - once the shot goes up, he stands rooted to the spot, tracking the flight of the ball. He switches off once the play is out of his vicinity. For his career, his defensive rebounding rate jibes with someone who is a huge, athletic wing.

Still, the talent is undoubtedly there - he has the physical tools to be a two-way beast. That talent alone merits a top 20 start.

19. Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats)

"I've always pretty much been motivated by fear of failure," Damian Martin tells ESPN, regarding his defensive focus. "That's probably the drive for success. When you're guarding some of the best players in the league, week-in, week-out, you've obviously got to do everything you can in the lead-up to the game, and then make sure you're switched on every possession."

Yet over the past few seasons, there were visible signs of slippage; Martin just wasn't the same. There were seemingly issues with lateral quickness, which manifested into a diminishment in his ability to contain from the perimeter.

Then, at a Boomers camp, it was revealed that atrophy was the cause of a deficit in quad and leg strength, Martin tells ESPN, which was then relayed back to the Wildcats.

"We had a real emphasis on building some lower body strength," says Martin. "And it's probably taken 12 to 18 months to get it back to where it was prior to a few knee and calf injuries."

Martin was well and truly back by the playoffs last season - he could easily have been Grand Final MVP, if not for Terrico White's surprisingly fiery shot-making from beyond the arc. Martin's ability to harass Casper Ware, and then slide over to blanket Chris Goulding, was instrumental in the Wildcats' series victory.

Defence is also about the mind - the discipline to stick to principles, and the scout, in the heat of battle. In that regard, Martin is relentless. The Wildcats have always been at their best with him at the head of the snake, setting the tone, and driving their gritty identity.

Offensively, Martin also has this innate timing for the dramatic that seems to lift the Red Army. Just when you think you've throttled the Wildcats, Martin will flip in one of those running floaters at the most opportune moment to demoralise the opposition.

Still, defence wins championships, and Damian Martin is the ultimate personification of that ethos. And like the defensive savant that he is, Martin laughs, and resolutely defends the secret of how he would defend Bryce Cotton.

"When I retire, and Bryce is no longer a Wildcat, I'll be more than happy to reveal that," he says.

18. John Roberson (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

We're raising our flag now - we're all-in atop the John Roberson Hill. Roberson has a smooth game, with the ability to break down a defence and either get into the lane, or step back and launch triples.

Those are in fact the same words we used to describe Melo Trimble on the eve of NBL19, when Trimble made our top 20. Consider Roberson the Melo of this class.

He's smaller, and he might not have the same finishing skills in the paint as Trimble, but Roberson should light up the league from downtown.

What should be equally encouraging for Phoenix fans is that he looks to be the complete floor general. Roberson has shown in the preseason that he's perfectly capable of realigning his game to the needs of the team on a nightly basis.

17. Mitch McCarron (Melbourne United)

If you value flexibility, and winning, Mitch McCarron is one of the first players you need for a team. McCarron is the ultimate Swiss Army knife.

"Offensively, I couldn't care less about stats," he tells ESPN, "it's more about what the game situation/line-up on the floor requires."

Raw numbers will never fully demonstrate his value to a team - his intangible value plays out in the line-ups you can deploy at any time on the court because of his presence.

Need to downsize for more scoring? Shift McCarron to jostle with big wings without losing a beat.

Need to spell your primary playmaker? McCarron can slide over as a caretaker.

All the while, you know that he will help you clean the glass, and handle any defensive assignment you've given him.

"[I] just really try to help our team win, whatever that requires," he says. "I always felt that I could be of value if I rebounded as a guard, and I gradually got better at defending as I got older. Those are two things I can always try and do on the court."

McCarron's tangible value largely shows up in the advanced numbers. Per HoopsDB.net, line-ups with McCarron had a net differential of plus-10.7 per 100 possessions, easily tops for United's core players last season. There is just value in having someone who can shapeshift into so many different faces.

"I think a big part of my role is to do what the team needs at the time," he says. "Find a way to give us a spark, regardless of position."

McCarron also upped his three-point accuracy to 37.6 percent last season.

A year ago, McCarron was sitting at 12 on our rankings, but his slip down the list is more a testament to the talent that has buffed up the league.

16. Josh Boone (Illawarra Hawks)

Boone "plummets" to 16 in this year's edition.

He's still a defensive beast, courtesy of quick feet and an innate sense of knowing where to be, and when to be there. He is still someone you can build your defence around.

Boone has been remarkably consistent throughout his tenure in the league. The only noticeable drop-off has been his field goal percentage, which can be many things, including declining athleticism.

Boone continued his dalliance in the midrange last season, with 24 attempts at 25 percent, per jordanmcnbl.com. Remarkably, the season before, he launched 33 midrangers and canned them at an elite 48.5 percent. On the aggregate though, I'm not sure there's enough evidence to suggest that he should continue in that pursuit.

Boone's bread and butter will always be as the roll man. As more and more teams trapped Casper Ware, they were essentially daring Boone to make a play in space on the short roll. Boone is not a natural playmaker, but his assist rate still doubled as a result last season, per Spatialjam.com.

His fit with A.J. Ogilvy in the Hawks starting unit is a major puzzle for Matt Flinn. As outlined in our season preview, they both operate similarly and there's a case of diminishing returns.

15. Terrico White (Perth Wildcats)

White comes into NBL20 as the reigning Grand Final MVP, and now as a genuine big game player.

He was a midrange maestro last season, canning 49 percent during the regular season, per Spatialjam.com. He became unstoppable in the playoffs; in six games, he shot 48.4 percent from the field overall, including 46.9 percent from deep. White improbably upped his outside shooting diet -- despite no evidence of being that good at it -- and shot the lights out.

Whilst his attention to detail on the defensive end is still a little hit-and-miss, White's steadiness in the regular season, and subsequent postseason fireworks, provided the Wildcats with a dependable second banana.

He's strictly a finisher at that 3-spot, not so much a creator. For such an athlete, his work on the defensive glass does not measure up compared to his wing peers across the league (Clint Steindl had a better defensive rebounding rate than White). Of all major minutes 3-men, only Ramone Moore and Dan Grida rated worse on the defensive glass. That comes down to that attention to detail - he is another who tends to switch off once the shot is released. To truly, get to that next level, he will need to tidy that area of his game.

The other avenue? Find that consistency from deep to become that unstoppable scorer. Were those six games an outlier? Or was it a truer reflection of this game?

For the Wildcats to repeat, they will need the latter.

14. D.J. Newbill (Cairns Taipans)

Two years ago, D.J. Newbill debuted for the Breakers as an off-guard who spared Edgar Sosa from the toughest defensive assignments, while hitting big shots when it was needed the most.

"Yeah, it's weird. Two years ago, I was just the new young guy coming in," Newbill tells ESPN. "Now, two years later, they're like, 'You're a leader. You're a vet.' It's a good feeling though. I worked hard ... being considered a leader or a vet on a team in the NBL is definitely like a prestigious opportunity for me to embrace."

Newbill has earned that opportunity, as he calls it. To lead the Snakes this year, he will have to absorb a heavier burden on the offensive end. Melo Trimble has moved to Melbourne; Scott Machado is not a scorer. There are precious few offensive forces on the roster.

"As far as me shouldering the offensive load, I think that's a challenge that I'm going to take," says Newbill. "We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket. We have a lot of versatility, both inside and outside. I think a lot of people are going to be shocked at how many different guys contributing for us on the scoring load."

Still, Newbill projects to be the one who has the rock when it matters most.

The raw offensive numbers suggest that Newbill has similar production to Kevin Lisch (Lisch's shooting numbers are better), who just did not crack the top 20 here. But where Newbill excels, and has his greatest advantage, lies in his size, which enables greater positional versatility. Newbill can legitimately guard 1-through-3 as a two-way force.

"I grew up in an area where there was no such thing as a 'two-way player'," he says. "If you get on the court, you have to play defence. You don't get on the court if you don't play defence. Defence and offence go hand in hand."

Perhaps one of Newbill's greatest traits is his ability to tune out the situation and nail big shots time and time again.

"As a basketball player, those are moments that you kind of live for," he says. "Growing up, you're watching guys like Michael Jordan, obviously game-winning shots. Allen Iverson - game-winning shots. LeBron, those type of guys. So as a player growing up watching that, you want to be in those moments. You thrive in those moments because you worked so hard, you put the work in, trust your work."

13. Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)

Daniel Johnson is old reliable, shouldering the scoring burden for the 36ers. Year after year, he just churns out lines of 16-7-2 at 50 percent from inside the arc, and 36 percent from beyond, with a usage rate of 30 percent.

Expect the same this year - Johnson's efficiency increased last year. That efficiency is boosted by his incredible ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. Johnson is a master at seeking contact and throwing his head back. Amongst those who logged at least 300 minutes of court time, only Alex Pledger had a higher free throw rate, per Spatialjam.com.

And he's still firmly in his big man prime.

12. Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)

There is no greater shot-maker in this league. No one else seems to inspire a susurration of anticipation to sweep through the crowd as they wind up from deep.

Beyond the extravagance, Goulding's ability to shoot from (sometimes very) deep helps to warp the opposition defence, with a defender stuck to him at all times. Like Ball's passing, there is something visceral that infuses his team when they feel him ramping up into a hot streak. There is no science to it.

Last season, Goulding struggled by his standards, most noticeably with the consistency of his three-point stroke. He was at 35.6 percent for the season - he was marginally better in the new year, at 36.1 percent once the calendar flipped into 2019, per Spatialjam.com.

Perhaps part of that was adjusting, after accepting a bench role.

11. Tai Wesley (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

Wesley had an odd season with the Breakers in NBL19. His raw numbers show higher scoring output, with a drop in efficiency (particularly from deep). There was defensive slippage; there was a drop in getting to the free throw line. That appears to be a perfect synopsis of the Breakers' season that culminated in disappointingly missing the postseason - not everyone seemed on the same page, working towards the same goal.

Now, in a new situation, that figures to change with an expansion club who have recruited veterans to flank him.

Mitch Creek is the headliner, but Wesley figures to be their most important half-court piece - when in doubt, just throw the ball to him on the left block.

There's a potentially deadly offensive line-up in crunch time at Simon Mitchell's disposal with Wesley as the undersized centre, Creek, John Roberson, Ben Madgen, and either Kendall Stephens or Kyle Adnam (depending on match ups).

Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 tomorrow.