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7 Aussie storylines that highlighted the 2016/17 NBA season
The San Antonio Spurs' loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals also marked the end of our Aussies' run in the NBA this season, with Patty Mills being the last man standing.
We won't have a representative in the Finals for the first time in three seasons, which is a bit of a downer, but think of it this way: things have been going well enough that we're actually disappointed we won't have an Aussie champ this year!
That's as indicative as anything that Australian basketball has taken leaps and bounds at the highest levels in recent times, and this past year certainly produced plenty of highlights and noteworthy stories for the land down unda. Let's take a look at a few of them.
1. Ben Simmons goes No. 1 in the draft
The headlines started back during the NBA Draft in June 2016, when Ben Simmons became the first Aussie top pick since Andrew Bogut in 2005. Sadly, injury kept him from making his debut this year, but having the time to get his foot right and being in and around a professional organization surely have provided a solid foundation for his professional premiere next season. I mean, he's already breaking ankles in the offseason:
Also, he's possibly grown a couple inches and is now almost 7 feet tall, so, uh, that'll be interesting to see when the regular season kicks in, as Simmons has been reported to be skipping Summer League.
2. Thon Maker shocks the world at 10th
But wait, there's more! In a move that was a surprise at the time, the Milwaukee Bucks rolled the dice and selected Thon Maker at number 10, making that two Aussie picks in the top ten. A lot of people were surprised and it was even called 'a super reach', but Thon showed them.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P2M1yPk2x4 He even saw game time in the playoffs as a rookie, no mean feat by any measure:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtHIcOZplXs He may still have lots of room to improve, but Thon's definitely shown he belongs in the big league. The only thing that's a reach is his massive wingspan! Eh? Eh?
... That was terrible, I apologize.
3. Delly the Buck
Maker's veteran Aussie teammate, Matthew Dellavedova pretty much won before the season even began by leveraging his balls-to-the-wall Finals displays into a 4-year, $38 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
His first year in Milwaukee was a mixed bag though. Alternating between starter and coming off the bench behind rookie Malcolm Brogdon, it was a fairly unremarkable year for Delly, especially contrasting with back-to-back Finals appearances the last couple years. Still, it's not like he had zero impact:
Playoff Delly is still alive and well, and a couple of efficient shooting nights along with getting so physical with Kyle Lowry that the Raptors guard could argue a molestation charge meant that the Bucks' time in the postseason was anything but a token appearance.
Also, he got his ring, no biggie:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAM-gsm0IAU Here's to Outback Jesus continuing to serve both as a mentor to Maker, as well as a solid role player whose effort and attitude you can always count on.
4. Andrew Bogut's year in a nutshell: 😓
Most people have one bad experience per season; Bogut had two. He was supposed to be the Dallas Mavericks' veteran starting center who would help them to the playoffs, but his game failed to mesh with Dirk Nowitzki's. Dropped to the bench (of his own volition) and eventually traded (as the salary filler!) to the Philadelphia 76ers, there was a ray of hope when he eventually found his way to the Cleveland Cavaliers' bench.
Then, one minute into his debut:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NaLZIyDp2w Like I said: 😓
5. Where in the world was Aron Baynes?
Aron Baynes was set to take the next step up in his career, backing up Andre Drummond in Detroit. That didn't quite happen.
The year started well enough, and he even put together a signature game, definitely one of the best in his career:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mljmBX9ViX0 But as the year went along, the only thing the Detroit Pistons were consistent in was being inconsistent, eventually culminating in a rant from head coach Stan Van Gundy. Baynes himself had middling numbers across the board, with his points-per-game taking a slight hit from the year before. His shooting percentages were better, but not to any extreme extent.
Two years into his Detroit tenure and things seem to be stagnating. Next season is a contract year for the big man (he's most likely going to take up his player option); maybe we'll see some highlight performances to boost his chances of a big payday?
6. Patty Mills and Joe Ingles are about to see the dolla dolla bills y'all
While we're on the topic of paydays.
Good ol' Patty Cakes solidified his place in the league as a reliable spark off the bench, becoming as key to the San Antonio Spurs' postseason push as any Spur not named Kawhi. He logged a career-high 3.5 assists per game in the regular season, and turned the fire up in the playoffs, posting averages of 10.3 ppg and 2.7 apg, both career highs.
Speaking of getting paid, how about Jinglin' Joe Ingles? The Utah Jazz swingman came into his Playoffs debut swinging, and he straight up cold-cocked the Clippers in the first round.
There's an immeasurable cool to Joe when he's out on the floor; you get the feeling that he's always aware that basketball is just a sport and not a life or death thing. But then he goes out and drops a couple triples and 11 assists on you anyway, just cos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=898nOcT46LE Joe's mentioned that Utah's the priority in free agency, and chances are there will be little fuss in working something out to bring him back. That said, he's definitely deserving of a pay raise.
$2.25m per year for this cold-blooded Aussie sniper? You get that fixed right now, Mr Dennis Lindsey.
7. Exum gon' give it to ya (sorta)
Dante Exum had a bit of a mixed season. He didn't get very consistent playing time over the course of the season, but when he figured things out, he began taking it out on rims:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZd6P0-qix4 He also made some strides in his game, but was overall still somewhat inconsistent, both in minutes and what he did with them. That was the case in the Playoffs as well.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dygaiHY1XXc So it's kind of tough to really define his 2016-17 season. Perhaps the clean version of DMX's X Gon' Give It To Ya is an apt metaphor: he didn't have everything, but what he did have was still fierce and made some serious noise. Here's hoping he gets the whole package working together next year.
8. Will there be new Aussie faces in 2017-18?
After the hype of Simmons and the intrigue surrounding Maker last year, the upcoming draft is going to feel muted in comparison for Aussie fans. Isaac Humphries declared for the draft, but the Kentucky big man is nowhere to be found on mock boards.
Sharing the same agent is Jonah Bolden (check out our exclusive interview with Jonah), who's looking to make it to the big league after spending a year in Europe playing professionally with KK FMP Beograd of Serbia. He's projected at no. 59 in this mock, going to the Spurs.
Aside from these two, Australia doesn't look to have much going in the upcoming draft. But there are still some being given a shot at the NBA, with invites to free agent mini-camps and Summer League rosters. Nathan Sobey, Mitch Creek, Matt Hodgson, and Majok Majok are the names to look out for, along with Kiwi Corey Webster.
Let's not also forget about swingman Ryan Broekhoff, who has participated in Summer League previously, and remains an eligible candidate for the NBA with his 3-and-D style of play, and consistently strong Europe performance.
There'll be more on these potential additions to the Aussies in the NBA crew coming soon on The Pick and Roll; stay tuned!
2016-17 can quite easily be seen as a success for our Aussie blokes in the Association. The influx of talent in Simmons and Maker, and the overall continued improvement of the boys in general, bears lots of promise for next year. With more potential faces showing up, the Aussie contingent might just keep growing.
The future's bright. Can't wait for next year! The Ben Simmons era officially kicks off in 2017-18.