FORMER NBA guard Bryce Cotton set tongues wagging last season but is skipper Damian Martin the most important player at the Perth Wildcats?
Martin has missed the past two NBL games with an ankle injury and his absence was clear to see as the Wildcats slumped to shock losses to Brisbane and Illawarra.
The 33-year-old was initially expected to return against Adelaide on January 4, but in a timely boost for the Wildcats will play in Sunday’s away clash with Cairns.
Cotton set the league alight after joining the Wildcats late last season, scoring 45 points in game three of the grand final series to secure Perth the championship.
But it is Martin who is the glue of the team, with his crucial defensive nous and leadership.
“Damo is one of the most influential players in the league, there’s no doubt about that,” Wildcats assistant coach and former Boomer Matt Nielsen said.
“People love scoring and maybe that’s not always what he’s doing but it’s not hard to see he’s so influential in so many other aspects.
“Damo’s such a big part of what we do and when he’s not there we have to learn how to manage our way through certain situations.
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s a leader by actions and words. It’s good to have him back.”
Cairns sits fifth with an 8-10 record but showcased their scoring potential in Thursday night’s 106-102 loss to the Hawks.
Nielsen was surprised by the high-scoring.
“Cairns have shown that they’ve probably taken the weights off the boys a little bit and let them run and get some shots up,” he said.
“It’s a bit un-Cairns like, so we’re aware of that.”
Perth (10-5) are a win adrift of the ladder-leading Breakers but face a testing three-game road trip against Cairns, Adelaide and Sydney.