8 games no Aussie NBA fan should miss in 2016-17
Would you look at that. In the blink of an eye, the Rio Olympics have come and gone. Although the Boomers didn't manage to finish with a medal, they left with their heads high after some very solid displays.
You know what else will come in another blink of an eye? The 2016-17 NBA season, that's what, and Aussie fans have more top quality basketball from their countrymen coming their way. Here are the games that will make for appointment viewing:
1. Oklahoma City Thunder @ Philadelphia 76ers (Oct 26)
The Ben Simmons era begins! And what a baptism of fire it will be; he gets to face off against the single most unstoppable force in the NBA: a very spurned, possibly pissed-off, definitely chomping-at-the-bit Russell Westbrook.
Make no mistake, even with Simmons' inclusion and all the changes Philly have made in the offseason (chief among those dumping Sam Hinkie), they are still very much in the middle of The Process, and even a Durant-less OKC should probably come away with a comfortable win. Which means viewers just have to concentrate on one equation:
Simmons + Westbrook = 🔥🔥🔥
2. Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State Warriors (Nov 9)
Does this really need explaining? Whatever, I'll do it anyway.
When Andrew Bogut first arrived in the Bay Area, fans booed owner Joe Lacob for what they believed to be a terrible move, trading fan favourite and flamethrower scorer Monta Ellis for a then-injured Bogut. Now that he's left, GSW head coach Steve Kerr is lamenting his departure.
“The thing that’s different will be a lack of rim protection,” Kerr told CSNBayArea.com. “We had great rim protection from Bogut and [Festus] Ezeli, and both those guys are gone. Zaza [Pachulia]’s a very good defender, but he’s more of a positional guy than a shot blocker."
Bogey's Dubs' stint began with boos, and ended with a championship ring and a record 73-win season. To say that fan opinion of him has turned around would be a massive understatement.
His (and fellow former Warrior Harrison Barnes') return to Oracle Arena should bring lots of warm fuzzy feelings and applause from the appreciative GSW fans, but I fully expect some bone-shattering screens and an alley-oop finish or two from the Bogeyman to remind the Warriors just what they gave up in their pursuit of Kevin Durant.
3. Utah Jazz @ Portland Trail Blazers (Oct 25)
When Dante Exum suffered that ACL tear against Slovenia back in August 2015, the disappointment was almost physically tangible. Here was the latest addition to the Aussies in the NBA crew, a young and athletic point guard with go-go-gadget wingspan, perfect for the modern game, down and out for the year.
A will-he/won't-he dance with his Rio squad status ended with him not making it, and now we're all on the edge of our seats to see his return with the Jazz.
There's been lots of talk about his progress off the court this past year, mainly about his shooting and picking the brains of coaches to better understand how to control the tempo of a game; a huge part of any point guard's repertoire.
Upper body strength training was also one of the only things he could do early in his layoff, and it's showing dividends:
With George Hill now in Utah, chances are Dante won't be thrown into the starting lineup from the get-go, but you can be sure we'll finally see the young Melburnian out on the court in a full-fledged NBA game again.
4. Milwaukee Bucks @ Cleveland Cavaliers (Dec 21)
Before the 2015 NBA Finals, no one knew who Matthew Dellavedova was. After them, even though Cleveland lost, Delly became the newest, most accurate representation of the Australian athlete: never-say-die, hustle-till-you-drop. Celebrity don't matter none; he got up in Stephen Curry's grill like no one had seen before.
A return trip to the championship round ended in a ring and, eventually, a $38 million contract with the young Milwaukee Bucks. Suffice to say, this would be a warm homecoming for the scrappy guard.
Let's not forget that the Bucks also have Thon Maker after drafting him 10th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. With LeBron James being deployed at power forward a regular occurrence nowadays, we could very well see Thon face the toughest test of his young NBA career: defending The King.
Of course, we'd all love for him to cram an alley-oop or two on LBJ's dome as well (bonus if the lob is tossed by Delly!) I'm calling it here first: Thon will dunk on LeBron on 21 December 2016.
5. Milwaukee Bucks @ Utah Jazz (Feb 1)
The date of this game is just slightly off-target, but if ever there was an Australia Day special, this is it. The Bucks facing off against the Jazz will potentially put four Australians out on the floor at once: Delly and Thon for the Bucks, and Exum and Ingles for the Jazz.
The matchups will be fascinating. Delly and Exum could end up guarding each other in a hustle-off, while Jingles, if deployed as a stretch-four, could spend time delighting everyone and schooling the rookie Maker with his vet tricks, dragging him out to the perimeter.
Of course, given how long Thon is, he might just stuff one of Joe's 3-pointers anyway. And knowing Jingles, he'd probably just laugh it off on his way back on defense.
6. Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs (Nov 21)
Me being a Mavs fan is probably 50% of the reason this game is on this list, but look: you don't get much better than this Texas rivalry between two of the most consistently good teams over the last decade and a half. And with Bogey now the Mavs' starting center, we get to see NBA champ vs. NBA champ in Bogut vs. Patty Mills.
Not having Tim Duncan around to try and block Dirk Nowitzki's patented one-legged fadeaways will make for surreal viewing, especially so for Mavs and Spurs fans. But make no mistake, San Antonio is still a top contending team and Dallas, with its recent retooling efforts, are in with a strong shout of challenging for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
In short, games between these two teams will have the potential to be close, exciting ones, and we'll get the opportunity to see Bogey and Patty mix it up on screens and when Mills drives into the paint to take on the Aussie big man at the rim.
I'm gonna make more bold predictions: Mills lights up for 25 points (or more), but Bogey comes away with 3 blocks, one of which is on Patty.
Oh, and the Mavericks win, of course.
7. L.A. Lakers @ Philadelphia 76ers (Dec 16)
Going into the 2016 NBA Draft, the highest-profile discussion was Ben Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram. There were lots of arguments all over the internet on who deserved to be the top overall pick, and while many wanted Ingram to go to the 76ers, it quickly became apparent that Simmons would go number one, with the dude himself so assured of this that he went ahead and Trusted The Process before the Draft even happened.
On 16 December 2016, we'll get to see these two top young talents in a head to head duel for the very first time. So for those still salty that Ingram didn't get picked first and for those looking for evidence to show that Simmons is a worthy top pick, this game is for you.
One-off games aren't the best gauge of a player's overall ability or career, but they at least make for some fun debates at the pub!
8. Utah Jazz @ Philadelphia 76ers (Nov 7)
Guess what, it's another Ben Simmons game. The excitement to see this young gun make his mark is real, after all. And for Ben himself, there won't be many games he'll look forward to more than the first time the Sixers take on the Jazz.
Why? Simple, because Dante.
Simmons was asked who among his fellow NBA Aussies he most wanted to play against, and fellow Melburnian Exum was top of mind.
"I'm definitely going at him when we play," said Simmons. "We've had rivalries since we were seven years old. It's kind of weird seeing that relationship change from playing in the backyard [to] now playing in the NBA."
Exum, for his part, is looking forward to the matchup as well.
"We have talked about this for so long and when that first game comes when I get to play him — I told him he's going to have to switch on to me. I definitely let him know that I'm going to come for him next year." said Dante.
With the two of them so highly anticipating their first head-to-head, who are we to disagree? This is, after all, potentially Australia's backcourt tandem of the long-term. It's going to be fascinating watching the two of them grow through the years, with their many duels likely serving as milestone markers of their progress.
So there you have it, eight must-watch games for Aussie NBA fans. This season has the potential to be absolutely electric for Oz viewers, who now not only have the beloved grafters like Jingles and Delly, but also legitimate star power in Ben Simmons and raw unbridled potential in Simmons, Exum, and Maker to root for.
While Rio didn't have a dream ending for Aussie fans, it certainly has the potential to serve as the opening act to a golden age of Australian basketball.
Hoo boy, late October 2016 can't come soon enough.