The NBA season has arrived and the Aussie player contingent continues to shine in the best league in the world. How did they fare in pre-season, and what does the 2021/22 season have in store?
Patty Mills enters his 13th season in the NBA fresh off of his heroic run to a bronze medal at the Olympics with the Boomers. Mills joined the juggernaut Brooklyn Nets in the off-season, a move that gave the Nets genuine firepower off the bench.
The 33-year-old looked shaky in his first three outings in pre-season. Coming off the bench he averaged 5.3 points, two assists and two rebounds whilst shooting 16 per cent from three and 30 per cent from the field.
In a year where many expected Mills to be the leader of the Nets bench unit, he’ll need to adjust to Steve Nash’s system sooner rather than later. With the notable absence of Kyrie Irving for what could be the whole season, Mills has an extraordinary opportunity to become a serious contributor on the championship favourites, something that he failed to do in the warm-up games.
With a season similar to his recent outings with the Spurs he could easily find himself in the conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year award and most importantly win a second NBA ring.
Mills can be excused for his poor pre-season performance due to the short turnaround period between last season, the Olympics and the 2021 pre-season. The Nets open the NBA season on Wednesday as they look to seek revenge on the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks who knocked out the depleted Nets in last seasons’ Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
One of the stories of the pre-season was the former Adelaide 36er, who has become the talk of the town with his all-round play.
Giddey was selected in the draft as a long-term development piece for an OKC team that was firmly in the midst of a slow-burn rebuild. However, he looked anything but a project in the pre-season. In 28.9 minutes over his five games he averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
He was a genuine triple-double watch in his final outing against the Nuggets with 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, and there’s every chance he becomes the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in the first half of the season.
Could he follow up Lamelo Ball’s transition from NBL Rising Star to NBA Rising Star? He will have as much opportunity as anyone to do so, but the competition of Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green will take some beating.
Following a shorter off-season compared to many other NBA players due to representing the Australian National Team at the Tokyo 2020 Games, Joe Ingles played just one of the four Utah Jazz pre-season games.
Ingles played his typical role off the bench, serving as a spot up shooter, sitting in the corner or at the top of the arc for most of Utah’s offensive possessions.
In the sole game he suited up in – against the New Orleans Pelicans – the 33-year-old played 20 minutes, putting up six points on two-of-five shooting, taking all his shots from three-point range. He also managed four assists, a facet of his game which is severely underrated, having averaged five assists over the past four seasons.
Ingles was rested the following game against the Milwaukee Bucks, however should be fit and ready to go for Utah’s opening game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Josh Giddey on Thursday. He’s a genuine Sixth Man of the Year chance once again after finishing second to teammate Jordan Clarkson last year.
Green got his first minutes back on court post-Olympics after warming the bench across the Summer League. He played 73 minutes overall, making for important development time after being taken in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft.
Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd would have likely been watching to see Green improve his scoring. He averaged 2.6 points in 11 minutes on court last season, with a particular weakness shooting from the paint at only 16 per cent.
Against Charlotte, he went at just 20 per cent for two pointers and missed the only three ball he attempted. While he didn’t necessarily have too many opportunities to shoot, he didn’t take advantage of the chance.
What Green did do was provide one of the highlights of the pre-season with a show-stopping dunk in the same game.
Green’s defence continued to be rock-solid, guarding strongly both inside and outside the three point line. He was hard to beat under the rim, with eight rebounds – six defensive – against the Clippers.
It was overall hopefully the time he needed to reach consistency in the season proper, and hit the scoreboard more frequently.
After signing with the Spurs midway through the Boomers’ Olympics campaign, Jock Landale looks poised to have a big first year in San Antonio. Landale impressed in his unofficial debut with eight points to go along with six boards and three assists. The 25-year-old only played in three of the five warm-up games for his new team – in which they only won once with Landale. His efforts began to quiet down in the two latter games and he didn’t appear in the final two.
Landale, much like his fellow countrymen who played in the Olympics, can be given a pass due to the short turnaround time. He shot out of the gates in his first game with two 3-pointers, then failed to hit one of his next five attempts. Many members of the San Antonio media were impressed with the Aussie, however, with some debating if he should be the starting centre come opening night. This mainly came from Landale’s desirable versatility in the front-court in both defence and offence.
Landale has a big opportunity to solidify his place in the Spurs rotation, with fellow big men Zach Collins (injured) and Luka Samanic (released) no longer in his way for the rotation on opening night.
Pre-season ended in heartbreak for Exum, who was cut from the Rockets’ final 15-man roster and will now bide his time in the US hoping for a fresh call-up. The chance will soon beckon, with injury always presenting opportunities during the season for players in free agency like the Aussie.
A fun destination for Exum could be the Golden State Warriors. With Klay Thompson still a couple of months away from returning, his ball-handling and defensive length offers versatility for a team that can rely on Stephen Curry to carry the offensive load every night.
When Exum gets aggressive with ball in hand and fully locks in defensively he looks like an NBA-level player without question. He hasn’t been able to put it all together yet, but there will be opportunity to do so at some point this season.
Another Aussie coming off representing Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, defensive ace Matisse Thybulle only played the single game during the NBA pre-season after being sidelined with shoulder soreness.
Thybulle played the 76ers’ opening game against the Toronto Raptors where he came off the bench playing minutes at both shooting guard and small forward. During the 21 minutes he was on the court Thybulle put up five points and three rebounds but struggled shooting the ball going one-of-five from the field and one-of-three from deep.
While his shooting performance was underwhelming, on the defensive end Thybulle showed off the prowess we have become accustomed to with two steals and a block. All game Thybulle was active on the defensive end, looking to cut off passing lanes and lock up his direct opponent on the perimeter.
Due to the shoulder injury, Thybulle did not suit up for the remainder of the pre-season, however, according to 76ers Head Coach Doc Rivers he missed the rest of the pre-season games for precautionary reasons. Therefore Thybulle should be back healthy for the 76ers opening game against the Pelicans on Thursday.
He figures to maintain his role off the bench for the playoff contenders, but if he can make strides on offence there’s room for him to move into the starting lineup and become a key component of the team.
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The Ben Simmons situation has been equal parts fascinating and horrifying from afar. After a tumultuous playoff campaign, it seemed destined that the 76ers organisation and Simmons were mutually agreeing to part ways, especially given comments from coach Doc Rivers directly proceeding the Game 7 shock loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Well, after an off-season of talk that Simmons would never wear a Philly jersey again, he has reported to the team late in the piece and looks to be suiting up for the franchise to start the season.
At his best, the point guard showcases all of his absurd athleticism to bully opposing guards on the defensive end and find easy buckets for himself and teammates in transition. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season for a reason, finding himself on an All-Star team again and flirting with a first All-NBA selection at the end of the year.
Whether Simmons is just reporting to up his trade value and find a new home or not, it will be exciting to see him back on the floor after an off-season to forget.
He’s not Australian, but we’ve come to love the only Kiwi in the league all the same. Coming off a disappointing season last year with the Pelicans, Steven Adams came across to the Grizzlies as part of the Jonas Valanciunas trade.
Memphis, known for its grit of past seasons, will hold Adams in good stead with his ability to protect the paint and control the glass. His capacity to set hard screens and operate as the roll-man in the pick-and-roll should ensure he plays good minutes in the young Grizzlies line-up looking to take the next step.
Throughout the pre-season, we saw Adams set solid screens for Ja Morant, helping the star guard create space to score himself or pass to Adams off the roll.
Adams won’t be expected to take on a large offensive role. However, his points will most likely come through offensive rebounds and pick-and-rolls.
Throughout the four NBA pre-season games that he played, Adams averaged 10.8 points, 11 rebounds and just under a block per game in 24 minutes. His best outing came against Charlotte, where he recorded 15 points and 16 rebounds (eight defensive, eight offensive) in 24 minutes.
Expect Adams to endear himself to the Grizzlies faithful quickly and play the perfect counterpart to Jaren Jackson Jr’s shooting ability in the front court.
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