The NBL has enjoyed a groundbreaking season this year, in terms of roster talent and exposure. With its increasing attention on the global level, players should consider the NBL more strongly as a legitimate option outside of the NBA.
While NBL team finances are still not close enough to rival top European leagues or China, Australia does benefit from an expanse of locally grown talent currently plying their trade across the world. With Next Star prospects beyond this season also being up in the air, the most sustainable avenue to increase the NBL's talent level, might be attracting some of our own talent back from abroad, while the league is enjoying such a resurgence.
The NBA Possibles
It's certainly encouraging to see the most Aussies as we've ever seen in the NBA, but such novelty can wear off when players are getting little to no opportunity. While G League time and DNPs can often be part of the process before getting the right opportunity to break out, the NBA is often so merciless that players can find themselves out of the league in an instant.
Matthew Dellavedova has carved out a long and impressive role at the NBA level for six seasons and is heading into his seventh, but he's not competing at the level that made him a valuable contributor for the LeBron James-era Cleveland Cavaliers. Dellavedova is currently averaging only 2.4 points a game in 13 minutes for a Cavaliers team tied for third worst in the NBA, shooting 28.6% from the field and 11.4% from three. His current form makes it hard to see him contribute as a consistent rotation player for an NBA team going forward. With his current 4 year, $38 million contract expiring after this season, it's easy to predict a change is on the horizon for the veteran.
Dellavedova has made plenty of money in his career to date, and also became a father last month. It's the perfect time for Delly to make his return to Australia and see his career out at home. While the former Gael has struggled to make an impact in the NBA over recent seasons, he has proven to still be a valuable contributor for the Boomers, starting and playing over 30 minutes a game for Australia in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. He still has plenty in the tank, and should be able to come over as a top tier local marquee signing and be a quality starter for an NBL team.
While Thon Maker is only 22, he has struggled mightily trying to establish a role for himself in the NBA thus far. We often see struggling recent draft picks be given ample opportunities to put things together in spite of poor play, but in recent years teams have been more merciless in identifying and cutting ties with struggling young players earlier.
Despite asking for a trade from the Bucks last season in pursuit of greater opportunity, Maker has actually found less court time with the Pistons, averaging only 10 minutes a game on a Pistons team devoid of quality center depth. While his scoring efficiency is up (61.6 TS%), the volume both in terms of minutes and shot rate is so low it's hard to make many positive conclusions from this development. His issues, however, remain - with his frame defending bigs and rebounding the ball proving to be a big issue.
Whilst Maker has plenty of opportunity and some fun strength's as a player, it seems opportunities will continue to be few and far between for the young big in the NBA. Maker's rookie contract ends at the end of this season, and should a team not take a flyer on him, he may be wise to look to the NBL to provide an opportunity for minutes and a greater role where he can expand his game and confidence, and hopefully return to the NBA a greater player. Maker's length and skill-set would provide an exciting package for NBL fans, and on name value alone would garner plenty of attention.
There are other NBA Aussies struggle for opportunity, such as Jonah Bolden and Ryan Broekoff, but both players are in situations where they are likely to stick it out in the league in hopes of a big break. At 24, Bolden is only in his 2nd NBA season, and simply buried down the depth chart on one of the East's best teams in the Philadelphia 76er's. As for Broekoff, it's now or never for the sharpshooter's NBA dreams, and while he hasn't been given much time as a Dallas Maverick to date, he has consistently impressed with any glimpse of court time, and could definitely find himself a prolonged role in the league once consistent opportunity finally arrives.
Dante Exum is currently on the outside of the Jazz's rotation as well. While his time with Utah may appeared to be numbered at this point, Exum still has plenty of allure due to his perceived potential, as well as the insurance of a 33 million dollar deal that expires in 2021.
While Joe Ingles has expressed a desire to return to the NBL later in his career, he's still well and truly an impact player at the NBA level and should continue to be so for multiple seasons to come. His current deal expires at the end of next season, at which time he'll be 33, but I would still predict a season or two more in the NBA before he decides to return home. It's not like his game was ever predicated on athleticism, after all.
Likewise, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes are enjoying career years. Despite hitting their 30's, they've still got plenty of NBA level basketball ahead of them.
G League Gets
With the NBL's increasing competitiveness and exposure, it feels an ever increasing waste for some of our most talented locals to be hidden away in the NBA's second-tier league, on minimal wage and in questionable developmental circumstances. Almost all current Australian G League players should attempt to be pried, with valuable guys like Deng Adel and Isaac Humphries likely high level starters at the NBL level.
Deng Adel is our best G League player, but it might mean he's also the hardest to pry away. With multiple 2-way deals and 19 NBA appearances for the Cleveland Cavaliers over the last 12 months, Adel appears close to the NBA's fringes, but as of now is an NBA free agent.
Should the next coveted NBA opportunity not arise, it might be best for Adel to continue his development in the NBL, where he has plenty of interest. Adel has spent offseasons working out with his home-town Melbourne United, and head coach Dean Vickerman was not shy in expressing his interest, saying in 2018: "if something doesn’t work out for him in the NBA we’d love the opportunity to recruit him.”
United would be far from Adel's only suitor, as he would likely come in and be an impact starter at the NBL level.
It was only a couple of years ago Humphries was in the NBL, earning Rookie of the Year honors playing for the Sydney Kings.
Since then, the big man has spent time with FMP in Serbia, and more recently, G League time with the Erie BayHawks and now the Lakeland Magic. Last season he got a taste for the league, appearing in five games for the Atlanta Hawks, but he was unable to acquire a two-way deal with a team this season.
Humphries is familiar with the league and should be able to return to the NBL a better player. There's plenty of room for local big men here, and with the increased level of play and exposure, it still poses a viable pathway to his NBA dream.
William McDowell-White made a brief appearance for the Sydney Kings in 2016/17 as a teenager, and had plenty of momentum as a fringe NBA prospect, with great size and point guard instincts. Since then, however, an injury-riddled stint in Germany dampened draft hype, and following the 2019 NBA draft where he went undrafted, the guard participated in a quiet Summer League with the Houston Rockets and now G League season with affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
McDowell-White is averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 assists in 10.9 minutes per game, and it feels as though the showcase nature of the G League isn't doing the substance over style point guard many favors. At the NBL level, McDowell-White should command an immediate rotation spot and could develop into a capable starter with form.
His Australian teammate, Matur Maker, has been excelling, albeit in limited minutes. The brother of Thon, Matur has blown expectations out of the water after having little exposure up to this point - in 12.8 minutes per game, Maker is scoring on 60% from the field and hitting on 53.8% of his three pointers. At a fluid 6'11, Maker is showing off a versatile skill-set, shooting the three at the best level of his career and rebounding the ball well. Maker could be brought in at the NBL level and likely produce as a versatile third big who can play either front-court position - like Jo Lual Acuil has for Melbourne United this season - and potentially carve out a starting role in time.
Venky Jois briefly appeared on Melbourne United's roster at the end of the NBL 2018/19 season. After bouncing around Europe and Asia over the last few seasons, it appeared he may have finally chosen to settle down back at home, between his signing with United and later the Super City Rangers of the NZNBL, but instead of signing on to an NBL team this season, Jois joined the G League's Memphis Hustle.
Unfortunately, minutes were sparse for Jois early in the G League season, and upon his first start, suffered a broken arm. Once healthy, it would be great to see the forward finish out his G League season then look to the NBL once again. Jois is a talented power forward who had an extremely impressive college career with Eastern Washington. His energy and athleticism on both ends of the court would make him a strong contributor to an NBL team, and it seems he just needs the right organization to offer him a suitable opportunity.
Matt Kenyon is another name that surprisingly signed up for the G League recently, getting picked 19th in this year's draft.
At the start of the 2016-2017 NBL season, Kenyon had signed on as a development player for the Brisbane Bullets, and appeared to be ready to follow the NBL route of development until a knee injury at the end of the following season, and he was not retained.
The 21 year old recently competed for the Dandenong Rangers in the NBL1, where he put up 11.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists over 17 games, averaging 51% from the field and 42% from three.
After exploring options in Europe, he's moved to the United States to be with the Capital City Go Go, though so far this season he has not logged any G League minutes. It's hard to envision how this route would be an ideal avenue for the young guard to progress - it would be great to see Kenyon return to an NBL roster for the 2020/21 season.
Stay tuned as we explore other leagues in the "He should be in the NBL!" series.