Aussie Players in the NBA Draft: A History
For close to 50 years, Australians being drafted into the NBA was about as rare as hen’s teeth. Since the 1990s, however, that’s all changed, and today there are a multitude of Aussies not just playing in the world’s top league, but having a significant impact. From the little-known Carl Rodwell in 1969 to Dyson Daniels in 2022, these are some of the most significant Australian players to be drafted to the NBA.
Carl Rodwell – Pick 217 (1969)
He might not exactly be a household name, but in terms of Australians being drafted to the NBA, it all started with Carl Rodwell. After three years playing college ball for UC Riverside, the 6’8” forward from Cowra was the final player selected in the 1969 draft with pick 217. Nowadays, NBA drafts don’t go close to that deep, with just two rounds of action and 60 picks taking place in the modern era, but things were a little different back then.
Rodwell was drafted to the Hawks, but unsurprisingly given the number at which he was selected, he didn’t ever actually set foot on an NBA court.
Though he didn’t make it all the way to the big time, Rodwell being picked for the best league in the world was an historic moment in Australian basketball.
Luc Longley – Pick 7 (1991)
Though a couple of compatriots were selected by NBA teams in the years prior, Luc Longley was the first Aussie to ever actually play in the league – and it’s safe to say that he got us off to a pretty decent start. Longley was selected at pick 7 in the 1991 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, for whom he would play his first two-and-a-half seasons in the NBA. The 7’2” centre didn’t exactly set the world on fire though, and towards the end of the 1993-94 season was traded to the Chicago Bulls – a move which turned out to be the biggest blessing of his career.
At that stage, the Bulls were coming off three consecutive championships between 1991 and 1993, but the sudden retirement of Michael Jordan saw them knocked out in the Conference Semi-Finals in Longley’s first year with the franchise. They slid even further down the standings the next year, until Jordan announced his comeback late in the season. The Bulls still failed to make it past the Conference Semi-Finals, but with Jordan back they would go on to win another three championships over the next three years; all with Longley playing as their starting center. His career petered out after the third of those rings, ending with a couple of seasons in Phoenix and one in New York, but nonetheless the first ever Aussie to play in the NBA had put together what remains the most successful career by an Australian in the league to date.
Andrew Bogut – Pick 1 (2005)
With Longley having blazed a trail for Australian NBA players, by 2005 it was no longer unusual to see a player from down under selected in the draft. Andrew Bogut, however, took it to a new level when he was drafted with the first overall selection in the 2005 draft. The Melburnian was drafted to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he played for seven seasons, and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2006 and the All-NBA Third Team in 2010.
Towards the end of his tenure in Milwaukee his career hit somewhat shaky ground; the 2011 NBA lockout saw him attempt to return home to play in the NBL, before, upon returning to the USA, he suffered a significant ankle injury. He was subsequently traded to the Golden State Warriors, and while he wouldn’t reach the individual heights of earlier in his career again, he more than compensated with team success. Bogut would end up winning an NBA Championship with the Warriors in 2015 and playing in the Finals again the next year, before his accomplished career ground to a halt over the next couple of years.
Patty Mills – Pick 55 (2009)
Patty Mills was hardly the most hyped player to come out of Australia when he was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2009, but his illustrious career has belied his late selection. Following a quiet first couple of seasons, he was traded to San Antonio at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, where he would remain for the next decade. He showed his shooting capability at the Spurs from the outset, averaging 10.3 points in just over 16 minutes in his first season and shooting 40% or more from long range in each of his first three seasons there.
Mills came off the bench for virtually the entirety of his tenure with San Antonio, but his consistency was cherished in a team which values that trait more than any other in the league, and he was an important member of the team which went on to win the NBA Championship in 2014. Traded to Brooklyn at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, he started last year like a house on fire, and though he cooled off after the All-Star break, his early season form showed that even aged 33, he still has plenty left to give.
Ben Simmons – Pick 1 (2016)
In 2016, Ben Simmons became the second Australian – or third if you count Kyrie Irving – to be selected with the first pick in the NBA draft. And there was no shortage of hype surrounding him when he entered the league; the 6’11” point guard enjoyed a dominant solitary season playing college ball for LSU, and given his incredible athletic gifts, the ceiling on his NBA career looked high.
Since being drafted, of course, his issues both on and off the court have been well-documented. A fantastic rookie year for the 76ers which saw him average 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists wasn’t improved upon a great deal in the three ensuing years, and in 2021-22 he was traded to the Nets in a year in which he didn’t take to the court even for a minute. Despite his tribulations, however, that ceiling remains high. Focus on his lack of shooting ability is warranted, but at just 25 years old and with the raft of talent he has at his disposal, Simmons still has the capacity to forge out a high-quality NBA career.
Josh Giddey – Pick 6 (2021)
With Simmons already running NBA offences at nearly 7-foot-tall, Josh Giddey became the second oversized Aussie point guard in the league when he was drafted with the sixth pick in the 2021 draft. Standing at 6’8”, the Melburnian entered the league with plenty of expectation courtesy predominantly of his high basketball IQ, ability to read the floor and innate passing ability.
And from the moment he stepped foot on an NBA floor, those talents were plain to see. Though he struggled for efficiency – particularly from outside the arc – Giddey ended his debut season having averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, and was rewarded with a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team for his efforts. On the 2nd of January, 2022, he also became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, putting together a 17-13-14 game against the Mavericks. A couple of months later, just before being put on ice for the last 20 or so games of the season, he picked up three more in succession, rounding out the first season of what looks likely to be an illustrious career at the top level.
Dyson Daniels – Pick 8 (2022)
Dyson Daniels became the latest Australian to be drafted into the NBA when he was selected at pick eight by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2022 draft. Yet another Victorian, Daniels enters the league having spent last season playing for NBA G League Unite, for whom he showed his wares as a playmaker and lockdown defender, putting up averages of 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists across his 14 games.
Daniels is projected as a talented passer, particularly in the pick-and-roll, and at 6’8” looks set to one day join the flock of versatile Aussies with facilitating abilities which bely their size playing in the NBA. Similar to both Giddey and Simmons, the major question mark is around his shooting ability, having shot under 30% from three-point range last season and just over 50% from the free-throw line. Also like his aforementioned compatriots, however, the talents that he has at his disposal mean his ceiling at the top level is high.
Australians being drafted to the NBA has become increasingly common in recent years, and not only that, they’re being picked up early. Daniels marked the third Aussie in seven years to be picked in the top ten, and if you include Dante Exum – who was taken at pick 5 in 2014 – and Kyrie Irving – the first pick in 2011 and who spent the first two years of his life in Australia – that number goes up to five in a little over a decade.
From the humble beginnings which saw just two Aussies drafted to the league in its first 43 years, their presence in the early rounds of NBA drafts is now commonplace, and indicative of the rise of basketball in Australia.