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Aussies in the NBA: Looking ahead to the postseason
It's the best time of the year for NBA hoops down under.
NBA playoffs basketball is back, and the brightest names in the sport are jostling for the championship once again. A handful of Australians are littered throughout the playoff field this year - here’s a breakdown of what we could expect.
Joe Ingles - Milwaukee Bucks
Ingles is the Australian most likely to impact the title race. Returning from ACL surgery and extended downtime, the 35 year old has shown to be a seamless regular season fit for an already championship calibre Bucks roster. Now is the time to show whether Ingles can contribute to a team looking to win the NBA Finals. In that sense, the expectations on Ingles are higher than any other player discussed here. He was brought to Milwaukee to positively swing playoff games over the next month, so the verdict on Milwaukee’s decision to sign Ingles last year will not be fully rendered until the end of this postseason run.
Ingles has shown glimpses of the offensive game that made him an elite sixth man in Utah. Shooting splits have rebounded, with Ingles shooting 49% from three, post All-Star. His ball handling has proven opportunistic as a tertiary playmaker (3.3 assist average) around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. Milwaukee’s offence cratered when Antetokounmpo rested in last year’s series against Boston. Ingles, along with a healthier supporting cast, deepens the Bucks’ arsenal this time around.
Defensively is where Ingles will be challenged this postseason, especially if the Bucks cross paths with a Boston Celtics side that is loaded with young athletic wings. Milwaukee don’t need the career-best version of Ingles who battled with Paul George in the postseason five years ago. They have Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Khris Middleton for those tasks. What they do need is a two-way player who can initiate offence and at least hold the fort defensively. Ingles has the profile and has serviced this role to aplomb this in years past. He remains an intelligent defender who will not be beaten for knowhow. Those skills should be enough to ensure his rotation minutes continue until the conference finals. From there, his time will be more matchup dependent.
Since 2015, only 12 players aged 35 or older averaged 20 minutes per game on a team that made the second round of the postseason. Only PJ Tucker and LeBron James have won NBA championships with significant roles at this age. Tucker performed his feat just two years ago as Milwaukee claimed the title, so the blueprint is there for Ingles to excel as a role player around the Antetokounmpo, who in my eyes is the best player alive.
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Jock Landale - Phoenix Suns
Phoenix enters the postseason as a team simultaneously attempting to find roster cohesion, while also being under the most pressure to win a championship. Landale finds himself right in the middle of it all.
Year two in the NBA has been a success for Landale. His minutes have increased 65% over his rookie campaign in San Antonio. He has made a return to winning basketball, on a team competing for championships. In a recent interview with Kane Pitman of ESPN, Landale acknowledged the pressures of playing on a team with Kevin Durant, Devon Booker and Chris Paul while also giving voice to the positivity this brings.
“There are expectations with the roster we’ve put together and the season we’ve had. The pressure is on a little bit and you feel the angst in the city as we put things together and see what our true potential is. Mate, nothing but exciting times ahead and I’m really, really pumped to see how far we take it and hopefully that’s to the end.”
Landale played in 69 out of 82 games in Phoenix, when injuries to DeAndre Ayton cemented opportunities for him to provide regular contributions. With Ayton fully fit, Landale’s minutes will decline and potentially fully erode to begin the playoffs. The Suns are facing a Los Angeles Clippers side that has excelled in recent postseasons by playing small. If history repeats, there will be times where Durant is the nominal five man for Phoenix, with all traditional big men like Landale watching from the bench.
But if Phoenix is to achieve their goal of winning a championship, Landale will likely be seen at some point during the postseason. Matchups against teams like Denver and Sacramento —both of whom are anchored by elite five men— provide more opportunities. Landale is firmly down the pecking order in Phoenix, but the shallowness of the roster dictates he will be needed at some point.
For an Australian in the NBA doppelgänger, take a look at the game log of Aron Baynes during San Antonio’s run to the championship in 2014. Baynes was seldom seen during that postseason run, but when matchups dictated, he was thrust into the action and excelled in his role on a championship side. A similar result would be the best case for Landale.
Patty Mills and Ben Simmons - Brooklyn Nets
Simmons was officially ruled out for the season due to injury, which leaves Mills as the only Australian with any chance of hitting the floor for Brooklyn. Although the prospect of Mills getting any relevant time in the series against Philadelphia appears low. Since the trade deadline, Mills has slid to the end of the bench and only appeared in four games for the Nets. Trading away Kevin Durant significantly lowered Brooklyn’s ceiling, yet also brought greater depth into the middle of the roster. A younger and more athletic supporting cast has seen Mills’ minutes erode.
In all reality, Simmons’ injury saved him the indignity of being benched during a series against his former colleagues in Philadelphia. The Wells Fargo Centre crowd will still ways of showering disdain upon their former All-Star —it is Philadelphia after all— although the noise coming from the cheap seats will be lesser given Simmons is an afterthought in this series.
Brooklyn is overmatched against the soon-to-be MVP, Joel Embiid, and this series is giving me serious flashbacks to when these teams met in the postseason four years ago. In 2019, a plucky Brooklyn team fought a much better Philadelphia side to an entertaining five game series defeat. Expect a similar result this time around.
Matthew Dellavedova - Sacramento Kings
Dellavedova will have the best seat in the house for what appears the most entertaining series of round one. He played just 213 minutes during the regular season while serving as Mike Brown’s cultural liaison, and a recent right index finger fracture will certainly sideline Dellavedova as the playoffs begin.
The likelihood is that Dellavedova would have barely figured in Sacramento’s postseason run if healthy, so his injury doesn’t change Sacramento’s rotation and postseason prospects. While the Australia veteran hasn’t played a significant on-court role in the Kings’ turnaround, he has been central to the culture change that has seen Sacramento return to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
Jack White - Denver Nuggets
White played the season on a two-way contract in Denver, which makes him ineligible to play in the postseason. The forward has excelled over the back stretch of the G League season and, as we covered earlier this month, has set himself up for a big offseason in search of an NBA contract proper.
White has the next two months to continue working on his craft alongside the Nuggets, as they chase their first championship.
Honorary mention: Josh Giddey - Oklahoma City Thunder
Remarkably, the Thunder almost found themselves in the postseason proper, before falling short to the Timberwolves 95-120 in the battle for the eighth seed. Giddey was a driving force earlier during the the play-in tournament. Wednesday’s performance against New Orleans was the best basketball I have seen Giddey play at the NBA level.
A comprehensive box score —a career-high with 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds— reveals that Giddey severely impacted the game, although tangible metrics don’t do justice to how he led Oklahoma City through the game. The Thunder were trailing during the first half, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to find his rhythm, but Giddey along with Lu Dort, kept Oklahoma City going long enough for their All-NBA running mate to come alive. The performance last week in New Orleans punctuated Giddey’s breakout season with a landmark performance. Anything that happens from here is pure upside.