Australians in the NBA, Ben Simmons, ejection, foul trouble, Josh Giddey, improved defence, Dyson Daniels, Joe Ingles, Josh Green return, latest news
Ben Simmons has had a huge opportunity to step up for Brooklyn, while Josh Giddey is thriving like never before.
Meanwhile several more stars from Down Under have big roles to play for playoff teams, and others face key challenges.
Below foxsports.com.au looks at how all the Australians in the NBA have been tracking in recent weeks.
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BEN SIMMONS (Brooklyn Nets)
When Kevin Durant went down with an MCL injury earlier this month, there was a real opportunity for Simmons to step up and break out of his offensive funk, or at least try to.
But the Nets have looked vulnerable without Durant, going 2-3 and are clinging onto the East’s fourth seed after an epic surge where they won 12-straight games to climb into the top two.
And Simmons has, well, been the Simmons he’s been all season, still a ways off his previous All-Star heights.
The Aussie continues to lack aggression on the offensive end, with his scoring average of 7.5 points per game well down – half his career average of 15 – including just six points per game on as many shot attempts over his last five games without Durant.
Simmons did record his first ever triple-double for Brooklyn last week against the Spurs – and his first in two years – and still impacts games in a variety of ways including averaging 6.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists – albeit they too are career-lows – to go with 1.5 steals.
But if there’s one thing the Nets need more than anything with Durant out of the line-up, it’s scoring,
NBA pundits Stephen A. Smith and Jalen Rose were particularly brutal in their assessment of Simmons’ indifferent season, but one damning stat can’t be ignored.
He has more fouls (120) than field goal baskets (116) – the former which has been an issue for most of the season. Perhaps the strongest part of Simmons’ game is his defence – an area the Nets struggled earlier in the campaign – but he can’t have an impact at the end of the floor if he’s not on the court at all.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn even declared the Nets need more out of the 26-year old after he got ejected with two technical fouls during the team’s loss to Phoenix following an argument with a referee.
Simmons scores! Picks up Triple Double | 00:44
“We need him to be productive, and that is without the fouls. That is helping us rebound the basketball. That is playing with poise and composure. That is pushing the pace for us,” Vaughn said, per ESPN reporter Nick Friedell.
ESPN’s Frank Isola said of Simmons after his ejection on the YES Network: “You talk about the season he’s had, which has been a little up and down. But he’s (also) played really well, especially during the 12-game winning streak.
“(But) that was the worst moment for him, you cannot do that. Where is your head at in that situation when you know the team is shorthanded?”
JOSH GIDDEY (OKC Thunder)
Giddey’s recent surge has drawn ample praise from the NBA world as the sophomore arguably producing the best season from his draft class.
Heck, if Giddey had been playing this way all campaign, he might even be in All-Star discussions.
The 20-year old has averaged an impressive 18.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and seven assists from his last 10 games including shooting 51.9 per cent from the field and 92.3 per cent from the line.
However his three-point shot has dropped off in recent weeks, with just four made shots from beyond the arc in his last seven contests.
No matter, Giddey is impacting games in so many other ways including leading the Thunder in assists and rebounds.
He’s also racked up 18 double-doubles this season and total of 34 career double-doubles from 96 games – more than double any player has had by 21 years of age in OKC franchise history – a franchise that was once home to such names as the NBA’s all-time triple-doubles leader Russell Westbrook as well as Kevin Durant and James Harden.
‘Big Guy’ Giddey growing in confidence! | 00:29
His play has been crucial to the 23-24 Thunder winning seven of their last nine games to sit on the brink of the play-in tournament – owning the same record as the 10th-placed Warriors.
“What you’re seeing from Josh Giddey is a pretty sizeable leap,” Locked On Thunder’s Rylan Stiles said.
“He’s able to score the ball more and he’s able to get to the rim with more aggression. It’s resulting in more points for him and everybody else involved.
“(It’s) Something (Thunder coach) Mark (Daigneault) talked about when he said the biggest thing for Giddey over this last stretch is he’s playing like he’s 6-foot-8.
“He’s using his body on both ends of the floor and getting lost in the defence – and that’s translating to his good offensive stretch.”
Indeed, while there’s plenty of commentary around his improved offence, his defence has also come a long way and isn’t earning enough plaudits.
Just like on the offensive end, Giddey is using his big 6-foot-8 frame to play more with more physicality on defence and utilising his length to contest and alter shots more effectively.
Giddey is also getting in better positions overall, exemplified when he tied up Denver Nuggets Aaron Gordon for a jump ball in Monday’s clash.
These are things we weren’t really seeing from Giddey in his rookie season.
“He continues to defend at a really high level. There’s a lot made of (OKC) starting Kenrich (Williams) at the five and how small that position is, but you can’t do that if you don’t get size and physicality from the other spots,” Daignault said.
“Him (Giddey), Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), Dub (Jalen Williams) and Lu (Dort) and enabling us to do that and not be totally burnt by it.
“I sell that to say his defence has been huge and has been a huge contributor to the fact we’ve been able to throw some unconventional line-ups on the floor because he’s competing on defence and competing on the glass.”
DYSON DANIELS (New Orleans Pelicans)
Injuries have been an unfortunate ongoing theme in the Pelicans’ season, but it’s helped carve out a key role for Dyson Daniels.
With Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram both sidelined, the Pick 8 rookie has started in each of the team’s last six games, 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 28.3 minutes per contest.
It’s the defensive end where Daniels is really earning a reputation, adding Jimmy Butler to the list of superstars he’s been assigned to by guarding the Miami Heat gun twice in three days.
The Aussie spoke about the valuable experience he’s gained from his recent increased opportunities.
“I feel like just being out on the floor more, learning when to cut, when to hold,” he told reporters.
“ CJ (McCollum) has been getting blitzed the last few games so finding little gaps in the defence where I can help out, being a secondary playmaker.
“With the minutes I’ve been getting, just seeing the game more and learning different players and how they like to play gives you more time to get your rhythm in the game and find ways to make an impact.”
One thing you can always count on with the 19-year old is high energy and effort whenever he steps onto the floor.
It’s why New Orleans coach Willie Green has had so much trust in playing the rookie big minutes – with Daniels showing off his defensive IQ with a clutch steal against Miami directly after copping a brutal five-second violation.
Such plays are everything to a coach, and Green recently explained what makes Daniels unique.
“Dyson has been doing great for us. A young guy — 19 years old — I’m kind of throwing him in the fire, especially with guys being out but he is handling it well,” he said.
“We know he is an excellent defender, a high-IQ basketball player on the floor. He’ll make some mistakes and those are things we can correct and continue to get better but he brings a ton of confidence into games.
“He has great size for a wing. He can play four positions and guard four positions so that makes him unique. We’ll continue to work together with our whole group. We’re excited about Dyson and what he brings to our team.”
JOE INGLES (Milwaukee Bucks)
Speaking of teams depleted by injury, Ingles’ return from an ACL has been much needed for the undermanned Milwaukee Bucks.
Getting just seven of a possible 46 games from Khris Middelton has been less than ideal for a team with title aspirations, while Giannis Antetokounmpo has been dealing with his own knee injury.
And so Ingles has been pushed into a meaningful bench role near instantly upon returning to the court last month including a handful of big performances.
The 35-year old has really found his groove as of late including racking up 14 points, six rebounds and eight assists against the Raptors last week. Meanwhile, over his last seven contests, Ingles has averaged 9.1 points, 4.4 assists and is shooting 45.5 per cent from deep, while he ranks third among Bucks players who’ve played at least 10 games this season.
Of course, Ingles’ passing helps his teammates around him flourish, and we’re still yet to see the veteran line up alongside all three of Milwaukee’s big three of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
When that happens, he could well be the ideal complimentary piece to help this team’s championship tilt.
JOSH GREEN (Dallas Mavericks)
Green’s (finally) back!
An elbow injury ultimately sidelined the young gun for over 20 games in a brutal blow in an otherwise promising season.
Green has averaged nine points in 25 minutes across three games since returning last week, with the ramp up of minutes to 29 in Dallas’ last game against the Clippers encouraging and a showing of how highly he’s valued by coach Jason Kidd.
He even produced a highlight play, dropping Clipper Norman and burying step-back three right in front of LA’s bench.
Green DROPS POWELL in Mavs v Clippers | 00:23
The 22-year old has a key role to play for a Mavericks team crying out for more support for Luka Doncic down the stretch of the season – regardless of whether or not it makes a trade by next month’s deadline – and beyond.
But for now, the Aussie told reporters it was simply “amazing” to be back on the court after such an extensive absence.
“I remember being in the locker room after the game and I was like ‘it’ll just be two games and I’ll be good,’ but obviously it wasn’t two games,” he said.
“It was more of just making sure I’m just ready to go whenever my time was going to happen. It’s one of those things where I’d rather it happen now than at the end of the season, so it is what it is. I’m moving forward now. I’m playing.”
JOCK LANDALE (Phoenix Suns)
It’s been tough goings for Landale’s Suns in recent times as widespread injuries have seen the team tumble from the top of the West down to the fringe of the play-in tournament.
But the big man has taken every opportunity that’s come his way including scoring in double figures in four of his last seven outings and tallying a double-double in a win over Indiana.
Landale’s per 36 numbers read really well, averaging 16.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, while he’s shooting 51 per cent from the field and 83 per cent from the line.
The big man (averaging 14.7 minutes) is still however battling with Bismack Biyombo (14) for backup centre minutes – effectively splitting time on the court behind DeAndre Ayton in the rotation.
But with so much going wrong in Phoenix, could the team consider a big trade to re-jig its roster ahead of the deadline? And if so, could Ayton be the Suns’ most valuable trade chip among assets they’d be willing to part with?
If Ayton, who signed a four-year, $133 million maximum contract extension in the off-season, was dealt, and Phoenix didn’t get another notable big in a potential trade, it could open up opportunities for Landale in a meaningful way like never before.
It’s clearly very hypothetical thinking, but just something to keep in mind.
MATISE THYBULLE (Philadelphia 76ers)
It’s been the same story for Thybulle all season, struggling to crack consistent rotation minutes for Doc Rivers’ deep side.
The defensive stud has pushed ahead of Danuel House Jr in the pecking order, but the additions of James Harden and De’Anthony Melton and improvement from Georges Niang and Shake Milton have made it tough for Thybulle to get a proper look in.
LeBron fuels Lakers comeback! | 00:58
He’s averaged a more promising 13.9 minutes in January – his most time on the court of any month this season – but still doesn’t have a meaningful role.
After Thybulle didn’t reach a contract extension with the Sixers in the final season of his rookie-scale deal, it seems a split between the two parties could be on the cards – if he isn’t traded beforehand.
But he still has time to prove his worth, particularly in the playoffs – where players can really bump up their value – for a team with title aspirations.
PATTY MILLS (Brooklyn Nets)
Like Thybulle, Mills has also suffered from his team’s deepened rotation, only getting on the court three times in January after four appearances in December.
Kevin Durant’s knee injury and Brooklyn’s drop off could’ve opened up a role for Mills – in some shape or form – but he hasn’t played since January 18.
The veteran has however been in the NBA long enough to understand where he stands at age 34 playing for one of the top teams in the league, and he’s still a valuable mentor off the court, particularly for fellow Aussie Ben Simmons.
It comes after Mills signed a two-year $14.5 million extension with the Nets last off-season, and while he may be second guessing that decision, his current situation could still be better than having a bigger role on a lesser side.
MATTHEW DELLAVEDOVA (Sacramento Kings)
The Aussie favourite was recently sidelined by an illness, but even before that – and since – he remains very much on the periphery of the Kings rotation.
Dellavedova hasn’t played since January 14, and the third-seeded Sacramento has no reason to change its formula, on track to break the franchise’s 17-year playoff drought – the longest in the NBA.
Edwards puts Sengun on a poster TWICE! | 00:41
No matter, he’s officially a part of Kings history now, hitting the team’s franchise record 23rd three-pointer in a January 10 game against the Orlando Magic in a testament of its offensive leap – rated second in the league.
And all it could take is an injury to De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell or Malik Monk for Dellavedova to crack into the rotation, so he’ll need to stay prepared every game.
JACK WHITE (Denver Nuggets)
White has spent his first NBA season transferring between the Nuggets’ main roster and their G League affiliate Grand Rapids Gold.
The forward did score five points – his first points since December 5 – in five minutes of garbage time against Phoenix two weeks ago, but such situations are the only time he’s gotten onto the court for a Denver team with the second-best record in the NBA (33-14).
White over the weekend was sent back to the G League – where he’s averaged 18.6 points, 2.2 threes, 7.6 rebounds and one block in 31.2 minutes from five games – as he looks to spend proper time back on the hardwood.
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