The Boomers are in something of a “boom” period at the moment. Never before has Australian basketball produced so many players in a single generation, seeing point guards, shooting guards and centres grace the best and biggest league in the sport, the National Basketball Association, aka the NBA.
This week the news only got better. Youngster Thon Maker, a 19-year old South Sudanese athlete based in Perth, announced that he would be entering the 2016 NBA Draft and completely bypass the College system. At 7-feet tall the refugee has impressed at Ontario Athlete Institute in Canada and his legal guardian Edward Smith explained that Maker has fulfilled his academic requirements to enter the draft.
Maker’s story is nothing short of remarkable. Common consensus dictates that NBA franchises draft solely through the NCAA College Draft system, picking the best fresh talent from a proven league against peers in a tough environment. Like all sporting leagues around the world though, some sports stars fall through the cracks because of socioeconomic, mental health issues or pure circumstance. The adopted Aussie Thon Maker might be one of those rare exceptions to make it against all the odds.
With Rio 2016 shortly coming up on the calendar for the Boomers, the calendar is jam-packed with brilliant basketball on the horizon, not least because the NBA Finals are almost here. Australian fans won’t only be tuning in on ESPN or their NBA TV subscription online to cheer on their team, but chances are they’ll be cheering on a domestic hero.
Last season Andrew Bogut and Matthew “Delly” Dellavedova went head-to-head for the championship and with both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers leading their Western and Eastern Conferences respectively, back-to-back Finals series could be on the cards.
These are 8 of the best Australian players plying their trade in the USA right now and judging by the trend of recent years, there will be plenty more where these guys came from.
- Cameron Bairstow
Power forward with the Chicago Bulls and picked number 49 in his draft class. The blonde dread-locked 25-year old excelled at the University of New Mexico with a lot of energy and willingness to shoot from the field at a healthy percentage, but hasn’t really cracked the Bulls first team as often as he’d like to.
- Aron Baynes
Playing in arguably the best team in the league, with a strong emphasis on the ‘T’ word. Towering at 2.08 metres the versatile power forward/centre toured the basketball world in Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece and Germany before fitting in with Greg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. Now with the Detroit Pistons, Baynes is a hardened professional with a lot to offer the national team.
- Andrew Bogut
Arguably the most high profile basketball player Australia has ever produced. Hopefully that will change in the not-too-distant future but the 31-year old centre fulfilled a dream last year by helping the Warriors to that drought-breaking championship with some of the best players on the planet, including Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Fitness pending, Bogut will be the key cog in Australia’s Rio 2016 campaign, hopefully leading the nation to a medal.
- Matthew Dellavedova
Talk about bursting on the scene – even those that had no interest in the NBA or basketball knew the term “Delly” in 2015, with the rag-tag Aussie battler helping LeBron James and the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers fight and scrap their way to the finals. The 25-year old lacks all the natural talent his counterparts enjoy, but makes up for it with sheer work rate.
- Dante Exum
One of two major young talents coming through the NBA, Exum’s Utah Jazz are an ideal up-and-coming franchise to foster the 20-year old as he gets accustomed to the highest level of the sport. Dante’s all-round skills are undeniable and the fifth overall draft pick should use his rookie year in the NBA as a platform to kick on to bigger and better things.
- Joe Ingles
Ingles is in a similar mold to Aron Baynes, switching franchises and filling gaps in rosters. It doesn’t mean he is a poor player with the Utah Jazz, far from it. But at 28 the shooting guard knows what he can do – creates on offence, draws the fouls and contributes off the bench when the season gets long. Will be a valuable sounding board for some of the younger Boomers in Rio.
- Patty Mills
An NBA veteran with a championship under his belt – a rare commodity for Australian basketball. On his day, few teams can stop the dynamic Patty Mills when he fires from the field and gets on a streak, but those days can be few and far between. Has been criticised in some quarters by his coach for a lack of consistency but if he keeps getting picked to play, he must be doing something right!
- Ben Simmons
Not only the greatest prospect to come out of our humble shores in the sport, but arguably one of the best in recent years. Having signed on with LeBron James’ representatives and ready to graduate from the College game after one rookie year, Ben Simmons is the red-hot favourite to be drafted number one. That is an enormous deal for a kid out of Melbourne and look out for him later in the year when next season kicks off in the NBA. This kid could be anything and we are very lucky to call him Australian.