Checking up on the Aussies in the NBA

Australian basketball is thriving.

Not only did the national team qualify for the semi-finals at the most recent FIBA World Cup in China, but the domestic league is also flourishing. 

Australia’s NBL is increasingly attracting strong international talent - both established and emerging - while also proving to be a platform for young Australian players, either returning from a stint in US college, or for those looking to forge a path into the NBA.

And, it is indeed the NBA - and the lure of participating in one of the world’s premier sporting competitions - that is proving the driving force behind Australia’s increasing love affair with the sport of basketball.

Not only are Australian eyes increasingly watching and marvelling at some of the greatest and most recognisable athletes on the planet, but are doing so because of the role Australians are playing within the league.

Editor's note: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Basketball Australia are set to announce current Philadelphia 76ers head coach (and former Australian national team coach), Brett Brown, as the man to lead the Boomers into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While Australian participation in the NBA isn’t a new concept, the dizzying and diverse success Australian players have enjoyed is; with all of Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedovabeing a part of championship-winning franchises within the last five years. 

In addition, young Australian talent in recent seasons has been snapped up early in the NBA draft, with Ben Simmons famously taken #1 overall in 2016, to say nothing of Dante Exum and Jonah Bolden who were also prized picks in recent years.  

Here we'll take a look at the five most prominent Aussies presently in the NBA, and assess their contributions through the first few weeks of the 2019-20 season.

SEE: NBA Predictions on Stats Insider

BEN SIMMONS, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers' #1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and one of the very best athletic talents Australia has ever produced, Ben Simmons continues to divide opinion where his role in the NBA is concerned. 

While his doubters remain skeptical about his mid-to-long-range shot and it’s complete absence from his game, his fans remain convinced that he has what it takes to become one of the NBA’s leading forces - perhaps even it’s very best.

At just 23 years of age, Simmons is a stand-out player on one of the league’s best teams, while also being tasked as the ringmaster of its' offensive set-up.

While the absolute absence of a three-point threat remains an undeniable weakness of his game, the reality is Philadelphia are more than comfortable having him at the epicentre of its offense, with Simmons boasting a 19.6.% usage rate while being responsible for 29.3% of the team’s assists.

An often forgotten dimension of Simmons' all-round game is his defense. 

Where guards are concerned, few in the NBA are having a more profound impact than the former LSU star when his team doesn't have the ball. When Simmons is on the court, the 76ers are conceding just 103 points per 100 possessions, while he is also contributing 2.4 steals and 6.2 rebounds per game.

ARON BAYNES, Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns' 7-4 start to the season constitutes one of the NBA’s biggest surprises so far. The role Australia’s Aron Baynes has played within that revival represents another.

Baynes has started all but one game for the Suns, having been injected into the starting five in the wake of their former #1 NBA Draft pick, DeAndre Ayton, incurring a 25 game PED suspension.

While many assumed the loss of Ayton would condemn the Suns to further misery, the Baynes inclusion has actually propelled them to new heights altogether. 

Baynes’ boundless energy, excellent rebounding and proficiency in guarding some of the league’s very best big men has always made him a valuable NBA asset, however, the Suns under new coach Monty Williams has unleashed a whole new offensive element to his game. 

Through Baynes’ first 427 games in the NBA, he boasted a very modest 5.4 points per game and had hit just 25 three-pointers. It was his defensive acumen that had made him a key part of San Antonio’s 2014 NBA Championship winning team, while, earning big contracts with both the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, it wasn’t his offense that was keeping him in the NBA. 

Yet, through his first 11 games in the Arizona desert, Baynes has positively exploded from an offensive standpoint, The former Washington State Cougar has already hit 22 three-pointers in 2019, while averaging 15 points per night. Just as importantly, his rebounding remains elite, averaging a career-high 5.5 rebounds per game while maintaining his usual defensive tenacity. With Baynes on the court, the Suns are conceding just 105 points per 100 possessions, while Baynes also leads the team with nine blocks on the season. 

RELATED: Booker and Baynes: Driving force behind Suns' hot start

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JOE INGLES, Utah Jazz

Like Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles is very much a vital component on a team with championship aspirations. 

The Utah Jazz have leapt out to an 8-4 start to the 2019-20 season and find themselves just two games adrift from the very top of the Western Conference. Utah have thus far thrived off one of the league’s stingiest defenses, ranked second in the league and giving up just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. 

Utah have, however, struggled mightily on offense, which is why Ingles remains such a key part of the team even though he has lost his starting spot to former Indiana Pacer, Bojan Bogdanovic.

Ingles is a career 40.5% three-point shooter who has already hit no less than 683 long-range shots through his first six seasons in the NBA. While his six-foot-seven frame also allows him to play a high-level brand of disruptive defense - having already produced 419 career NBA steals - it’s his ability to hit the deep ball and play (virtually) turnover-free basketball as to why he’s presently playing on a massive, four year, $52 million contract in Salt Lake City.  

And it is that shooting prowess which Utah will be calling upon again this season, for as strong and well rounded as their squad is, they rank just 25th in the league for offensive efficiency, while playing at the league’s sixth slowest tempo, which, while methodical and measured in the regular season, runs the risk of being steamrolled come playoff time. 

PATTY MILLS, San Antonio Spurs

Things haven’t gone wonderfully for the San Antonio Spurs this season, with their 5-8 start alarming enough to suggest that 22-straight seasons of playoff basketball in the River City may well come to an end in 2019-20. 

One thing the Spurs can be grateful for, however, is the reliable presence of their veteran Australian guard, Patty Mills.

Not only does Mills’ 21 minutes off the bench provide much-needed stability to the team, but he also rarely turns the ball over, committing just 1.9 turnovers per 36 minutes, while, most crucially, providing a rare deep-threat on a team devoid of perimeter shooting. 

While the Spurs rank second-last in the NBA with an average of just 8.8 made threes per game, Mills - along with Bryn Forbes - has been a rare source of shooting for the franchise, having already sunk 25 threes on the season, hitting at a career-high, and team-best, 42.4%.

Mills, meanwhile, will be a very interesting player to watch ahead of the trade deadline. He has a very reasonable $13 million cap hit which could be intriguing for teams looking to add a veteran guard presence, someone with a winning mentality and who so importantly can drain big shots.

MATTHEW DELLAVEDOVA, Cleveland Cavaliers

Despite the Cleveland Cavaliers’ young, talent-drained squad, they have started a surprising 4-7 under new coach John Beilein, with Australia’s Matthew Dellevedova playing a key-mentoring role, largely off the bench. 

While the Cavs are trying to get plenty of minutes into the likes of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton at the guard positions, Dellavedova - like Mills in San Antonio - is providing much-needed experience and solidity, to the point that Beilein is more than comfortable allowing him to lead the second unit. 

Unlike Mills, however, Dellavedova isn’t providing much with his deep shot having hit just one of his 17 long-range attempts so far, but he does have a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio which is a number bettered only by Tristan Thompsonon the Cavs.

Dellavedova is another NBA Championship winner who continues to lead the Boomers with incredible passion and intensity. He’ll continue to garner NBA minutes, however, his three-point shot will need to significantly improve if he’s to boost the career-low 15.3 minutes he’s currently receiving.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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