The National Basketball League (NBL) is a professional basketball league located in Oceania. The league consists of nine teams: eight in Australia and one in New Zealand, with a tenth team joining in the 2021-2022 season.
Australia has homegrown talent making an impression in the NBA, including Ben Simmons, Aron Baynes, Ryan Broekhoff, Patty Mills, Mathew Dellevadova, Jonah Bolden, Dante Exum, and Joe Ingles. Australia’s biggest name Andrew Bogut (number one overall pick and NBA champion), recently retired from professional basketball but returned home to play in the NBL after the NBA, winning the 2019 NBL MVP award.
We’ve recently seen NBA draft prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton opting to go professionally over playing in college. These prospects were part of the league’s Next Stars program, which contracts overseas players and develops them in Australia to give them the best chance of being drafted into the NBA. Jae’Sean Tate played in the NBL last season and earned himself a contract from the Houston Rockets. The NBL is becoming a destination to play professional basketball.
The NBL has made great strides over the last few years, and it has yet to reach its potential. There is an abundance of talented Australians with NBA experience, Mitch Creek and Isaac Humphries, to name a few, and homegrown talent currently playing in the league. The NBL allows teams to have three imports and one Next Stars signing. Most imports are Americans, but there are a few imports from other countries.
There are currently 17 Americans playing in the NBL this season.
We are now going to look at the Top 5 Americans playing in the league and guys that could crack the Top 5 this season.
Note: Americans determined on the Top 5 have prior experience in the NBL.
- Bryce Cotton Perth Wildcats
The two-time NBL MVP is the number one American in the NBL but might be in the conversation for the league’s best player. The 28-year-old spent time in the NBA, China, Turkey, and Italy but has called the NBL home for the past few seasons. Cotton has led the Perth Wildcats to multiple NBL Titles and averaged 22.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals per game last season. Cotton is also a 38% shooter from 3. He is in the process of naturalizing as an Australian and may no longer be considered an import.
2. Scott Machado Cairns Taipans
Machado went six years between NBA stints but worked his way back after an extensive NBA G League career. He played in the NBL for the first time during the 2019-2020 season, where he was named to the All-NBL First Team. Machado averaged 15.9 points, 7.4 assists, and shot 39% from 3. Machado is a pure point guard that likes to run the floor and get his teammates involved. Cairns locked Machado up this offseason for another two-years.
3. Cam Oliver Cairns Taipans
In 2019-2020, Oliver played his first professional season overseas and played in Isreal after his season in Australia. He averaged 17.4 points and 9.6 rebounds, which were a league-best. Oliver recorded a double-double in 15 of 31 contests. As a 6-foot-8 center, Oliver is very physical and can stretch the floor. He made 50 3-pointers and recorded 50 blocks in the same season, an NBL first while shooting a respectable 35% from 3. Oliver signed a two-year deal to remain with Cairns before the season with an NBA out.
4. Lamar Patterson New Zealand Breakers
Patterson is another American that brings NBA and overseas experience to the NBL. He played last season with the Brisbane Bullets and averaged 21.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Patterson has been a lethal scorer throughout his career dating back to his time at Pittsburgh. He put up a career-high 71 points in China and was a nightly high scorer for Brisbane in 2019-2020. Expect a big year from Patterson for the Breakers.
5. Casper Ware Sydney Kings
Ware’s NBL career began with the Melbourne United in 2016. He led the team to a championship during his three-year stint with the club. Last season he signed with the Sydney Kings and was the highest-paid import in the league. He looks to rebound after a down year, but his NBL career warrants a spot in the Top 5. Ware can score at a high clip and looks to bring the Kings back to the NBL finals.
Americans on the outside looking in (No particular order).
Scotty Hopson Melbourne United
Hopson was 6th on our list for Americans in the NBL. He averaged 19.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game for the New Zealand Breakers last season. Hopson is a threat from the outside and will have plenty of opportunities to make his case to slide into the Top 5.
Keifer Sykes South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sykes has been through a lot in his life and is someone you want to root for. He bounced around China, Italy, Turkey, and Greece this past year. At 5-foot-11, Sykes is explosive and has bounce. He’s a true facilitator, can score and will be a big factor in South East Melbourne’s success.
Justin Simon Illawarra Hawks
Simon is a rookie in the NBL after spending last season in the G League with the Windy City Bulls. He is very athletic and is a great defender that can guard multiple positions. Simon is a stat sheet stuffer and can turn defense into instant offense.
Vic Law Jr. Brisbane Bullets
Law Jr. played in the NBA Bubble last season with the Orlando Magic. The 25-year-old shooting guard has already impacted the NBL in just two games averaging 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
Tyler Harvey Illawarra Hawks
Illawarra is 3-0 on the season, and Harvey has been a big part of the offense. Harvey has been lighting it up so far, averaging 24.0 points through 3 games.
Orlando Johnson Brisbane Bullets
Johnson brings a ton of NBA experience to the NBL and played last season in Russia. It has been ten months since Johnson last played professionally, but the Bullets brought him in to be a key piece in their offense. Johnson is a tough, versatile player and has said that he hopes to finish his career in the NBL.
Jarell Martin Sydney Kings
Martin is another American that has not played in a long time due to the pandemic. He had an impressive NBL debut with 11 points and 8 rebounds in 15 minutes. Martin is undoubtedly using the NBL to garner NBA interest, but let’s enjoy what he brings to the NBL this season.
Justian Jessup Illawarra Hawks
Jessup was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2020 and is stashed this season in the NBL. He is an intriguing prospect to watch this season.