The NBA is no longer dominated by US-born athletes. The number of international players dominating the league is growing by the year, with Serbia’s Nikola Jokic, Cameroon’s Joel Embiid and Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo all MVP candidates in 2022-23.
Australia, my home, is one of these non-American nations producing legitimate NBA talent and has been for more than three decades. We Aussies are a fiercely patriotic bunch and are extremely proud of the men and women who have made it to the sport’s pinnacle.
Australian women have been particularly dominant in the WBNA, with Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Michelle Timms, Liz Cambage, Sandy Brondello and Tully Bevilaqua big names.
Today we look at the some of the Australian men who have not only made it to the NBA but have thrived. We count down the top 10, while honoring (or honouring as we type it) others who have made notable contributions.
The below are my personal picks based on the impact they’ve had on the league and are not necessarily based on their stats and relevant success.
One quick disclaimer, for those expecting to see Kyrie Irving, my apologies. Yes, he was born in my hometown Melbourne, but he was back in the US by the age of two. Unlike Matisse Thybulle, who was born in the US but spent a good part of his childhood in Australia and chooses to play for the national team Boomers.
1. Luc Longley
As a kid in Australia going up in the ‘90s, the NBA seemed to be this inaccessible universe which filtered into our lives via trading cards and infrequent highlights on late-night sports bulletins.
Despite this, everyone knew Michael Jordan. There were undoubtedly communities living in complete isolation who were aware of His Airness during that era.
After the initial amazement of Jordan, many of us wondered who else helped him reach those heights. There was obviously Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman but what about that 7-foot behemoth from Perth at the pivot position?
Longley never won the individual awards that others below may have taken home, but as far as success and contributing to winning, you can’t go past the championship Bull.
He was a no fuss big man, an elite role player working around and complementing the greatest to ever play the game, rebounding, blocking, defending and finishing at the rim. He went on to join the Boomers coaching staff after his playing days were done and remains one of Australia’s finest ever sporting exports.
Longley’s success also opened the door for the likes of Andrew Bogut and Chris Anstey who would come along over the ensuing years, and in turn, pave the way for more contemporary names.
For me, he’s had the biggest impact.
2. Andrew Bogut
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers (2005-2019)
Numbers: 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks
Achievements: No 1 pick (2005), 2015 Warriors NBA Champion, All NBA Third Team (2010), NBA All Defensive Second Team 2015
Despite having to listen to some of his post-career views on Australian politics, Bogut has achieved a heck of a lot through his 14 years in the NBA.
The first Australian number one pick, a member of the Warriors’ first dynastical championship and a smart defensive center. Some may also argue that the 2012 trade swapping Bogut for Monta Ellis helped propel Golden State to that next level.
Bogut’s understanding of the game and ability to read the play helped him become one of the premier passing big men of his generation. Not to mention his defense, rim protection and finishing ability.
Unfortunately, injuries caught up with Bogut after his Warriors tenure, potentially depriving him of further success.
3. Patty Mills
I will always have a fondness for Mills. An indigenous Australian who plays with heart and passion. Unfortunately, his Portland tenure wasn’t particularly noteworthy, with the Canberran earning little court time, forcing him to return to Australia and then onto China to reignite his NBA career.
But what a reignition. He found a home in San Antonio serving a key bench role under Gregg Popovich helping the team to consecutive Finals appearances, including the 2014 NBA championship.
While he’s not been a regular rotation player with the Nets, he’s still capable of coming out and getting hot from long range. I also get the impression he relishes the mentor role.
4. Ben Simmons
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets (2016-present)
Numbers: 14.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks
Achievements: No 1 pick (2016), 3x All Star, 2x All Defensive First Team, 2018 Rookie of the Year, NBA All Third Team 2020
We have to talk about Ben pre downfall and post downfall. The son of a former US basketballer Dave who found a home in Australia’s National Basketball League, Simmons was, from a very early age, touted as a special talent.
And we have to be honest, his first four NBA seasons — obviously not counting the injury-plagued first — were phenomenal. He was not only an elite defender but unstoppable when charging toward the rim on offense. He was never ever a shooter, despite those odd offseason workouts where it seemed he couldn’t miss from long range. But he didn’t necessarily need that element to his game.
We quickly forget that he made three All Star teams, two All Defensive First Teams and was Rookie of the Year. But something went wrong somewhere in 2021, whether it was mental or physical, he’s not been the same player since.
I sincerely hope Simmons can re-discover that confidence, fitness and ability and enjoy a renaissance later in his career.
5. Joe Ingles
Teams: Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks (2014-present)
Numbers 8.5 points, 40.8% from three, 3.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals
Achievements look a little empty, but the South Australian has been able to carve out an impressive career as a do-it-all wing.
Not endowered with great athleticism, Ingles gets by on his smarts and skills and came pretty close to a Sixth Man of the Year award in Utah a couple of years ago, beaten only by teammate Jordan Clarkson.
He spent half a season on the Portland payroll recovering from an ACL injury before opting to join the Wisconsin franchise last offseason. In Milwaukee, he’s shown glimpses of his former glory, but at 35, his best days are probably behind him.
6. Matthew Dellavedova
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings (2013-present)
Numbers: 5.2 points, 36.3% from three, 1.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists
Achievements: 2016 Cavaliers NBA Champion
One of LeBron James’ warriors on the way to that 2016 NBA title, my fellow Victorian built a reputation as a dirty work doing soldier, prepared to do anything for the team.
While a member of the resurgent Kings franchise this season, Dellavedova’s star shone brightest with the Cavaliers during the 2015 and then the 2016 Playoffs contributing to one of the most inspiring championships we’ve seen in recent memory.
7. Aron Baynes
Teams: San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors (2013-2021)
Numbers: 6.0 points, 30.8% from three, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 blocks
Achievements: 2014 Spurs NBA Champion
Unfortunately, injury has potentially put an end to his NBA career — he is still playing in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL).
Baynes, with fellow Aussie Patty Mills, were apart of the Spurs 2014 NBA title. He went on to enjoy decent seasons with the Pistons, Celtics and Suns, making the most out of his talent and contributing on both ends of the floor.
We all remember what he did to the Blazers as a member of the Suns in 2020.
8. Matisse Thybulle
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers (2019-present)
Numbers: 4.6 points, 33.4% from three, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Achievements: 2x NBA All Defensive Second Team
The Blazers pending restricted free agent is one of the NBA’s best defenders, but due to an historical lack of shooting, has been unable to reach the next level.
Able to guard almost every position thanks to supreme athleticism, length and basketball IQ, Thybulle is still an required player in this league. His two NBA All Defensive Second team nominations should speak loudly to this, especially his first, which was achieved during a season where he averaged only 20 minutes a night.
At 26, he’s still young and, as we saw late this season, has the ability to become an effective two-way player if he maintains his recent shooting averages.
9. Josh Giddey
Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder (2021-present)
Numbers: 14.9 points, 29.5% from three, 7.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.8 steals
Achievements: All NBA Rookie Second Team (2022)
I have so much hope for this kid. Like Simmons, Giddey’s father Warwick enjoyed a decent NBL career. At 6’8, Giddey is one of the bigger point guards in the NBA, which has helped him add rebounds to his impressive points and assist averages.
The 20-year-old is filled with talent and, depending on where he plays out the rest of his career, could be much higher on this list as we go deeper into this decade.
10. Chris Anstey
Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls (1997-00)
Numbers: 5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists
Some may not be familiar with the 7-footer who played the majority of his career in Australia, however Anstey enjoyed four NBA seasons with the Mavericks and Bulls. Taken with the 18th pick in 1997, Anstey was actually selected by the Blazers before being traded to Dallas on draft night in exchange for Kelvin Cato who was selected three spots earlier.
Anstey’s career high occurred against the Boston Celtics in his rookie year, putting up 26 points.
Granted, Anstey probably had more success at home but I think he deserves some credit for his contribution in the US.
Honorable (Honourable) mentions:
David Andersen — Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Hornets (2009-2011)
Dante Exum — Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-21)
Thon Maker — Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers (2016-21)
Shane Heal — Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs (1996-97, 2003)
Josh Green — Dallas Mavericks (2020-present)
Jock Landale — San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns (2021-present)
Greatest (not necessarily NBA) Australian Basketball Player — Andrew Gaze
Teams: Melbourne Tigers, Udine, Washington Bullets, San Antonio Spurs (1984, 1999)
Numbers: 5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists
Achievements: — 1999 Spurs NBA Champion, 7x NBL MVP, 15x NBL First Team, 11x NBL All Star, 2x NBL Champion
Not everyone has heard of Andrew Gaze. But in Australia, the affable wing is basketball royalty. Gaze was a phenom during the 1990s — an era when the sport dominated across our nation.
Son of the great Lindsay Gaze, the shooting guard was a magician with the ball in his hands. It’s a shame the NBA didn’t get a bigger chance to watch him work. Because when he led the Melbourne Tigers at a heaving Flinders Park (now Rod Laver Arena and the home of the tennis Australian Open) it was a thing of beauty.
Luc Longley paved the way for Australians entering the NBA. While he might not have been the most talented Aussie to play in the US league, he’s had the biggest impact and did as much with the natural ability endowered on him, as possible.
The choice itself might be controversial but I wonder what Australian basketball would have been if Longley hadn’t staked his claim with the Bulls during the ‘90s.
Since Longley, Australia has enjoyed a strong presence in the premier basketball league and if the recent activity is any indicator, there's a list of young names heading to the states in the years to come.