Newcastle Hunters junior Ben Simmons to make long-awaited NBA debut

GO: Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (right), playing pre-season last week, will have his long-awaited NBA debut on Thursday. Picture: AP
GO: Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (right), playing pre-season last week, will have his long-awaited NBA debut on Thursday. Picture: AP

Ben Simmons will usher in a new, elevated era in Australian basketball when he walks onto the court at Washington DC's Capital One Arena for the Philadelphia 76ers' first regular season game this week.

A record nine Australians are on NBA teams for the 2017-2018 season including veterans Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes.

But the 21-year-old tall rookie Simmons is different. The Newcastle Hunters junior could be Australia's first NBA superstar.

"His athleticism is off the charts," said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. "He has size, he has length, he has jumping ability."

Melbourne-born Simmons' much-anticipated NBA regular season debut on Wednesday (10am Thursday AEDT) against Brooks' Wizards comes after a foot injury robbed the No.1 draft pick of his entire 2016-2017 season.

Opposing NBA coaches are already in awe. Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale replied "Oh my God" when asked about Simmons following a pre-season game.

With a 208-centimetre tall, 104-kilogram frame Simmons has the size of a forward, but instead of using him on the inside 76ers coach Brett Brown will tap into his playmaking skills, creating horror match-ups for teams.

"He's a track star in the open court," Brown, the former Australian Olympic and NBL coach, said.

Australia's large contingent of players also offer plenty of interesting storylines.

Mills, with the San Antonio Spurs, and Ingles, with the Utah Jazz, cashed in with new four-year, $US50 million ($A63.7m) contracts in the off-season.

Ingles' Australian Jazz teammate Dante Exum may miss 2017-2018 after he suffered a serious shoulder injury in a pre-season game but elsewhere things look promising.

Baynes has joined Eastern Conference power Boston Celtics, Bogut continued his NBA journey with a stop at the Los Angeles Lakers while Dellavedova and the physically gifted Thon Maker are hoping to take the Milwaukee Bucks deep into the playoffs.

Another Australian rookie, Mangok Mathiang, was picked up by the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets.

The Australians are important pieces for their NBA teams and the 216cm tall Maker may grow into an NBA star, but they do not have Simmons' hype, expectations or athletic gifts.

"He's going to be a heck of a player for a long time," Brooks said of Simmons.

Bookmakers have Golden State Warriors as hot favourites to repeat as NBA champions, with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers, boosted by guard recruits Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, pegged as runners-up.

Baynes' Celtics, advantaged by the defection of All-Stars Kyrie Irving, from the Cavs, are ranked third.

The NBA regular season opens on Tuesday (Wednesday 11am AEDT) with the tantalising joust between the Cavaliers and Celtics, pitting former teammates James and Irving against each other.