Australia has produced some fantastic basketball players over the years, with a total of 15 Aussies making their way to the pinnacle of hoops – playing in the NBA.
One of the first players to put the Aussies on the map on the international stage was Luc Longley, the 7’2” juggernaut that starred alongside Michael Jordan and won several NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls.
His best season at the NBA level was the 1997-98 season, when he went on to average 11.1ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.1bpg when the Bulls went 62-20 and went on to win the NBA title.
Andrew Gaze had an illustrious career at the collegiate level, as well as playing for the Boomers, and in the NBL. To many Australian basketball fans he will always be remembered as the Aussie equivalent of Michael Jordan for his unbelievable scoring prowess. In the 1987 NBL season, Andrew Gaze put up out-of-this-world averages: 44.1ppg, 8.2rpg, 5.8apg, 2.5 stl while making 3.4 three pointers per game and shooting 53% from the field. Take a moment and look over those numbers again… wow.
He only ever played 26 games in the NBA while he was at the tail end of his playing career, but he managed to do something Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and many other greats of the game could not achieve – winning an NBA Championship ring!
Andrew Gaze’s teammate with the Melbourne Tigers, Bradtke played only a single season in the NBA, playing 36 games for the 76ers. During his short stint he had limited playing time with only 7 minutes per game. However, the 6’10” center made the most of his time on the court, and his per-36 was close to a double-double: 8.5ppg, 9.8 reb, 1.0 ast, 0.7 stl, 0.7 blk, with 3.7 orebs.
Another superstar at the local level who didn’t quite translate to the NBA level, Heal played in 2 seasons in the NBA, playing 43 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996, and 6 games for the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. His best game in the NBA came against the Sonics in 1996, where Heal put up a rapid shooting display making 5/9 threes in just 13 minutes of court time.
Others that played at the NBA level include:
Played 103 games in total for the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Hornets. Scored in double figures 15 times.
Played in 45 games for the Raptors and Timberwolves but only got 9.6 minutes per game in his short stint in the NBA. His best game as a pro: 16 pts 6 rebounds in 22 minutes against the Blazers.
7’1” Center played a total of 31 games for the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trailblazers. His fouls output was close to his points per game with 1.5 fouls, 1.8 points.
When you think of Australians playing in the NBA, the first name that comes to mind is Andrew Bogut. After dominating in the NCAA, Bogut was the #1 overall pick coming out of college. Bogut was emerging as one of the elite centers in the NBA before a freakish injury derailed his career. In the three years before the gruesome injury, Bogut put up some amazing numbers:
- 15.9ppg, 10.2rpg, 2.5bpg in the 2009-10 season
- 12.8 ppg, 11.1rpg, 2.6bpg in the 2010-11 season
Then this happened:
Since returning, Bogut has played more cautiously with the Golden State Warriors managing his minutes. He still produces quality numbers in his limited playing time but hasn’t been quite the same player that he was. Despite that, Bogut was named to the All-Defensive 2nd Team last season, a testament to his impact on the game for the defending NBA Champions.
This one is a little bit of a stretch, technically Irving was born in Melbourne, Australia, but moved to New Jersey at the age of 2. He was eligible to play for the Australian Boomers squad but elected to play for Team USA (boooo!). He is one of the best point guards in the NBA today, with career averages of 20.7 ppg, 3.5rpg, 5.5 apg, and 1.8 three pointers per game. During a game in the 2014-15 season, Kyrie Irving exploded against the Spurs, scoring 55 points in 38 mins, hitting 11 threes and a perfect 10-10 from the foul line.
Mills is the first indigenous Australian to play in the NBA. He has electric quick moves and fills in the role as the spark plug off the Spurs bench. He has had some brilliant games at the NBA level as well as during international play as a member of the Boomers. In the 2013-14 NBA season Mills scored between 20 and 32 points 8 times, and his per 36 minute averages that season were: 19.5ppg, 4.0rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg and 3.2 three pointers so he was playing at an elite level. His best game as a pro came in the 2011-12 season when he put up 34 pts, 5 rebs, 12 ast, 1 stl 1 blk against the Golden State Warriors.
Dante Exum has a deep rooted basketball pedigree, with his father Cecil Exum playing in the NBL back in the day. Exum was a tantalizing prospect coming into the league, so much so that he was drafted 5th overall based on his amazing quickness and athletic ability. His rookie campaign was underwhelming, however he has so much upside and great court awareness that he could easily bounce back. Unfortunately he suffered a season ending knee surgery and has missed the entire 2015/16 season, but fans eagerly await his return next season and he has the potential to be an elite point guard in the NBA.
“Delly” has proven to be a vital player off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His hard-nosed defence has polarized fans, who either love his tenacious style of play, or dislike him and call him a dirty player. During the 2014/15 playoffs where the Cavs made a run to the finals, Dellavedova had his share of controversy during the series against the Atlanta Hawks with plays against Kyle Korver and Al Horford getting a lot of negative attention. Though looking closely at the plays, he was just playing hard going after loose balls.
Bairstow is yet to carve out a consistent role for the Bulls. He has started a few games in the 2015/16 season, though those games are usually when the team is decimated by injuries, e.g. missed games by Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and so on.
Ingles is a decent role player for the Jazz. There are games where he gets some extended minutes and produces on court. He has a nice all-round game with scoring, rebounding and passing ability, and can hit the outside shot. He is one of the more consistent players when he suits up in the green and gold for the Boomers, and should play at the NBA level for several more years to come.
Widely regarded as a shoe-in for the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Ben Simmons looks set to become the biggest basketball superstar Australia has ever produced. He can run the floor, has the court vision and passing skills of a point guard, can rebound and score in transition, and has the tools to be an elite player in the NBA.
His all-round brilliance was on display earlier in the NCAA season in his game against North Florida when he had an amazing game. Simmons shot 15/20 from the field, and 13/15 from the free throw line to finish with 43 points, he also had 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks. When NBA teams tank this season (lose games on purpose to have a better chance at getting the top pick in the draft lottery), Simmons is the one player they are salivating about adding to their teams.
It will be interesting to see how his game translates to the NBA, and based on how he is developing as a player, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see him putting up numbers similar to Blake Griffin, given a few years to mature and bulk up.
Here are his full highlights Vs North Florida if you want to see him in action:
Thon Maker stands tall at 7’1” and has been compared to NBA greats like Kevin Garnett.
He has the height and athletic ability, backed up by the ability to hit the three and put the ball on the floor. If you were to imagine the ideal centre to compete in the modern NBA, Maker has all the tools you would look for. After being as high as the #2 prospect in the 2016 class, some estimates have Maker falling back as far as 10th.
Despite this he has the upside to really make a name for himself at the NBA level and is someone that Aussie basketball fans have been following closely to see how good he can be once he turns pro.
Watch the video below and keep in mind this guy is over 7-feet tall with really good handles!
Love your NBA and other sports, why not complete our survey now? Click here to take our sport survey and you will automatically enter our monthly draws where you can win tickets to sporting events including the NRL State of Origin, NBL tickets and more! You’ll also join our mailing list where we send you the best offers that match your profile.