By Remy Szabo
This Australia Day, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves will be competing in the NBAs first ever ‘Australia Day Game.’ This is not only recognition of Matthew Dellavadova’s contribution to the Cavs, but for the large and ever increasing role of Aussies in the NBA. Not counting Kyrie Irving, there are currently 7 Australians playing in the NBA. This is a larger contingent than international powerhouses Spain, Argentina and Russia. Only Brazil, Canada and France have more NBA talent.
The first Aussie to play in the NBA was Luc Longley, appearing in 10 seasons beginning in 1991. Longley is Australia’s most successful baller, locking down the starting Center position for the second Bulls 3-peat (1996-98). The next season, Aussie legend Andrew Gaze won a ring with the Spurs. Unlike Longley, Gaze was only a bit-part player for the champs, scoring a total of 21 pts in 19 appearances. Gaze, a top player in international competition, was the first in a long line of Aussie players who found themselves on NBA rosters only to move to other leagues in search of playing time. David Anderson, Chris Anstey, Mark Bradtke, Shane Heal and Nathan Jawai – all quality players- managed only 11 NBA seasons between them. Even more Aussies have being drafted by NBA teams to never make an appearance.
The best thing about the current crop is the big contributions they’re making. Andrew Bogut, in his 11th season, remains a key player for one of the league’s best ever squads despite never quite living up to his draft selection. Patty Mills too has being a big contributor to an elite team and helped San Antonio win the title in 2014. Former Spurs teammate, Aron Baynes, is now serving as the main back up to Detroit’s insanely effective Andre Drummond. Dante Exum, injury aside, remains a young player with a bright future.
So what is the best thing about being an Australian NBA fan in 2016? Simple, there is more to come. Ben Simmons is as close to a sure thing as you’ll ever get and will almost certainly go number one in this year’s draft. His size, athleticism, rebounding and playmaking ability more than make up for his lack of a jump shot. Remember, when LeBron entered the league in 2003, he didn’t have a J either. Thon Maker may have fallen from his projected number one sport over the past 12 months, but he remains one of the most intriguing prospects in the class of 2017. Standing at 7ft with PG handles and 3 pt range justifies the hype, as do the insane highlight videos. Thon’s younger brother, Matur, is also a top prospect for his class. Australia Day aside, 2016 could be a watershed year in Australian Men’s Basketball. We have three players on title contending teams, the most Aussies in the NBA at any one time and the best player in the NCAA is Aussie. The 2016 Rio Olympics are perhaps the best chance yet for the Boomers to win their first Olympic medal and a top three finish could cement Australia’s place as an international Basketball power.