2023 World Cup Debrief: Boomers we should have seen more of
With the Australian Boomers exiting the FIBA 2023 World Cup in the group stages, we can't help but wonder if certain players were underutilised.
After claiming a landmark bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Australian Boomers faced serious expectations going into the 2023 FIBA World Cup. The addition of NBA-level names like Josh Giddey, Dyson Daniels, Jack White and Xavier Cooks led to arguably the strongest ever Boomers roster on paper. But games aren’t won on paper, and in the face of high stakes tournament play, a couple of poor nights led to Australia’s early exit in the group stages.
With an array of credentialed players at his disposal, Boomers coach Brian Goorjian held the unenviable job of creating an optimal rotation. Veteran Patty Mills reprised his familiar starting role, which he has held for over a decade now, and was joined by Josh Giddey - Australia’s biggest NBA name at present. Jock Landale was expected to suit up at the five position, but an ankle injury in the warm up series robbed him of a second World Cup appearance. Joe Ingles didn’t start this time around, but still averaged in excess of 20 minutes each night.
From Australia’s very first warmup game against Venezuela, Goorjian signalled a desire to start Nick Kay in a big man role. This was hardly a surprise, given that he played a major role at the Tokyo Olympics, but Goorjian also gave Duop Reath a chance in Landale’s absence. The final starting spot was up for grabs between Matisse Thybulle and Josh Green; Green sat out two warmup games but ended up getting the nod once the World Cup started.
Danté Exum, coming off a career-best year with Partizan Belgrade, would have hoped to carry some momentum through to the 2023 FIBA World Cup. He averaged 12.2 points and 3.1 assists across 74 games, while shooting 52% from the field, 39% from downtown (2.8 attempts per game) and 85% from the free throw line (4.6 attempts per game). Exum’s two-way brilliance, underpinned by a markedly improved jump shot, prompted Dallas to offer him an NBA deal heading into the 2023-24 season.
The 28 year old is a completely different player to when he left the NBA in 2021. Exum is not only a much more efficient shooter, but regularly pulled up off the dribble for Partizan, and didn’t shy away from tough isolation possessions. In fact, one could argue he was the third-best isolation shooter on the Boomers’ World Cup roster, behind the talismanic Patty Mills, and NBL sniper Chris Goulding. The likes of Joe Ingles, Josh Green, Nick Kay and Jack White may be confident with the three ball, but none of them have shown the level of off-dribble shot creation that Exum did for Partizan.
Given that Exum stepped up as a primary ball handler in his lone year with Partizan, there was always going to be an interesting dynamic with Josh Giddey. Goorjian faced the potential dilemma of playing Giddey and Exum together, versus allowing Exum to run the offence whenever Giddey took a seat. Throw in the likes of Mills, Green, Daniels, Goulding and Thybulle, and a back court log jam emerges quickly. Exum wound up averaging 18.7 minutes at the World Cup, behind Mills (31.5), Giddey (27.7), Ingles (21.2) and Green (19.5).
At face value, it’s not surprising that he was behind his NBA compatriots in the pecking order. But Exum, as a rangy and athletic defender who offers off-dribble perimeter shooting, brought a unique skillset to the table.