BIG SPORTS & BIGGER OPINIONS
As the 2014-15 NBA season continues, many of the eight Australians within the league continue to perform well.
Australia has a small, yet proud history within the NBA, having produced 18 players who have reached the highest level. The most famous of which is Luc Longley who played for four teams during 1991-2001, winning three championships with the Chicago Bulls.
The eight Australians appearing in the League during 2014-15 is a record and demonstrates the increasingly important role the southern island nation plays in producing quality sporting talent on a global scale.
Listed below is a summary of how each have performed from a statistical viewpoint.
* Statistics current as of games up to and including 1 December 2014.
Cam Bairstow (Bulls)
Aron Baynes (Spurs)
Andrew Bogut (Warriors)
Matt Dellavedova (Cavaliers)
Dante Exum (Jazz)
Joe Ingles (Jazz)
Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers)
Patty Mills (Spurs)
Injured – Yet to appear.
The Good – Hot teams; Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors
When I put together my predictions for this season I had the Warriors finishing with the fourth seed in the Western Conference, but I may have sold them a little short. The ‘Dubs’ have been on fire this year and boast an 8-2 record, highlighted by some easy wins over the Lakers (average margin of 22 points across two meetings), as well as victories against fellow conference rivals including Portland, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Memphis Grizzlies have only lost one game this season which was against Milwaukee when Brandon Knight converted a three-point play late to seal the win. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have played exceptionally well this season and have their team sitting atop the conference.
Toronto has continued its good play from last season and sits half a game clear in the east. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are rolling, while Terrence Ross has been more consistent than last year thus far. Lou Williams and James Johnson have made valuable contributions off the bench and the Raptors are definitely deserving of the top spot in the east at this point in time.
The Bad – Injuries
Indiana and Oklahoma City have been cruelled by injuries in the early part of this season. The Pacers have only had one starter from last season, Roy Hibbert, play so far and had to sign A.J Price to take pressure off Donald Sloan who has carried the point guard duties without George Hill. Indiana has missed David West’s presence on the floor, while offseason signings Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles have only played four and six games respectively.
The Thunder began the season minus Kevin Durant and had their playoff hopes riding on Russell Westbrook’s shoulders until he broke his hand against the Clippers in their second game of the season. Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb have played limited games due to injuries as well. OKC has even played some games with only seven healthy players while Reggie Jackson, who missed time with a variety of ailments, and Serge Ibaka are playing heavy minutes. The Thunder can still make the playoffs, but appear likely to be battling for a lower seed.
Golden State has been off to a fast start without their double-double machine David Lee, who has missed all but seven minutes this season due to a hamstring injury. Lee could return late this month but may find it hard to reclaim his starting spot from Draymond Green who has played well in his absence.
The Ugly – Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers
Almost all of the teams that finished in the bottom third in each conference last season have shown signs of improvement, except for the Lakers and 76ers. The Lakers have sorely missed Nick Young and his scoring output from a season ago, but ‘Swaggy P’ made his season debut today, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and a steal. Young should help ease the pressure on Kobe who has put up a ridiculous 24 shots per game this season. The Lakers have been blown away several times this season and have struggled on both ends of the floor, but have managed two wins unlike Philadelphia. The Sixers have been woeful this season to say the least. They have not won a game and sit dead last in points per game (88.5) and field goal percentage (40.3), and were belted by 58 points against Dallas. Philly were without last season’s Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams for seven of their ten games this season and promising big man Nerlens Noel has battled injuries of his own, but lack competiveness and experience. By this time last year, the Sixers had already won five games.
Below is an outlook at the frontrunners for some of the individual awards that are on offer, as well as a couple other areas of interest.
Most Valuable Player (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks)
Anthony Davis (25.5, 11.4, 2.2, 2.3, 3.9)
AD began this season in style with 26 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks and has not looked back. He has recorded three or more blocks seven times already this season and is also sitting third in the league for points per game and rebounds per game and is joint leader in swipes per game. Davis is a beast and is well and truly on his way to his first MVP award.
Stephen Curry (24.8, 5.5, 7.7, 2.3, 0)
Steph Curry has been exceptional so far this season, as have the Warriors. Curry and fellow ‘Splash Brother’ Klay Thompson have been getting the job done for GSW and continue to knock down three pointers. Curry has a tendency to turn the ball over, but the Warriors play at a fast pace and look to score a lot of points every night.
LeBron James (27.1, 6.7, 6.6, 1.1, 0.8)
At times this season the Cavs have struggled, but LeBron has continued to play high quality basketball. There has been a few times where he has taken a back seat and let the team make mistakes to use as a teaching tool, but that is only enhancing his position as the most valuable player as he wants those around him to get better.
Jimmy Butler (21.3, 6.2, 3.9, 1.4, 0.7)
Jimmy Butler was terrific during the preseason and has carried that form into the regular season. He has always been a tremendous defender but has vastly improved his field goal percentage from last season and is averaging a career best 21.3 points per game.
Klay Thompson (23.6, 3.2, 3.3, 1.2, 0.9)
Klay Thompson could go down as one of the best shooters of all time. Catch and shoot, pull up, contested, in transition, Thompson can do it all. He is renowned for his scoring ability, but he has been setting his teammates up more often this year and is working hard on the defensive end of the court as well.
Anthony Davis (25.2, 11.7, 2.2, 2.3, 4)
Roy Hibbert (13.6, 8.1, 1.7, 0.2, 3.2)
Hibbert has recaptured his hot form from early last season which made him an All-Star. He has been carrying the Pacers on the offensive end and currently sits second in the league for blocks per game as well. Hibbert is one of the best rim protectors in the league, with opponents shooting 38.4% at the rim against him.
Jamal Crawford won this award last season and has provided the Clippers with good production off the bench and as a starter so far. It is unlikely that Crawford will start enough games to be ineligible for the award, though Nick Young was terrific as the Lakers’ sixth man last season and made his season debut off the bench today and has a real shot at winning this award. Kobe needs help and ‘Swaggy P’ can be the one to deliver.
Nerlens Noel began the season well, but has been hampered by injuries over the past week or two, while Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins have had their ups and downs like all rookies. K.J. McDaniels has been a bright spot for Philly and loves blocking shots but at this stage of the season it’s a flip of the coin between Parker and Wiggins. Both players are averaging the same points per game (10.6) and are playing similar minutes each night. They have an opportunity to contribute as starters for their respective teams and should continue to improve over the course of the season. The Aussie Dante Exum could be a late flier.
Rajon Rondo missed most of last year with a torn ACL and then broke his arm during the preseason. He has recorded one triple-double, but could have had a few more already. Rondo has struggled shooting the ball from the field and the charity stripe, though he currently leads the league in assists per game at 11.6 and is always looking to set up his teammates.
Best Off-season Signing
There were a number of moves this past offseason which saw LeBron return home with Kevin Love, Paul Pierce went to Washington, Trevor Ariza signed for the Rockets to replace the departing Chandler Parsons, Pau Gasol landed in Chicago and many more. There is one signing that has stood out to me so far this season though, which would be Tyson Chandler going back to Dallas following three seasons in the Big Apple. Chandler has returned to his old club without a hiccup and is averaging 11.5 points and 10.3 rebounds though 11 games and has helped the Mavericks on the defensive end as well.
* Statistics from NBA.com and ESPN
The Golden State Warriors are the only undefeated team in the NBA and a lot of that success has been achieved with the impressive performances from Australian Andrew Bogut.
Having been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, 29-year-old Bogut appears fresh, fit and fired up, having performed well in the majority of the Warriors’ five games thus far.
Through five games, Bogut is ranked fifth in the League for rebounds per game and fourth in the League for blocks per game. In both of these categories, he is well above his career mark (9.3 RpG / 1.6 BpG) and early season form suggests he is set for one of the biggest seasons in his career.
As always, the team at TBLDaily.com will keep you up to date with his progress throughout the season, as well as that of the other seven Australians set to appear in the NBA this season.
The 2014/15 NBA season tips off this week so I thought I would go through my predictions of the playoff seeds for both conferences.
Team, (last season), projected wins – probable starting five on opening night
San Antonio Spurs (1) 58-24 – Parker, Green, Leonard, Duncan, Splitter/Diaw
The Spurs finished last season in style by winning the championship against Miami in five games. San Antonio has retained many players from last season and even though the core group made mostly of veterans is a year older, their experience and desire to succeed cannot be discounted. Kawhi Leonard is poised for a breakout season after a number of terrific performances in last season’s Finals where he was named MVP but has been dealing with an infection in both of his eyes. The Spurs will, however, be without Patty Mills following shoulder surgery in the offseason and will miss his scoring punch off the bench for the first couple of months.
Los Angeles Clippers (3) 57-25 Paul, Reddick, Barnes, Griffin, Jordan
The Clippers are undoubtedly the best team in LA right now. The Clips’ have improved steadily over the past few seasons, but will need to continue their upward trend if they are going to claim their first championship in franchise history. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are vital to the Clippers success this season, with both having a legitimate chance of being named Most Valuable Player in 2014/15, while offseason acquisition Spencer Hawes will play a major role off the bench.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) 54-28 Westbrook, Roberson, Lamb/Jones, Ibaka, Adams
OKC’s top seed hopes took a massive hit when reigning MVP Kevin Durant was ruled out for up to eight weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Russell Westbrook is more than capable of carrying the team in KD’s absence, but the Thunder’s depth is going to be tested and they will drop games early as a result. Durant’s starting spot is still up for grabs, but whoever gets the nod out of Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb will have big shoes to fill.
Golden State Warriors (6) 54-28 Curry, Thompson, Iguodala/Barnes, Lee, Bogut
I’m excited to see the Splash Brothers back in action. Steph Curry connected on 257 three-pointers last season and has the potential to break his own record of 272 set in the 2012/13 regular season, while Klay Thompson is one of the best shooters in the league. It seems like the perfect fit for new head coach Steve Kerr, but we will have to wait and see.
Portland Trailblazers (5) 52-30 Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, Lopez
Portland surprised many people when they beat the Rockets in the playoffs last season, but Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and company will only be satisfied with a deep playoff run this year. The Trailblazers added Steve Blake and Chris Kaman during the offseason to improve their depth, but the role of sixth-man is open following Mo Williams’ move to Minnesota.
Houston Rockets (4) 50-32 Beverley, Harden, Ariza, Jones, Howard
The Rockets may have lost Chandler Parson, but found a quality replacement in Trevor Ariza. Ariza isn’t the same type of player as Parson’s, though he should be able to compliment Dwight Howard and James Harden well. I’ve got the Rockets finishing a few spots lower from last year following the departures of Jeremy Lin and Omar Asik as there is now a lack of quality and depth in the second unit.
Phoenix Suns (9) 49-33 Dragic, Bledsoe, Green/Marcus Morris, Markief Morris, Plumlee
The Suns just missed out on a playoff berth last season but have the tools to become a contender in the near future. Isiah Thomas adds quickness to an already explosive back court, while last season’s starting small forward P.J Tucker is suspended for the first three games, so there is an opportunity for Gerald Green or Marcus Morris to step into the starting role and make it their own. Eric Bledsoe signed a five-year contract worth around $70 million dollars and is more than capable repaying the faith shown by the Suns’ front office.
Dallas Mavericks (8) 48-34 Nelson, Ellis, Parsons, Dirk, Chandler
The Mavericks have upgraded their starting line-up by signing Chandler Parsons on a three year deal and bringing back Tyson Chandler after three seasons in New York. Those two signings have heightened expectations for Dallas this season, with the team’s playoff hopes riding on the shoulders of Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and the two Chandler’s.
Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets
Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.
Keep an eye on:
The Minnesota Timberwolves may have lost Kevin Love during the offseason but did get some exciting young talent in return, led by Andrew Wiggins. This young T’Wolves team goes into the season with little expectation, but has enough talent across all positions to cause a few upsets along the way.
Team, (last season), projected wins – probable starting five on opening night
Chicago Bulls (4) 56-26 Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, Noah
Can we finally say that D Rose is back? The Chicago native has missed the majority of the last two seasons due to injury, but he has put together a solid preseason and played well during the recent FIBA World Cup. The Bulls added a quality big man to complement Joakim Noah in the form of Pau Gasol and have bought the talented Nikola Mirotic across from Spain for his rookie season. Drafting sharp shooter Doug McDermott has added some scoring potency to the bench. One of my favourites, Jimmy Butler, has been fantastic during the preseason but a lingering thumb injury may delay his start to the season.
Cleveland Cavaliers (10) 54-28 Irving, Waiters, James, Love, Varejao
It will take some time for the Cavs to gel, especially if LeBron is setting screens on team mates like he did in a preseason matchup against Miami. Kyrie Irving has some serious quality around him with James returning to his roots and Kevin Love coming across in a blockbuster trade. The bench is stocked up with veterans with championship experience (Miller, Jones and Marion) so a deep playoff run is expected.
Toronto Raptors (3) 50-32 Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Johnson, Valanciunas
The Raptors have a quality big man in Jonas Valanciunas, a terrific duo in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and a spring loaded small forward, Terrence Ross, who loves knocking down threes and putting up highlight dunks. Lou Williams adds some quality to the bench so Toronto should be in the top half of the conference once again.
Washington Wizards (5) 49-33 Wall, Porter/Rice JR, Pierce, Nene, Gortat
Washington put together an impressive 2013/14 season, but the loss of Bradley Beal to injury for the early part of this season is substantial. John Wall will need help from former Net Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat and Nene, while Otto Porter could fill the void without Beal.
Miami Heat (2) 48-33 Cole/Chalmers, Wade, Deng, McRoberts/Williams, Bosh
The Heat have been one of the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference for a number of years, but just lost the best player in the world so they are up against it to make the Finals again. The signings of Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts will take some pressure off D Wade and Chris Bosh, but there is a big hole to fill in LeBron’s absence.
Brooklyn Nets (6) 46-36 Williams, Bogdanovic, Johnson, Garnett, Lopez
Brooklyn lost Paul Pierce during the offseason and Brook Lopez’s health is questionable yet again. Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic will lead the second unit, but the core group of Williams, Johnson, Garnett and Lopez need to stay healthy if they are to contend.
Charlotte Hornets (7) 45-37 Walker, Lance, Kidd-Gilchrist/Henderson, Williams, Jefferson
The Hornets are back. The new uniform looks great, as does Time Warner Cable Arena. Charlotte made a swift exit in last season’s playoffs though should be able to return to the post season again with the help of Lance Stephenson. Stephenson, along with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will shoulder much of the expectation and have enough collective talent to suffice.
Indiana Pacers (1) 44-38 Hill, Stuckey, Miles, West, Hibbert
There will be times this season where the Pacers struggle without a legitimate star. The offseason loss of Lance Stephenson hurt, but the loss of Paul George is even greater. George Hill will carry the reins on the offensive end without PG13 and will need support from defensive anchor Roy Hibbert and veteran David West. Look for Chris Copeland to play meaningful minutes off the bench for the first time in his career, with a starting spot not out of the question.
Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76er’s, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics
Keep an eye on:
The Detroit Pistons led by Andre Drummond could challenge for a bottom seed if everything clicks. Josh Smith and Greg Monroe once again form an imposing front line with Drummond, though the early loss of former Laker Jodie Meeks leaves a little to be desired in the outside shooting department.