PERTH - In the space of a handful of minutes on Saturday night, Jonah Bolden showed why he will be a vital member of the Australian Boomers' playing rotation at the FIBA 2019 World Cup.
The Philadelphia 76er big man, playing just his second game for his nation, provided the individual standout during the Boomers' 81-73 victory over Canada in Perth. Bolden’s athleticism was striking, as it was when he was afforded NBA minutes under Brett Brown over the past twelve months. The promising aspect for Boomers fans is that the 23-year-old was able to harness his talents within Andrej Lemanis’ system.
While oft-overlooked, the adjustment period for players integrating into the rigours of FIBA basketball is real. It is something that can only be worked out in real game situations, through opponents attacking the lack of continuity, just as Canada did on Friday night. That is especially true of this Boomers team, one which has been able to retain its NBA stars throughout the decade. That continuity has afforded Lemanis the luxury of developing a system that, if executed correctly, has layers of complexity that are difficult to maintain at the FIBA level.
“Because we have a core of guys that have been together for so long, we have been able to build our lineup over a period of time,” Lemanis explained of the Boomers continuity.
“It's hard for someone to come in fresh and try absorb all of that and then still play freely, because you are thinking about what is going on and that can restrict your natural flow of how you play the game.”
Schematically, Bolden looked like a player finding comfort alongside new teammates, in a new system, over the course of both games against Canada. In game one, just like many of his teammates, there were clear teething issues. But just like his team, Bolden found more of that natural flow Lemanis referenced on Saturday night.
“I have started getting more comfortable,” Bolden explained on Saturday night. “Plays are evolving themselves just having played them more. I felt more free. There were a couple times [tonight] where I got the rebound and pushed it and just played my game.”
The example Bolden gives of where he “pushed it” was equal parts impactful and insightful. He is, of course, correct that this is the best showing of how his natural game can aid the Boomers on their World Cup mission.
The moment in time Bolden refers to was in the midst of Australia’s barnstorming third quarter. He skied for a defensive rebound deep in the defensive paint, and seconds later Matthew Dellavedova was launching an open elbow three down the other end. No other players touched the basketball on the possession. They didn’t have the time to, actually, as the youngest Boomer in this squad quickly did everything required to assist his veteran point guard.
“It’s always an adjustment with going to a new team,” Bolden added. “There are a core group of players who have been here and they know the plays inside and out. Things move quick. They have to move quick at this level. These are grown men. You need to come in like I have, with an open mind.
“Some people learn differently and for me it was just coming in and knowing that I can talk to guys that do know the plays. The coaches have done a really good job of helping me break down the film and working me through that.”
Bolden’s contributions on Saturday night extended beyond moments of athleticism and converged into the intellectual plays that he has been asked to develop in Philadelphia. There was motion within the half court offence as Joe Ingles probed the defence. The rim protection as a help defender, also, and the hustle plays late to snuff out a potential Canadian rally. All over the RAC Arena floor, and across a number of positions and situations, Bolden could be seen acclimatising into the Boomers program.
“I could be playing the one or I could be playing the five; Positions, I am not worried about that to be honest," Bolden added. “Today, when I got the rebounds, I didn’t care that I am the centre and need to pass the ball. I just took a couple of dribbles and made the outlet pass. Whether that is the four, the five or the one; it's just whatever is needed.”
Following both games in Perth, Lemanis has held firm in his messaging to the media. The week in Western Australia has been an infant step in the process of building and moulding this group of Boomers into a functional outfit. Victory over Canada on Saturday night will quiet the external noise, but internally, the outcome isn't as vital as the mean by which it was achieved.
“At the [offensive] end of the floor, I thought we got out and played more in pace,” Lemanis said. “At the end of the day, we just took better shots. We found our identity. Last night we had 34 shots off one pass and I don’t know what the stats are tonight, but I just thought we did a better job of spacing the floor and attacking the rim and sharing the ball.
Australia coming out and playing with an actual defensive intensity was a noticeable team-wide takeaway on Saturday night. Such energy was absent for most of game one, although discovering the fundamental pillar of successful basketball isn’t some grand achievement, nor is it something that should come as a surprise. The Boomers have the talent and the attitude required to clean up most of the ailments from this Canadian double date. That makes Bolden’s emergence the true takeaway from the past 36 hours.
Bolden is the most athletic player at Lemanis’ disposal. He has a modern skill set that is unmatched by his eleven current teammates. The Sixers big man got his national team debut this weekend and with it, showed his importance to the upcoming World Cup campaign.
“I am pleased tonight that Jonah started to find a little bit of how he might be able to manipulate the offence to help us and get some looks for himself and others,” Lemanis added. “Obviously his ability to help us defensively; protect the rim and be a presence in middle pick-and-roll situations and rebounding are the things we saw in camp.”
International Basketball Series game schedule
Australian Boomers vs Canada Basketball, Friday 16 August 2019 , 7:30pm
Australian Boomers vs Canada Basketball, Saturday 17 August 2019 , 7:30pm
Canada Basketball vs New Zealand, Tuesday 20 August 2019 , 7:30pm
Canada Basketball vs New Zealand, Wednesday 21 August 2019 , 7:30pm
Australian Boomers vs USA Basketball, Thursday 22 August 2019 , 7:30pm
Australian Boomers vs USA Basketball, Saturday 24 August 2019, 2:00pm
USA Basketball vs Canada Basketball, Monday 26 August 2019, 7:30pm
All times are denoted in AEST, and games available via SBS and SBS On Demand.