Aussies in the NBA Draft: A look back at history

Luc Longley was selected at #7 by Minnesota in 1991 - Courtesy University of New Mexico Athletics

With Australian Dante Exum at pick number 5 by the Utah Jazz, and Cameron Bairstow selected at 49 by the Chicago Bulls in the 2014 NBA draft, we take a look back in history to see how the Aussies have fared in drafts gone by.

The first Australian selected in the NBA draft, and most unheralded, was Carl Rodwell at pick 217 (20th round) by Atlanta way back in 1969. His selection followed an outstanding 4-year career at UC Riverside in the NCAA in which he was the leading scorer and rebounder, however he never set foot on court for an NBA team in competition.

One of Australia’s finest ever shooters in Eddie Palubinskas was selected in the 1974 NBA draft at pick 61 by the Atlanta Hawks (in the third round). While he never played an NBA game, he did lead the 1976 Olympics games in scoring and is now considered the best NBA shooting coach in America. He was far from being the only Aussie selected in the draft not to ever play an NBA game.

Luc Longley was selected at #7 by Minnesota in 1991 - Courtesy University of New Mexico Athletics

Luc Longley was selected at #7 by Minnesota in 1991 – Courtesy University of New Mexico Athletics

It was not until 17 years later that West Australian Luc Longley made history in being drafted at pick 7 by Minnesota, and in turn became the first Australian to play in the NBA. After a storied career with the University of New Mexico, the 7’2 center went on to play in three NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls alongside arguably the best play of his era; Michael Jordan. To this date, he remains the most successful Australian NBA player.

The 1997 draft saw the 6-year Aussie drought end with a rush as a record four Aussies, including three 7-footers, hearing their names called out. CJ Bruton, Paul Rogers and Ben Pepper were all late second round picks but never seriously looked like making an NBA roster. However it was big-man Chris Anstey who would make the most of his first round selection.

Chris Anstey’s MVP performance in leading Australia to gold at the 1997 FIBA U23 World Championships gained the attention of NBA scouts and ultimately resulted in him being selected at pick 18 by Portland. He was subsequently traded to Dallas where he played for two season before being traded to Chicago. His NBA career soon ended, however he enjoyed extended success in Australia but also in Europe.

The NBA’s search for quality big men saw David Andersen selected at pick 36 by Atlanta in 2002. Andersen remained in Europe where he tasted ongoing success while the Hawk’s retained his rights. However 7 years later when the Hawk’s traded his rights to Houston, Andersen finally realized his NBA aspirations, playing for the Rockets, Raptors and then the Hornets over two seasons before heading back to Europe.

Andrew Bogut was taken at #1 by Milwaukee in 20015: Photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Andrew Bogut was taken at #1 by Milwaukee in 2005: Photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Andrew Bogut starred with the University of Utah and declared for the draft after just two years at college. His domination of the college season and the hype that came with it, saw him become the first Australian to be selected as the number 1 pick in 2005 by Milwaukee. He would play for the Bucks for the next 7 years before being traded to Golden State, with his career adversely interrupted by injury. While Melbourne was the birthplace of Kyrie Irving who like Bogut was a number 1 pick in 2011, he has however indicated he considers himself American.

After six consecutive Australian 7-footers were picked in the draft, it was not until 2007 that swingman Brad Newley was called at 54 by Houston. Houston retained his rights however to this date Newley has continued playing in some of the best leagues in Europe and never took to the court for an NBA team.

With a Rookie of the Year performance in the NBL and a unique blend of size, power and athleticism, Nathan Jawai was picked up by Indiana at number 41 in 2008 and was then traded to Toronto. After a cardiac scare, he eventually saw action before being traded to Dallas and then later to Minnesota where he would arguably go on to play his best basketball. His short NBA career would soon end somewhat prematurely, subsequently headed to Europe like many other Australians before him.

Patty Mills was the #55 pick in 2009 by Portland - Photo credit: Scott Belzner of sb4photos.com

Patty Mills was the #55 pick in 2009 by Portland – Photo credit: Scott Belzner of sb4photos.com

For the third straight year, an Australian was selected in the NBA draft in 2009. After impressing with the Australian Boomers, Saint Mary’s College standout Patty Mills declared early and ended up hearing his name called at selection 55 by Portland. Mills had to fight to earn his place on the roster and despite injury, managed to do so. After the lockout of 2012, Mills went on to sign with San Antonio, going on to win the 2014 NBA Championship – the first indigenous Australian to do so. His improved performance during the 2013/14 season and especially in the NBA Finals cemented his place in the NBA.

Los Angeles used their final pick at number 58 in the 2011 in the draft to select Ater Majok who had declared early after an indifferent, short stint with the University of Connecticut. Of Sudanese heritage, Majok was drafted as a project and ‘stashed’ away in Europe to improve his game. He found it difficult to make a positive impression on NBA scouts and coaches and has since played in the NBL, Europe and Asia with little success.

Dante Exum ahead of the 2014 NBA Draft - Courtesy Adidas

Dante Exum ahead of the 2014 NBA Draft – Courtesy adidas

Entering the 2014 NBA Draft, 18-year old Dante Exum was widely acclaimed to be a ‘man of mystery’ after bypassing college following his outstanding performances at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships. Expected to be a top draft selection, he was selected by the Utah Jazz at pick number 5 and ensured a guaranteed contract worth millions. Joining Exum in hearing his name called out was Cameron Bairstow, a 6’10” power forward from the same University as Luc Longley – New Mexico. He improved out of sight as a senior to average 20.3 points per game and ultimately secure a contract with the Chicago Bulls after being selected at pick 49.

While not many Australians have been drafted to the NBA, many have been picked up as free agents, including Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal and more recently Matthew Dellavedova.

Let’s not forget about the Australians who have been anointed NBA champions in recent years: Aron Baynes (2014, San Antonio Spurs), Patty Mills (2014, San Antonio Spurs), Andrew Bogut (2015, Golden State Warriors), Matthew Dellavedova (2016, Cleveland Cavaliers).

However Australian basketball is about to embark on a new golden era, with outstanding talents such as Ben Simmons and Thon Maker, both of whom were drafted as lottery picks in the 2016 NBA draft.

Jonah Bolden joined the NBA contingent in the 2017 NBA draft, being selected at 36th by the Philadelphia 76ers.

We will be hearing more Aussie names over the coming few years.

Year Pick Name Team School/Club
1969 217 Carl Rodwell Atlanta Hawks UC Riverside (NCAA)
1974 61 Eddie Palubinskas Atlanta Hawks Louisiana State (NCAA)
1991 7 Luc Longley Minnesota Timberwolves New Mexico (NCAA)
1997 18 Chris Anstey Portland Trailblazers South East Melbourne Magic (NBL)
1997 52 CJ Bruton Vancouver Grizzlies Indian Hills Community College (NJCAA)
1997 53 Paul Rogers Los Angeles Lakers Gonzaga (NCAA)
1997 55 Ben Pepper Boston Celtics Newcastle Falcons (NBL)
2002 36 David Andersen Atlanta Hawks Kinder Bologna (Italy)
2005 1 Andrew Bogut Milwaukee Bucks Utah (NCAA)
2007 54 Brad Newley Houston Rockets Townsville Crocodiles (NBL)
2008 41 Nathan Jawai Indiana Pacers Cairns Taipans (NBL)
2009 55 Patty Mills Portland Trailblazers Saint Mary’s College (NCAA)
2011 58 Ater Majok Los Angeles Lakers Connecticut (NCAA)
2014 5 Dante Exum Utah Jazz Australian Institute of Sport
2014 49 Cameron Bairstow Chicago Bulls New Mexico Lobos (NCAA)
2016 1 Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers Louisana State University (LSU) (NCAA)
2016 10 Thon Maker Milwaukee Bucks Orangeville District Secondary School
2017 36 Jonah Bolden Philadelphia 76ers Belgrade FMP (Europe)
Damian Arsenis

Written by

A patriotic and passionate follower of all things #AussieHoops. With a Master of Marketing, I am a Life Member of the Warrandyte Basketball Association, Level 2 qualified coach and referee, podcaster, and proud father of three girls.

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