Can you feel it? After a summer of upheaval, topped off with Carmelo Anthony’s trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 2017/18 NBA season is finally upon us.
While we’re all excited to see Kyrie Irving try to be his own man, Chris Paul X James Harden flop-a-thons, and The Great Usage Rate Wars in OKC, you and I know it’s still all about our Aussies in the NBA.
Some changed teams, some stayed put, and some (well, one) are about to make their big debut. Regardless, there’ll be many big games to look forward to. Here’s some of them.
*All games will be available on NBA League Pass, subject to schedule on ESPN.
1. Ben Simmons’ Big Day Out (Philadelphia 76ers @ Washington Wizards, October 19)
This is a no-brainer. The 2016 draft’s top pick, the newest Aussie in the NBA, and the one with the biggest star potential of them all. The Ben Simmons era kicks off in the nation’s capital with a marquee matchup against John “This is my City” Wall and Bradley Beal. Of course, he may yet end up guarding Markieff Morris or whoever the Wizards trot out at power forward instead, as 76ers coach Brett Brown has already indicated that he plans to have Ben on the opposing team’s 4-man on the defensive end.
But that’s not what the hype is all about is it? We’re so pumped to watch him finally get NBA minutes because of highlights like these:
However the rest of his game develops, we know there’ll be some showreel dimes in store for us this season. Dropping a couple right in John Wall’s face to begin his career wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
2. The Battle of the Aussie Big Men aka Celtics vs. Lakers (Los Angeles Lakers @ Boston Celtics, November 9)
Two big men on two new teams, and they happen to be the two most storied franchises in the whole league. Aron Baynes adds much needed size to a Celtics roster that, even after completing some major moves in the summer, still lacks in rebounding. They finished 27th in the league last season in rebounding percentage, and this might not change too much.
You get the feeling they’ll just put Al Horford at centre and start Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum at power forward and play small anyway, but snagging rebounds has still got to be an important part of the game plan. When the bench players come on to spell the starters, and Baynes meets his Aussie brethren, Andrew Bogut, this could turn into a scrappy fight of boards and elbows.
The Bogeyman has had a rough time since leaving the Golden State Warriors. Enough jokes have been made of his ‘career’ with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it did take a longer-than-expected time for him to finally find a team to start the new season with, but whatever eh? He’s now in Laker gold, probably thanks in part to former GSW assistant and current Lakers head coach Luke Walton.
Unlike Baynes, Bogut has quite a number of big men to contend with for minutes, what with Brook Lopez and promising youngsters such as Ivica Zubac, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle, among others. But none of them are quite as… physical as Bogey, so if they find they need to fight fire with fire, we’ll get to see some Aussie-on-Aussie action.
If nothing else, it would add some spice to what is likely to be a blowout Celtics win.
3. The Australia Game (Utah Jazz @ Milwaukee Bucks, December 10)
With the many Aussie representatives we have in the NBA nowadays, and maybe more to come soon (holla atcha, Jonah Bolden!), the Australia Game has become an annual tradition.
Unless there some major roster changes occur, that game will be the Bucks vs the Jazz for the foreseeable future. On the Bucks, Matthew Dellavedova is only in the second year of the four-year contract he signed with Milwaukee prior to last season, while Thon Maker clearly has his best years ahead of him. The Bucks took a gamble taking him so high in the lottery last year, and Thon repaid that faith with some stellar displays, so you’d think there would be some mutual appreciation between player and team too.
For the Jazz, Joe Ingles is pretty much a Utah native, with lots of feel-good words exchanged in the lead up to his big money contract extension. You just can’t imagine him in another jersey right now.
Dante Exum’s recent serious shoulder injury puts him at doubt for even playing this season, but in the small chance that he can come back, it’s likelier he’ll be available for this game, the second of two games between these teams, than the earlier one in November. Given that this is his contract year, he’ll hope to be able to come back ASAP.
With such a mix of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance from both sides’ Aussies, we might be in for a competitive treat indeed.
4. The Friendly Rivalry (Philadelphia 76ers @ Utah Jazz, November 21)
Speaking of competitive; after being forced to wait a year, we were finally going to get to see Simmons vs Exum on November 7th, when the 76ers visit the Jazz. We might need to wait another year due to Exum’s injury… but for now let’s hope anyway.
This has been a frenemy confrontation we’ve been waiting for ever since Simmons got his name called in the 2016 draft, with the famous Call of Duty picture making the rounds when it first appeared on Simmons’ Instagram.
(It’s since been taken down. I wonder why?)
Two of the brightest Aussie talents, both from Melbourne, facing off in the best basketball league in the world. Sometimes just breaking all the hype down into its base components is enough to stoke the flames of anticipation.
5. The Patrick Sammy Mills Point Guard Masterclass Series, part one (San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz, December 22)
They both come off the bench and they’re both Australian, but the similarities pretty much end there when it comes to comparing Patty Mills with Dante Exum. Mills is a proven NBA-caliber point guard, with a championship ring to his name and a solid Sixth Man of the Year candidate, year in and year out. Exum has shown flashes, but due to one reason or another, he has yet to put it all together on a consistent basis.
Either way, expect some lessons to be dished out by the man they call Pattycakes. Of course, young Exum could risk a school suspension by hammering one of these on the older Aussie:
Once again, this is another matchup contingent on Exum’s ability to come back from his injury. The Jazz do have four games against the Spurs, however, with the latest one on March 24, so there might yet be a chance for us to see the apprentice take on the master. Cross fingers!
6. The Patrick Sammy Mills Point Guard Masterclass Series, part two (Philadelphia 76ers @ San Antonio Spurs, January 27)
Come the new year, Professor Mills is going to have to update his curriculum. Matching up against schoolboy Simmons, who has top grades in passing but not much in way of experience or defensive intensity, Patty could show him a thing or two about being a winner and an well-rounded contributor.
This is also our Australia Day game for this season! With both Mills and Simmons guaranteed to play big roles, it should be a real treat.
With Philly having the potential to be the next great dynasty (I personally pray every night for the well-being of Joel Embiid’s knees), this could be the first of many valuable lessons Simmons receives from someone who’s been there and done that. I’m looking forward to this syllabus.
Which other games are you looking forward to, for our Aussies in the NBA 2017/18 regular season?