The NBA season tips off tomorrow, and somewhat fittingly, the opening matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics will feature three Australians.
Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden and Aron Baynes will all be present in Boston as the biggest NBA season in Australian basketball history gets started. In anticipation of what promises to be another landmark year of basketball, here are 10 predictions for Australians in the NBA this season.
1. Ben Simmons will start the NBA All-Star Game
Getting to Charlotte shouldn’t be a problem for Simmons. Health permitting, he is a virtual lock to make the All-Star roster. If he can elevate his game even further, then he could be starting the NBA’s showcase event in February.
Simmons collected the third most fan votes last season, behind Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. It was the players and media who overlooked Simmons – the Melbourne native received the sixth most votes from the players and media.
Removing the rookie moniker should deliver more respect from his peers. With DeRozan now in the Western Conference, and the Australian basketball community still irate after Simmons was overlooked last season, Simmons should maintain his advantage in the popular fan vote and leverage this into a starting spot.
2. Ryan Broekhoff will shoot 40% from three
Broekhoff has been a deadly shooter at every level of basketball he has played. While he won’t maintain the lofty standards he set last season – Broekhoff shot 51% from three with Lokomotiv Kuban in Europe – he will instantly become one of the deadliest outside shooters in the NBA. Broekhoff will occasionally get lost in the shuffle of an improved Mavericks team, but his shooting will be a constant threat.
3. Matthew Dellavedova will bounce back
Injuries limited Dellavedova’s second season in Milwaukee. The Maryborough native was restricted to only 38 regular season games and offered minimal impact for the Bucks.
Dellavedova is seemingly healthy and profiles as a pivotal role player with the Bucks looking to serge under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. Expect Dellavedova to re-establish himself in a reserve guard role – similar to what made his reputation in Cleveland – as the Bucks will be reliant on his gritty defence and outside shooting.
Somewhat amazingly, Dellavedova can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. An impressive season could secure yet another lofty NBA payday.
4. Aron Baynes opts out of his contract, after the Celtics make the NBA Finals
Baynes holds a player option valued at $5.4 million for the 2019-20 NBA season. While he faces increased competition for minutes on a loaded Celtics outfit, a deep playoff run will see his value around the NBA rise to an all time high.
Boston is the prohibitive favourite to reach the Finals. Baynes remains their best interior option to prevent Al Horford logging serious minutes against dominant big men, and the path to the NBA Finals will be littered with opponents that present a clear matchup for Baynes. The likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins stand between Boston and an NBA Championship, and Baynes is best equipped to receive the first opportunity at stopping them.
The bright lights of the postseason will serve Baynes well, once more.
5. Patty Mills will surpass 5,000 career points
Mills enters the season with 4,283 career points and is on track to join Andrew Bogut as the only Australian to score at least 5,000 points in the NBA. If Mills scores at a rate comparable to his output last season, he should reach the 5,000 point plateau around his 70th game played. For what it’s worth, Bogut finished with 6,769 career points.
6. But Mills will miss the playoffs for the first time as a San Antonio Spur
It almost feels sacrilege to say that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs will miss the playoffs, but I’m afraid that time is upon us. The injury bug has struck and it will see the Spurs miss out on postseason action for the first time this century.
San Antonio was a fringe playoff team at full strength and has been presented with an insurmountable injury crisis. Dejounte Murray is already done for the season with an ACL injury, first round pick Lonnie Walker suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in a win over Detroit this preseason, while Rudy Gay and Derrick White are already battling ailments.
Mills will likely see increased minutes, and might have the best statistical season of his career, but the Spurs are in for a challenging season.
7. Mitch Creek won’t play in the NBA this year
It is impossible to downplay the experience Creek has garnered over the past six months. Time with Dallas over Summer League, coupled with a full training camp with Brooklyn, serves as his greatest basketball experience to date. They will eventually lay the foundations for an NBA debut, but not this season.
Creek was cut from the Nets roster after training camp and he is yet to formally announce his plans for the coming season. His playing options essentially boil down to spending a season with Brooklyn’s G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, or heading overseas, likely to Europe.
8. The Australian record for most points in a single NBA game will be broken
Mills currently holds the distinction of scoring the most points by an Australian in a single NBA game, with his 34 points against the Golden State Warriors in 2012 currently being the high water mark.
Simmons will surpass Mills’ record sometime this season, while an increased workload for Mills in San Antonio could see him surpass his own personal best.
9. The record for the most points scored by Australians in the NBA on a single date will also be broken
Simmons, Mills, Dellavedova, Baynes, Joe Ingles and Thon Maker combined to score 86 points back in January, surpassing the previous record of 66, achieved on 11 March 2017.
With many of the Australians in the NBA on track to have larger roles this season, expect this record to be broken, and broken many times. I would venture to say that the 100 point plateau is broken sometime during the season.
10. Jonah Bolden will make an NBA debut, but will receive more G League minutes than NBA minutes
Bolden deserves his chance to spend a year in the NBA, but the Sixers do not have the luxury of providing him with developmental minutes for the fun of it. Moreover, their frontline is full of players who are more established than Bolden. The likes of Embiid, Dario Saric, Amir Johnson and Mike Muscala will take the lion's share of minutes at Bolden’s position.
The Australian rookie will learn plenty. But as we touched on last week, a combination of time spent learning with the NBA team, and playing in the G League is a realistic best-case scenario for Bolden in year one.
The Pick and Roll will be in Boston tomorrow as the Celtics and Sixers tip off the NBA season. Stay posted for more coverage of Simmons, Bolden and Baynes on opening night, along with all Australians in the NBA this season.