The NBA season tips off on Wednesday (AEST) with drama, as ever, guaranteed. In a two-part series here on The Roar, we analyse the contenders and favourites from the two conferences, starting in the west.
2018 will go down in history as a massive year for basketball in Australia.
We have Ben Simmons playing like an All-Star and the likely Rookie of the Year. The Dream Team are coming to Australia for not one but two international exhibition matches and Andrew Bogut has given the NBL a timely shot in the arm.
Not to mention the record number of Aussies in the NBA and their penchant for being meaningful contributors on playoff teams.
Many Australians will be quick to jump aboard the Philadelphia 76ers bandwagon and that is a great choice. Simmons will go down as the greatest Australian basketball player ever and will win an MVP in his career.
Joel Embiid is not only a top ten player but also the number one NBA follow on social media. The 76ers are destined for a decade or more of playoff success. However, the right choice is the Utah Jazz. Here is why the Utah Jazz are Australia’s team.
1. The Utah Jazz are underdogs
I generally hate the cliché that Australians love underdogs, and I am not sure it resonates with Australians today as much as it did in the past.
However the Jazz are underdogs that Australians will love to get around. They are a gritty, defence-first, team-oriented squad. The NBA is a stars league, and the only time teams are fully celebrated is when it’s a ‘super team’.
Teams go to drastic measures to secure the services of just one or two stars and let the rest of the roster sort it’s self out after with whatever limited resources they have left. However the Jazz buck this trend big time.
Not a single one of their players has an All-Star appearance and they brushed past the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team with three superstars who have 22 All-Star appearances between them. Add to this that the Jazz lost their only All-Star in the offseason and it makes this season and their resolve all the more impressive.
2. Joe Ingles is the most Australian Australian in the NBA
Joe Ingles might be the most underrated player in the NBA. He is a deadly three-point shooter and exceptional defender, he is also one of the best passers at his position in the league.
What makes this even more impressive and appealing is the manner in which he goes about his business. Ingles is not the most athletic player in the NBA, in fact he would be much closer to the other end of the spectrum.
He is frequently likened to a high school math teacher because of his every man and laid back look. He is however, one of the smartest players in the NBA.
Joe plays entirely within himself and that allows him to always make the right plays and the right decisions. He gets open because he knows the offense inside and out, has an intricate understanding of NBA concepts and can read and react to nearly everything opposing defences throw at him.
The only reason he doesn’t score more on a nightly basis is because he is an unselfish player. If defences are keyed in on him he won’t force his shots, he will find the open teammate and make a text book pass.
On defence it is exactly the same. He listens to his coaches and pays close attention to the scouting reports. Because of this Ingles frequently gives trouble to players who are clearly more athletic and skilled. Joe knows what his defensive assignments are going to do before they do.
He has also developed one of the most fun personalities in the NBA. Ingles has grown into his role as a big game player and after drilling back to back threes over Superstar Paul George in the recent OKC series, Ingles let him hear it and he did not back down.
Ingles will get in his opponents faces and talk trash and back it up with a big bucket or a defensive stop, before winding the crowd up. The Joe Ingles experience is one not to be missed.
3. Dante Exum is also an Australian
We cannot forget about fellow Aussie Dante Exum. Exum has had a tough career so far suffering multiple injuries. Since being drafted at five in 2014 Dante has had two major injuries and struggled to find consistent minutes.
With the injury to Ricky Rubio, Exum is getting a little more run in the playoffs and showed recently he has the potential to be the two-way hyper athletic guard the Jazz through they were drafting. I am not putting too much stock in Exum yet but if you join the Jazz band you can gloat if he realises his potential.
4. Donovan Mitchell
If you haven’t yet heard of Donovan Mitchell it is time to pay attention. Mitchell is a future superstar and is likely to finish runner up in this years Rookie of the Year Award to Ben Simmons.
This year’s Rookie of the Year Award is hugely contentious. There is no doubt that Simmons has had an historic season the likes of which is rarely seen, however Mitchell’s rookie year is not far behind.
In any other year Mitchell would be a run away winner. While Simmons is officially a rookie he was not drafted in 2017 but 2016. Due to a foot injury Simmons sat out the entire 2016-17 season and spent the year learning the 76ers playbook, training with NBA coaches and adjusting to NBA life, travelling with the team, learning from veterans and also getting paid millions of dollars.
On the other hand Mitchell didn’t know which team he would be playing on until the end of June.
This is not a argument for or against Simmons and his rookie stats but context to show you how truly impressive it is that a rookie who had gone from scoring 15 points per game in 30 games a year in college to averaging 20 points each night in the NBA on a playoff-bound team that fell one win short of earning the third seed in the highly competitive western conference.
Since entering the playoffs Mitchell has taken it to another level. Mitchell disposed of the OKC Thunder and last year’s MVP (along with a current superstar and former superstar) averaging 28.5 points per game joining the Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the most dominant playoff rookies of all time.
Mitchell is an explosive and exciting player. YouTube his rookie year dunk highlights, the kid can dunk. His drives and layups are a combination of contortionism and ballet, genuine poetry in motion.
He is a deadly three-point shooter who can get hot and turn a game on its ear. Simmons is redefining how basketball is played, Mitchell is taking what we love about basketball and making it better.
The Jazz moved to Salt Lake City in 1979 and since then have only missed the playoffs 12 times. Yep that’s 27 playoff appearances in 39 years. The Jazz didn’t miss the playoffs in 20 seasons from 84 to 2003 and were a Western Conference force in the nineties, going to the finals two times only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The team built its identity around famed duo Karl Malone and John Stockton who will go down in history as two of the greatest ever players to never win a title. There is plenty of rich basketball history to be proud of for Utah Jazz fans.
6. Future success
If you add all the above up you have a recipe for success. When you add a world class chef to cook it up the future looks pretty bright. Quinn Synder is one of the best coaches in the NBA and this season is only testament to that.
Elevating a rookie, a 13th pick no less, to a starring role, whilst managing the 26 absence of your all NBA Defensive center (who is a front runner for Defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert), integrating Jae Crowder into the starting line-up mid year all whilst maintaining an elite defense and functional offense that steered the team towards an unlikely playoff run after losing your only all-star is no mean feat.
Snyder proved it again in the OKC series just how good of a coach he is. With Snyder at the helm this team is all but ensured to remain competitive and challenge for supremecy in the West post Warriors.
7. Coming to Australia
Earlier this season NBA commissioner Adam Silver indicated that getting NBA games to Australia was still a way off.
We are not the market China or Europe are, and we are a long way away from the States. However the NBA is acutely aware of the popularity of the game in Australia and the growing presence of Australian’s in the league.
Australia has the highest take up of League pass outside of the USA and Canada, they know their product is very popular here. The discussion around brining NBA games to Australia is not going anywhere but we need to think about what we can do help make the proposition as enticing as possible, and a huge Aussie following of Utah helps with that.
First of all brining a team with a strong Australian following and influence is the logical option. Utah is much closer to Australia than Philadelphia. With Europe only a six-hour flight from the East Coast any overseas expeditions by the 76ers will be across the Atlantic just as they did earlier this season to face off with Boston in London.
Utah on the other hand is a short flight to LA and then ‘only’ 14 hours to the East Coast of Australia. If any teams are coming to Australia it is teams in the West.
Second, Utah is in a relatively small market. Taking an NBA game overseas would mean a team giving up a home game and the ticketing and broadcast income that goes along with it. There is less to lose with a team like Utah and the league can compensate travelling teams more easily.
Finally the time difference allows a weekend game playing on the East Coast of Australia to be broadcast in the USA in near prime time on the West Coast.
Philadelphia is 14 hours behind AEST, while Salt Lake City is 16 hours behind. A 12:30pm Sunday game would air in Utah at 8:30pm Saturday and 7:30pm in Los Angeles. In Philadelphia however the game would air at 10:30pm.
8. It’s the hipster decision
Last but not least, being a Utah Jazz fan will be cool. Every man and their dog will be jumping on the 76ers bandwagon. Be different and be a Jazz fan before anyone else. And imagine how cool you will look in a retro Karl Malone jersey.