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Aussies in NBA: 2021-22 Season wrap with NBA Straya
From Josh Giddey to Joe Ingles: here's how it all went down this season with our Australians flying the flag in The Assocation.
This is a guest post by NBA Straya.
The NBA 2021-22 regular season just reached its cacophonous crescendo of MVP debates, egregious tanking, dubious defences, amazing hair (we see you, CJ Elleby) jockeying for playoff positioning, seeding shenanigans, play-in tournament scrambles, fired coaches (way to fire your coach on Twitter, Lakers), and various LeBron James teammates with bus tiremarks on their backs. Across the season, the fortunes of the various Aussies in the NBA were just as chaotic, if less bus tirey.
In short: that was certainly a helluva regular season.
Well. Not if you were Ben Simmons, of course. Because, after his hold out and trade request in Philly and then his nagging back injury in Brooklyn, Box Hill Benny never got on the court for either the Sixers or the Nets in the regular season.
BUT. Just like Pinky & the Brain, Batman & Robin, Lennon & McCartney, Riggs & Murtaugh, Spongebob & Patrick, Bird & LJ, Whiskey & Dry and all the other iconic duos throughout history, Ben Simmons changed his IG profile picture the other day to one of himself and Patty Mills.
And, like finding a cold beer at the bottom of an esky at the end of a big arvo sesh, the news came of another miracle: Box Hill Benny is ramping up his on-court activities and might be able to make his season debut in the playoffs. Which, considering how he went last time he was in the playoffs may or may not be a GOOD thing… but at least him being out there will be a step in the right direction.
Because up until now, the most action we’ve seen from him this year was him fighting to get paid the $20 million that Philly didn’t pay because, y’know. He didn’t show up to work.
So the only way is up, I guess?
Meanwhile, his new best mate Patty ‘Thrills’ Mills’ year has been more of a wild rollercoaster ride than the time the Lethal Weapon — sorry, ‘Arkham Asylum’ — ride at Movie World on the Gold Coast got stuck.
Having moved on from San Antonio after 10 years, one title, countless coffee trips and 665 regular reason and 90 playoff games, in Brooklyn under new coach Steve Nash, Patty started more games (48) than he had in his career (almost combined: he started 57 total regular season games in 10 years down in Texas) and played more minutes than he ever had before.
Which, after coming off triumphantly leading the Boomers to the rose gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, meant his downswing in efficiency after participating in his first ever All-Star weekend as part of the three-point competition was somewhat understandable.
Prior to a week before the All-Star break, Patty was averaging almost 14 points a game, and shooting the lights out (bombing 42.5% from 3 on 7.8 attempts per game).
After the All-Star break? An entirely different story altogether.
Patty was playing a different role, moving on and off the Nets bench as Kyrie Irving went in and out of the lineup after first returning in January as a part-time player for Brooklyn road games, then finally full-time due to the rolling back of the NYC vaccine mandate for private enterprise by the city government.
That allowed the Nets’ other Melbourne-born #1 draft pick to return to the Nets lineup for home games in April, finally making him a full-time player for the first time this season.
That change in role saw Patty’s minutes slashed a third and his role changed back to ‘gunner off the bench’. In and out of rhythm he struggled mightily, until finally over the final four games of the season — all Nets wins, no coincidence — he went 11/25 on threes.
After making it through Thursday’s play-in game, Brooklyn now faces Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Given the Nets’ lack of shooting outside of Kyrie and Kevin Durant and Seth Curry’s murky injury status, Patty’s role of floor spacer/dribble handoff magician/all-round legend will be huge. Especially against one of the premier defences in the NBA.
If nothing else though, in a year where Brooklyn — between the Kyrie mess, James Harden loafing his way out of town and an injury to KD when the Nets were the #1 seed — was crazier than your aunt who puts names on paper in the freezer… Patty was a quiet bastion of calm. NO wonder he’s been named a finalist in the NBA’s Sportsmanship of the Year award. That’s essentially the NBA Straya's ‘Biggest Deadset Legend Award’… and we know Patty will romp that one home, because there’s no one else that even comes close to being a bigger deadset legend.
A little further south down the I95 is Matisse Thybulle — aka Aussie Matty T, aka Cool Ice T, aka the Slovenian Strangler — who after a year dominating the league’s perimeter scorers (he led all guards in blocks, and was equal third in steals - second behind The Mitten, Gary Payton II, if you go by a per-min basis) and frustrating Philly fans with his chaotic offensive output, found himself unable to play in the Canadian half of their pending first round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors… because he’s not fully vaccinated.
Tisse’s “holistic" approach has come at a mammoth cost to his Sixers, with his defensive stopper role now having to be picked up by former Raptor Danny Green when the series heads up north for Games 3, 4, and, potentially, 6.
For a bloke who said he weighed up the benefits of taking another vaccine dose, but decided against it… in retrospect, the benefits might be “not getting knocked out by Toronto in the 1st round” and “no seriously: you might lose this series because you’re not playing.”
Look. Matisse is an exceptionally smart and personable gentleman, and his decision — based on what he grew up with — is understandable compared to someone like Kyrie Irving’s mishmash word salad ‘belief system’. But still, if you’re a Sixers player, coach or fan, you’d be bitterly disappointed that your team could be without one of the NBA’s premier defenders because he’s not convinced modern medicine has it figured out. *rolling eyes emoji*
Anyway. Matisse has had an incredible year, starting 50 games as the Sixers’ primary defensive weapon next to young stud Tyrese Maxey or the allergic-to-defence James Harden. Matty's 3P% rose from last year, and he set career highs in FG%, FT%, as well as points, rebounds and steals per game. Here’s hoping he can help the Sixers enough in the games he CAN play to get them through a round where he can play ALL the games, instead of being a full-time player the way I was a ‘full-time student’ with 12 contact hours a week at uni.
Heading out west to Oklahoma City and the Moptop Mamba, Josh Giddey, had his wildly impressive rookie year cut short by a hip injury, and then later, by his team doing their absolute utmost to tank and shutting him down for the remainder of the season to, uh, really making sure they didn’t win any more games. (Hell, OKC’s strategy was to sit **all** their good players… and they ended up with the fourth worst record in the NBA. So, yeah. Good luck with the ping pong balls, I guess?)
But before Gidds was shut down, he’d won four straight West Rookie of the Month awards, and saw his game improve and adjust as he got deeper and deeper into the NBA season. His numbers across the board improved dramatically month on month, and for the month before his injury, he was averaging a lazy 16/9/7, shooting 46% from the floor, dropping triple doubles with regularity (he ended up with three in his final four games, and four for the season) and pushing his name right to the pointy end of the Rookie of the Year race.
Basically, it felt similar to Giddey’s NBL rookie year with Adelaide (as pointed out ad nauseam throughout the season on everyone’s favourite daily NBA podcast, NBA Straya).
He adjusted to the pace, played unselfish, team-first basketball, played to his strengths, improved dramatically as the year progressed, and culminated in that run of triple doubles, including a HUGE 28/11/12 against the Knicks at MSG.
Either way, among rookies, per game Gidds ended up first in assists, second in rebounds and seventh in points, he also kicked in four straight West Rookie of the Month trophies AND now has the four youngest triple-doubles in NBA…. HISTORY. That’s right. HISTORY. Literally no one younger than Josh Giddey has posted the amount of triple doubles he did.
Moptop Mamba also got amongst a legendary crew of Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and fellow Aussie Ben Simmons as the only rookies in NBA history to average 12/7/6.
Also. He’s got great hair, he’s already beloved in OKC, and, most terrifyingly of all…He’s still only 19. 19! NINE. TEEN! Yikes.
A little further south, and last week you would’ve found an MVP candidate wearing the famous #6 Boomers jersey. That’s because Luka Doncic was wearing Josh Green’s famous #6 Boomers jersey to a game to pay off a bet the Slovenian lost to Greeny. (But hey, Josh Green is the MVP of our hearts.)
It’s been a strange, but ultimately positive year for Josh Green. With a new coach in Jason Kidd who spent the first two months of the season figuring it out, unfortunately for our man Greeny, that involved not playing a certain second year swingman who was fresh off a Boomers rose gold campaign in Tokyo.
But! Green earned Kidd’s trust in spot minutes, and once Kidd figured out Frankie Ntilikina wasn’t the answer to any sort of question you might be asking that wasn’t ‘name a player worse at basketball than Josh Green?’, Greeny got the nod. An injury to Tim Hardaway Jr opened up even more minutes, and since Christmas, Green’s been the do-everything wing off the bench for Dallas, tasked with slowing opposition swingmen and smartly switching on D while cutting, hitting corner threes and using his athleticism to get on the end of Luka-oops on offence.
And that’s been the difference this year: he’s not taken a lot of threes this season (only 1.2 a game), but he’s hitting a respectable 36% of them. Essentially, he’s taking better shots and hitting more of them: that’s good! He copped a career-high 18 points against Chicago back in January, ripped off a 12-12 double double in 28 minutes against Sacramento at the start of March, and has been consistent at being a bench Swiss Army knife for the Mavs.
Now, he heads into a playoff series against the Utah Jazz and their cadre of scoring guards and wings, and will have his hands full. BUT. All in all, Josh Green’s second year has gotten more thumbs up than a Thumb War competition sponsored by some sort of Thumbs-Up Corporation.
Meanwhile, his Tokyo Boomer teammate Jock Landale — they actually played against each other in the season finale — has had a season with more teachable moments than an episode of Captain Planet. Rock Em Sock Em Jock Em had opportunities that were few and far between — when given a chance for a month from mid-December to mid-January he averaged 7.5pts & 5 rebs in 16 mins a game while a slew of the other Spurs bigs were in and out — but every time it felt like Jock was getting on track, he’d be nailed to the bench the next game.
The unquestionable highlight of his year came against the Pacers on March when, in 34 minutes, he ragdolled the Pacers to the tune of 12-15 shooting from the floor and 26 points… and then played three minutes the next game.
Under the tutelage of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, it’s been Jock’s defence and variability that has seen the Spurs use him off the bench so sporadically. Being a 26 year old rookie who’s already spent years playing professionally means that his offence isn’t the problem — and we saw a nice combo of big dunks, post moves, touch around the rim and three-point shooting from Jock through the year — but Pop has clearly been wary of giving Jock free rein against the league’s premier big men as his defence develops.
And for all of NBA Straya’s half-joking harping about Pop’s anti-Strayan bias, the Spurs have a habit of slowly integrating their foreign big men over the years (Rasho Nesterović, Fabricio Oberto, Tiago Splitter, Aron Bangers Baynes, Jakob Poeltl et al) and it’s very clearly all for the benefit of Jock’s all-round game.
While it’s been frustrating seeing his minutes yanked around more than a urinal chain in a pub toilet on St Patty’s Day, AND often being the Spurs human victory cigar or garbage time monster, at least by getting out there for 54 games across the season, posting a double-double and showing that his game translates to the NBA, Jock has given himself a good chance at sticking in the world’s premier basketball league.
And finally, we get to Portland and Australian national treasure Joe Ingles. Seriously. If he were more of a national treasure, he’d have to fight off Nic Cage with a shovel.
It was a rough year for the NBA’s iron man. An ever changing role with the Jazz was dictated largely by the ins and outs of injury and COVID-19. His 384 consecutive games-played streak (going all the way back to 2015!) snapped when resting a sore Achilles back in December. His lowest stats for years. Eventually it came to a close with a devastating ACL injury in Minnesota at the end of January that knocked him out for the rest of the season.
After eight seasons as the Jazz as his only NBA home, Jingles was traded to a rebuilding Portland Trailblazers team, who have helped him spend the past two months rehabbing his knee with an eye on his potential return at some point next season.
On the court, the game itself in season 2021-22 had also been rough for Jingles. Posting his worst numbers since his third year in the league, and his lack of rhythm with his shooting likely not helped by the shifting nature of a Jazz team that at times either had too many wings (meaning he was squeezed back to the bench and his minutes cut), or not enough (where he was pressed into starter/playmaking duties at the drop of a hat).
With his minutes decreasing and his shooting numbers down alongside his counting stats, Joe did what he could, but just like the Jazz themselves, never seemed to quite get on a roll. Then came the injury, and the tough reality that with his extended deal he signed with the Jazz expiring after this season, Joe was in a contract year.
If nothing else though, if there’s anything the universe has taught us is that under no circumstances should you underestimate Joe Ingles. The bloke will go grab a triple flat white, rehab his knee, talk some trash and be back punking dummies before we know it.
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