The biggest year yet: Previewing the Aussies in the NBA

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Williams: Simmons could be in the MVP conversation this season (1:16)

Jay Williams contends that if Ben Simmons shoots the ball this season the way he did over the summer, he will be in the MVP conversation. (1:16)

With nine players currently on a roster, season 2019-20 is shaping up to be one of the biggest yet for Australians in the NBA.

Ben Simmons is Australia's greatest ever NBA talent - will this be the year he proves to the world that he is a transcendental player? Patty Mills is coming off an incredible summer playing for the Australian national team, but his San Antonio Spurs are in a state of flux. Two straight first-round playoff exits means the Spurs have not won a playoff series since reaching the Conference Finals in 2017.

Aron Baynes finds himself on a new squad with a franchise that hasn't broken .500 since 2013-14. Will he see out the season there?

Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker, once teammates at Milwaukee, were both traded away last season. How will they fare this season?

Jonah Bolden will be seeking his breakout season with the Sixers and Ryan Broekhoff is loved by Dallas' coaches, but his contract might make him expendable. Dante Exum is looking to get his career back on track, and Joe Ingles is, well, Joe Ingles.

Lets look into our crystal ball and see what challenges and opportunities may arise for them during the season.

Ben Simmons

Simmons is set for a breakout season.

Forget the media-influenced controversies that marred his brief visit back Down Under this past off-season, Simmons put in that work during his summer. Much maligned for his lack of a jumpshot during his first two seasons, Simmons was regularly seen attempting three-pointers during various scrimmages since returning to the U.S. from Australia in August.

And then, finally, he hit his first three-point shot as an NBA player in a preseason game.

"I'm confident in saying I'm not a great shooter," Simmons told reporters last week. "I'm getting better, though. That's just one thing that's coming into my game which I'm excited about."

If Simmons continues to expand his game, the Sixers will be a championship threat.

Ceiling: How do you improve on Rookie of the Year and All-Star berths in your first two years in the league? The jumpshot is the easy answer here, but 76ers coach Brett Brown has mentioned how he'd like Simmons to make an All-Defensive team this season. If he's making outside shots AND becoming an All-League caliber defensive player, Adam Silver will be handing him the Maurice Podolff trophy for sure.

Floor: He remains the same player that he's been the last two years. What then? Well, he'll still be a very, very good NBA player who is able to affect the game in myriad other ways, but the Sixers don't get further than the second-round of the playoffs. Again.

Patty Mills

Mills went full FIBA Patty during his off-season while playing for the Boomers, averaging 22.8 points and 3.9 assists during the World Cup. Whenever he pulls on the green and gold, Mills seems to elevate his game to another level.

Mills, by his own admission, struggled for years reconciling his roles with the Boomers and the Spurs (where he'd rarely been even the fourth option offensively behind Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Duncan), but has been much more comfortable in his role in recent times. For what it's worth, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wants Mills to play with the Spurs as he does with the Australian national team.

Ceiling: Mills carries his stellar international form into the NBA season. After only starting one game last season, Mills could be used by Popovich at both backcourt positions this season. A full-time starting berth may not be out of the equation either depending on how well Dejounte Murray comes back from missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Floor: Murray regains the form that made him the youngest player in NBA history to be named to an All-Defensive team in 2017-18, and Derrick White and Lonnie Walker also move ahead of Mills in the rotation. While Popovich loves what the Australian brings to the team, he's also 31 years old now and will be entering the NBA season with minimal rest after the World Cup campaign.

Dante Exum

Exum has not been able to catch a break and stay healthy since he entered the league. He's shown promise ever since the Jazz drafted him with the fifth pick in 2014, but each time it's looked liked he's found his feet in an NBA setting, injuries have set him back.

Since appearing in all 82 games as a rookie, Exum has played in just 122 games over five years as he's battled one injury after another. Utah, to their credit, have stuck by him and insist he's a key figure in their plans moving forward. They even re-upped his contract in the summer of 2018, but this year is a crucial season for the Aussie.

Exum has spent the summer working on getting heathy, and making sure his body is up to the rigors of the NBA grind. He looks like he's added a few kilos of muscle, too.

Ceiling: Exum stays healthy all season and delivers on the flashes he's been able to show the world during his first few seasons. Standing at 6'6 with a 6'9 wingspan, Exum has proved he can be versatile on both ends of the floor, and Quinn Synder may even tinker with using Exum in positions other than point guard this year.

Floor: Worst case scenario for Exum is .... well, I don't want to even put it out in the universe. Stay healthy, kid.

Aron Baynes

Baynes is a bruiser. He's played the same role on each team he's been on, and he's played it well. He's going to be physical, he'll rebound, set some hard screens, and just be the kind of player teammates love playing with.

Baynes was a casualty of the Celtics' desire to clear cap space this off-season and was dealt to Phoenix. Despite reports suggesting he would be bought out and allow him to sign with a contender, Baynes will be with the Suns for the foreseeable future.

The Suns aren't the most stable organisation in the league, but could use Baynes' veteran presence.

Ceiling: Baynes plays his usual brand of basketball, and is a complete professional helping to mentor and guide the young Suns' bigs. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so his contract could be used as a trade piece come February. With any luck, the burly Aussie will find himself on a playoff roster by the end of the season.

Floor: Baynes missed 31 games last year battling injury. If he stays healthy in 2019-20 he should play, but given he's with the Suns, who knows what could happen. They might end up having him ride the bench for extended periods which won't be good for anybody.

Thon Maker

Maker is a little like Exum in that he's shown glimpses of potential, but unlike Exum, it hasn't been injuries that have slowed his development. Under Jason Kidd's stewardship at Milwaukee, Maker was given sporadic minutes while trying build his slender frame to suit the NBA, but under coach Mike Budenholzer, he saw his playing time diminish and requested a trade away from the Bucks last season. He was dealt to the Pistons in February.

Maker decided to skip Australia's World Cup campaign this off-season to work on increasing muscle mass and his game. Detroit coach Dwane Casey has liked what he's seen so far.

"The strength he's put on his upper body has improved," Casey said, according to mlive.com. "It's helped his confidence to get in there and bang and hit. He's got better balance; he's worked on his core balance."

Ceiling: Maker needed to improve on his strength to withstand the physicality of the bigs and he seems to have done that. If he can find a consistent shooting rhythm, with his height and wingspan, he will become a disruptive menace on both ends of the floor.

Floor: Maker remains inconsistent and opportunities for him in the rotation dry up. The Pistons have Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Markieff Morris on the roster, too. This is a huge year for Maker to prove his on-court game matches the expectations.

Jonah Bolden

Bolden has all the tools necessary to be an effective big man in the modern NBA. Impressive defensive nous coupled with an ability to stretch the defense (35.4 percent from distance last season) makes him a prototypical modern day big. Now it's a matter of consistency - will he be able to do it night-in-night-out and earn extended minutes for a championship caliber team?

The tools are there, and so is the work ethic - Bolden elected to withdraw from the Boomers squad prior to the World Cup and returned to America to work on his game.

The Sixers have a glut of bigs - Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Kyle O'Quinn and Mike Scott, so Bolden will really have to earn his minutes.

Ceiling: He shows the consistency in his game and Brett Brown makes him a key part of his rotation. Bolden is able to effect the game on both ends of the floor, and if he's reached his potential, he will be a key figure as the Sixers look to make a deep playoff push this season. Brown likes to have a settled nine-man rotation by the time playoffs come around, Bolden would surely like to be in it.

Floor: Brown will tinker with his lineups, Bolden doesn't show the consistency that is being asked of him and he falls down the pecking order.

Ryan Broekhoff

Broekhoff is another Aussie who elected not to take part in the Boomers' World Cup campaign -- he had good reason, as his wife was expecting the birth of their first child -- and he will enter his second NBA season rested, and ready to establish himself in the world's best league. Broekhoff endured a topsy-turvy rookie season, playing limited, sporadic minutes, but proved he can be one the world's best shooters whenever his number is called.

"He's the ultimate pro," head coach Rick Carlisle said back in January. "He's kept himself ready and he's played well when he has gotten called upon."

Ceiling: When you have a playmaker as gifted as Luka Doncic you need to surround him with shooters, and as mentioned, Broekhoff can shoot. He averaged 41 percent from three-point range in limited minutes last season. Now imagine what he could do in extended time on the floor.

Floor: Basically, he gets cut or waived. The Mavericks guaranteed his deal in late June, but it is worth only $1.4 million, so if they do want to waive him it won't hurt them financially. Dallas have 15 players on guaranteed deals, but will need to cut someone if they find a player that suits their needs.

Matthew Dellavedova

The King returned to Cleveland last season. No, not LeBron James, rather NBA champion Dellavedova.

Beloved by the Cleveland faithful for his hard-nosed defense and willingness to chase down loose balls, Dellavedova's second stint in Cleveland is a lot different to the first one. The team is no longer a championship contender, and skews younger.

Now entering his seventh season in the league, the 29-year old veteran will be looked to help guide the Cavs' rising star Colin Sexton.

Ceiling: Dellavedova's minutes more than doubled once he was traded back to Cleveland. At the very least he should see similar numbers this season, and add depth to the backcourt in case of an injury.

Floor: Prior to being traded by Milwaukee, Dellavedova was only averaging 8.1 minutes per game. It's hard to see it dropping that low while with the Cavs, however.

Joe Ingles

Arguably the most complete Australian basketballer in the NBA, Ingles' skillset has been lauded by coaches in Utah since he joined the team in 2014. He seamlessly and selflessly fits into whatever role coach Quinn Synder requires him to play. Shooting? Ingles is your man. Need a spark plug off the bench? Joey will do it with no complaints. Leadership? Check.

Snyder has called Ingles Utah's "glue guy" and the veteran Aussie has been almost irreplaceable for the Jazz in that regard as they've battled various injuries to key guys over the last three seasons.

So far in preseason Ingles has been coming off the bench and looks like he's embracing that role. As usual.

Ceiling: Ingles is so good coming off the bench that he wins the Sixth Man of the year award. He's so versatile that joining a small list featuring Hakeem Olajuwon, Andrei Kirilenko, Anthony Davis and Jusuf Nurkic as the only players to record a 5 x 5 game is not out the question.

Floor: Ingles is an NBA iron man. He's missed just four games since 2014, and played the full 82 the past three seasons. Only injury will stop him.