In the past Aussie Hoopla has taken an extensive look at the entire list of players who have played in both the NBA and NBL.
Names from every decade since the 1980’s were present and it included a list of NBL legends like Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal, Lanard Copeland and Rob Rose. But with close to 100 players who have both played in the NBL and the NBA we decided to look at which NBL player had the greatest NBA career.
On Draft night 1995, Brunson was not drafted by any NBA team despite an impressive college career at Temple where he played in four straight NCAA Tournaments and finished fifth in the schools all-time assist numbers.
In order to find his first professional basketball gig he had to look overseas and was quickly recruited by Mike Dunlap and the Adelaide 36ers. It was there he combined fellow import Leon Trimmingham and was able to take the 36ers to NBL semi-finals.
Brunson had a “one and done” career in Adelaide as he was determined on playing in the NBA and in 1997 he was signed as a free agent by the Portland Trail Blazers. He then went on to play in nine NBA seasons for seven different NBA teams.
Rick Brunson’s finest NBA moments include;
- A 19 point haul against the Lakers in 1998
- A breakout season with the LA Clippers in 2005 in which he averaged a career-high 5.5 points
- A member of the 1999 Knicks squad who lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the championship, a team which featured Aussie Andrew Gaze on the roster.
No one with NBL experience has ever had had the kind of NBA rookie season like Jonny Flynn did. In his first game he was named as a starter and showed he deserved it by dropping 18 points against the Nets.
After his rookie season however Flynn underwent hip surgery and never returned to his rookie form, his numbers dropped from 13 points and 4.4 assists in his rookie year to 5.3 points per game and only 3.4 assists per game for the remainder of his career.
During October 2012 Flynn was signed by the Detroit Pistons but was last only 21 days on their roster before being cut, leaving him without an NBA team for the first time.
Flynn decided to venture overseas to prove he still had a lot of basketball left. The short length of the NBL season saw him land with the Melbourne Tigers, a team who were floundering near the bottom of the ladder at the time. Flynn was able to drag the Tigers from worst in the league to a top four finish. In doing so he was named to the NBL All-Star game.
Flynn averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists per game in the NBL but was never able to earn himself another NBA contract, He has since played in China and Italy.
Jonny Flynn’s finest NBA moments include;
- In his rookie season he made a game-winning layup to beat Utah 110-108 in addition to putting up 28 points.
- Named to the All-Rookie 2nd team in 2010.
In 1992 the Illawarra Hawks’ search for a second import dragged on throughout the entire pre-season before coach Dave Lindstrom stumbled across Doug Overton who had recently been drafted by the Detroit Pistons only to be told he wasn’t ready for the NBA yet and wouldn’t be offered a contract.
Overton’s needed only one season in Illawarra to prove the Pistons coaching staff wrong as he led the Hawks to the playoffs and was rewarded with an NBA contract the following year.
Overton was named in the All-NBL First team and averaged 24 points, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals during his one year here and still is remembered fondly in Wollongong.
Considered one of the finest talents to ever play in our league and after the game where he lit up the North Melbourne Giants for 33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 7 steals notch up a 113-95 victory, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Overton went on to play in 11 NBA seasons for 8 different teams including the Washington Bullets, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Doug Overton’s finest NBA moments include;
- 21 points, 12 assists and 3 steals in fourth NBA game as a rookie
- 20 points and 10 assists going head to head with John Stockton in a loss to the Jazz.
- A career-high 30 points and 6 steals against the Orlando Magic in 1995.
- 17 points and 11 assists in his last game as a New Jersey Net in 2001.
Todd Lichti played four seasons for the Perth Wildcats (1996-99), his arrival due in part to his relationship with former Stanford teammate Andrew Vlahov. His biggest game came in 1998 when he dropped 31 points on 11 of 15 shooting (73%) and dished out 7 assists against the North Melbourne Giants. He was integral in guiding the Wildcats to the playoffs all four seasons he played there.
However the Todd Lichti we saw in Australia saw was very different to the man who was drafted by the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. Finishing his college career as Stanford’s all-time leading scorer (2,336 points) he averaged 8 points as a rookie.
Developing into a starter his sophomore year he averaged 14 points a game but only 25 games into his second NBA season Lichti suffered a serious knee injury which he never fully recovered from.
After he was never able to return to his impressive 1991 form and bounced around with NBA destinations Denver, Orlando, Golden State and Boston where he had minimal impact before retiring from the NBA and eventually ending up in Perth.
Todd Lichti’s finest NBA moments include;
- A 29 point and 4 assist effort in a high scoring 153-161 game which Denver lost to San Antonio.
- A near triple double, 22 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists off the bench in the first game of the Playoffs against the Spurs in 1990
- 27 points in a loss to Houston as a starter in 1990.
TOP 5 NBA CAREERS BY NBL PLAYERS
5. Patty Mills
Patty is only player to begin his professional career in the NBA before playing in the NBL and being able to return to the NBA again.
His time in the NBL was due only to the NBA player strike which coincided with his contract with Portland ending which left him without an NBA deal in place. In order to keep his game sharp while he awaited the lock out to end he signed a deal with the Melbourne Tigers which allowed us the rare treat of an NBA level star go head to head with local talent.
Mills would leave the Tigers for a lucrative contract in China before signing with the Spurs mid-season in 2012.
Patty Mill’s finest NBA moments include;
- In 2014 he had 32 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists vs Charlotte in on 25 minutes of game time.
- 27 points as a starter against Steve Nash in his final game for the Phoenix Suns
- 34 points, 5 rebounds and 12 assists in the Spurs final regular season game of 2012
- Scoring 17 points in 17 minutes in the deciding game 5 to win the NBA Championship.
4. Curtis Perry
Curtis Perry was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the third round of the 1970 NBA Draft. Perry played for the NBA’s San Diego Rockets/Houston Rockets (1970–71), Milwaukee Bucks (1971–74) and Phoenix Suns (1974–78).
In 8 seasons he played in 480 games, his finest in 1975 where he faced off against another man on the this list Ollie Johnson, then playing for the Kansas City Kings. Perry led Phoenix with 27 points and delivered a 122-11 win going head to head with Kings star Tiny Archibald who dropped 39 points in response.
Perry helped the Bucks win the 1971-72 and 1972-73 NBA Midwest Division titles, the 1973-74 NBA Western Conference championship, as well as helping the Phoenix Suns win the 1975-76 NBA Western Conference championship.
After retiring from the NBA he arrived in Australia in 1983 and played two seasons for the Perth Wildcats. Perry has the record for playing in the most games in the NBA before playing in the NBL, but he certainly wasn’t the same player in Perth as he was in the NBA. Only once did he score over 20 points while in Perth while averaging a mere 9 points per game during his NBL career. Perry is also the father of former NBA player Byron Houston.
3. Ollie Johnson
Ollie Johnson debuted in 1972 with an amazing 20 point performance as a member of the Portland Trailblazers. Impressive as this achievement was it was overshadowed at the time by Milwaukee’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who delivered 49 points in the same game and also gave the Bucks a 111-108 victory.
Johnson, who averaged 7.7 points per game in his NBA career, went on to have a ten year career (1972–1982) as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Jazz, Kansas City Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, and Philadelphia 76ers. He finished his career with a homecoming of sorts signing with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers for his final two seasons in the NBA.
Although playing in only a handful of playoff games once he was a part of the 76ers he was there as Philadelphia lost to the Celtics in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals and the LA Lakers in the NBA Championship in 1982.
He arrived in Australia in 1985 where he was relied upon to carry a Hobart Devils team without a great deal of Australian talent. His 44 point, 13 rebound, 5 assist effort against the St Kilda Saints is one not to be forgotten in a season where he averaged 32.5 points and 13.5 rebounds.
Ollie Johnson was not retained by Hobart but returned to the NBL in 1987 when he signed with the West Sydney Westars (Now Sydney Kings). He played one more season down under before returning to Philadelphia as is now the director of athletics for the Community College of Philadelphia.
2. Luc Longley
There is slight conjecture on this next player who despite being recorded by the NBL to have played two games for the Perth Wildcats in 1986, Luc Longley himself has said that these games were actually pre-season games. In saying that a pre-season game is still technically an NBL game so we will give Longley the nod and include him in this list.
Luc Longley had his best season in 1997/98 when he capped of his run with the Chicago Bulls with a third consecutive NBA championship while averaging a career bests with 11.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 2.8 apg. He appeared in 87 career NBA Playoffs games, averaging 6.6 ppg and 4.3 rpg.
Longley’s success however has always been measured by his success in the NBA post-season and few players have resumes like Longley’s in that respect.
Luc Longley is the trailblazer that allowed many Aussies to make the NBA and perhaps it is this feat which is his greatest achievement as a player. Without him we would not have Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills and Aron Baynes currently playing in the NBA, this is for certain.
Luc Longley’s finest NBA moments include;
- Three NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls
- 19 points in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against Seattle
- A near triple double with 34 points, 5 rebounds and 12 assists in the Spurs final regular season game of 2012
- 22 points, 17 rebounds against the LA Clippers in 1997.
- He recorded career-highs of 24 points (9-12 FG) and 8 assists and grabbed 9 rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks on 1/2/98.
1. Stephen Jackson
He is known as “Captain Jack” in many circles and has been scorned as an NBA team’s cancer as many times as he has been lauded as an NBA Teams savior.
It seems strange to think that the guy who once was the “franchise player” for NBA teams in Atlanta, Golden State, and Charlotte actually started his career in the Kings purple and gold.
After a tumultuous college experience which saw him drafted in the second round by Phoenix, he wasn’t signed by any NBA team and was forced to look overseas to start his professional basketball career. A mere 19 year in 1998 when he arrived down under, he played 4 games in Sydney before breaking his leg and disappearing from the league.
Two years later he reappeared in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, started 40 of his 77 games as a rookie and was also part of the NBA rookie game during All-Star weekend.
Signing with San Antonio next Jackson played a huge role as the teams third leading scorer in Spurs 2003 championship squad. He played a pivotal role in the Championship series deciding Game 6 by nailing 3 clutch three point shots in the 4th quarter which maintained the Spurs lead and delivered them the title.
Stephen Jackson then signed with Atlanta in 2003, a move deemed risky by many however one which delivered his finest season so far. In the 29 games following the All-Star Break, Jackson averaged 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. During this stretch, he was the NBA’s 6th leading scorer.
Jackson then signed a huge 6 year, $38.3 million contract and was traded to the Indiana Pacers, where he would become “infamous” for his role in the Pacers-Pistons Brawl in 2004. He was suspended 30 games and lost $1,700,000 for his role in the melee. Jackson was traded to Golden State shortly after that where was a big part of the Warriors 4–2 series upsetting the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs. And by 2008 it was an about face for Jackson as he awarded the NBA Community Assist award and named Warriors team captain shortly after.
Jackson also played for the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks where he displayed moments of brilliance like his 43 point, rebound game in 2010 or taking lowly Charlotte to the NBA playoffs but then moments of dysfunction like his publicized clashes with coach Scott Skiles in Milwaukee.
Recently waived from San Antonio Stephen Jackson currently sits 35th all-time for 3 pointers made and his NBA career isn’t over yet. Although his career is not quite over it is already evident that Stephen Jackson is clearly the greatest player we’ve seen to have played in the NBA who also played in the NBL.
Stephen Jackson’s finest NBA moments include;
- 17 points in the deciding game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals
- 42 points, 2 rebounds and 7 assists as an Atlanta Hawk in 2004
- 39 points which included 7 three’s and 9 rebounds.in 2004.
- 22 points, 17 rebounds against the LA Clippers in 1997.
Do you agree?
Which NBL player do you think had the greatest NBA career?