With Joe Ingles receiving a lifeline from the Utah Jazz, Australia will have seven players in the NBA, with five strong chances of a championship.
Will it be Australian duo Patty Mills and Aron Baynes claiming another NBA championship trophy or will Matthew Dellavedova, on the muscular back of LeBron James, be victorious?
Bookmakers say it will be Dellavedova’s Cleveland Cavaliers who will emerge as champions from the 2014-15 NBA season which starts on Wednesday (AEDT).
A poll of NBA general managers, however, has Mills, Baynes and their San Antonio Spurs repeating after taking the title last season.
If the Spurs or Cavaliers do stumble, there’s a great chance an Australian will be a member of the team that does claim the championship, with five of the seven Aussies in the NBA on teams expected to contend in the playoffs.
“The fact we have so many Australians playing in the NBA shows the strength of basketball back home,” said 19-year-old Melbourne-born rookie Dante Exum, one of the great hopes for the future of the Utah Jazz.
The seven Australians will suit up for five NBA clubs. The number was at nine late last week, but the Los Angeles Clippers waived swingman Joe Ingles, the Jazz cut forward Brock Motum and the New York Knicks signed and then shipped 216cm centre Jordan Vandenberg to its development league club team.
On Monday, the Jazz announced they had picked up Ingles.
A Kiwi could also end up with an NBA championship. New Zealand centre Steven Adams, after an excellent pre-season, is set to unseat veteran Kendrick Perkins as the starter for the bookies’ third favourite to win the championship, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Superstar James shook up the NBA in the off season when he fled the Miami Heat where he won two titles and returned to the Cavaliers, who drafted him in 2003.
The Cavaliers, who also added All-Star forward-centre Kevin Love, instantly became the favourites to win the NBA’s eastern conference and play western conference kingpins the Spurs in the finals.
A key cog in James’ championship plan is Victorian point guard Dellavedova, who with his tough-as-nails play has cemented a place in new coach David Blatt’s rotation.
The Cavs’ starting point guard is Australian-born, but US-committed Kyrie Irving.
If the Cavs don’t win the eastern conference the Chicago Bulls, featuring Brisbane-born power forward Cameron Bairstow, are the next best bet, according to bookmakers and the GM poll.
The Bulls have electric guard Derrick Rose back from two years of knee injuries and have added former LA Lakers forward-centre Pau Gasol to an already talented roster.
In the west, Andrew Bogut’s Golden State Warriors look ominous, with the team featuring the most lethal backcourt shooting tandem in basketball, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and adding new coach Steve Kerr.
“I haven’t been part of a team that moves the ball so well for a number of years and it’s very exciting,” Bogut said.
Key to the Warriors, as has been the past two years, is Bogut’s health.
Last year a cracked rib ended Bogut’s season and without his 213cm frame to protect the rim the Warriors were booted out of the first round of the playoffs by the Clippers.
A year earlier, when Bogut’s fractured ankle left him hobbling in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs took advantage and eliminated the Warriors.
Bogut, 29, decided to miss Australia’s recent World Cup campaign in Spain to make sure his body was healthy for the NBA season.
While NBA draft No.5 pick Exum created plenty of headlines during a pre-season of highs and lows, his Jazz have been written off as championship contenders.
They sit alongside the consistently woeful Milwaukee Bucks and former Australian Olympic head coach Brett Brown’s rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers with no-hoper odds of around 250/1 to win the NBA Championship.
ODDS ON TEAMS WITH AUSSIES AND KIWIS IN THE NBA
3-1 Cleveland Cavaliers – Matthew Dellavedova
4-1 San Antonio Spurs – Patty Mills and Aron Baynes
6-1 Oklahoma Thunder – Steven Adams
13-2 Chicago Bulls – Cameron Bairstow
33-1 Golden State Warriors – Andrew Bogut
250-1 Utah Jazz – Dante Exum and Joe Ingles.
(*Odds from William Hill)