NBA experts' big tip for Simmons and Sixers
FORMER NBA coaches Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy have hailed the influx of Australians in the NBA, the latter believing Ben Simmons' generational talent could help make the Philadelphia 76ers the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Van Gundy, who coached both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, says while the popular picks in the east are the Boston Celtics (featuring Aussie Aron Baynes) and re-tooled Toronto Raptors, Simmons' Sixers are right in the conversation.
"Everyone wants to focus on what Ben Simmons can't do, which is shoot, and try to rush him into being a range shooter," Van Gundy said of the Melbourne-born point guard's struggles with his jumpshot.
"But I think Simmons and Philadelphia have done a good job in focusing on what he does great versus what he doesn't do as well.
"I think that's hard to do with all the critiques that you get as a player and I think it's been very wise by both Simmons and Philly.
"Everybody talks about Toronto, they talk Boston as the top two teams in the east but, if Philly plays well, they don't have to take a back seat to anyone."
Jackson, a former NBA Rookie of the Year who enjoyed a 17-year playing career before coaching the Golden State Warriors, says Simmons is a "generational talent".
"He (Simmons) came with expectations on him from day one and he has not disappointed," Jackson said.
"(He) continues to get better and better - I thought he had an outstanding year last year and he's going to build on it.
"I think the impact (of Aussie basketballers in the NBA) has been outstanding."
Adelaide-born Utah star Joe Ingles was famously cut by the Los Angeles Clippers before he'd even played a game and Van Gundy said he'd made the club regret its decision.
"I love Joe Ingles, I think Joe Ingles is a tremendous glue player, terrific shooter, passer, defender, what a pick-up by Utah and I know the Clippers regret waiving him back a few years ago," he said.
Now analysts for ESPN, both Jackson and Van Gundy hope Ingles' oft-injured Melbourne-born teammate Dante Exum gets a clean run at this season.
"His time in the NBA has been so choppy due to injury, it's hard to see all that he is capable of doing, hopefully this is the year he can be healthy and play a long productive year," Van Gundy said.
Jackson added: "It's about being healthy. I expect a great season from him being healthy and whole, tremendous size, tremendous athletic ability, and in a great system."
Asked if any could challenge the star-studded Golden State Warriors in their search of a three-peat of NBA titles, Van Gundy was blunt.
* Ben Simmons' Sixers tip off the 2018-19 NBA season Wednesday against Aron Baynes and the Celtics in an 11am AEDT blockbuster, before Steph Curry and the Warriors host Russell Westbrook's Oklahoma City Thunder. Watch both on ESPN Australia, Foxtel Channel 508.