“We're trying to get eight wins.. we're at four right now, and I believe eight gets a gold medal. That's what we're trying to count; all that history stuff doesn't matter.”
Andrew Bogut likely spoke for the entire Boomers team, when he emphasized the focus on that singular goal - achieving a medal, and a gold one at that.
Following Saturday's results, Australia's locked their quarter-finals berth in along with France, but the next game isn't a walk in the park. Like Australia, France has gone undefeated in its World Cup run so far. The loser from Monday's game will decide the country that receives the dubious honour of playing Team USA first.
Here are some thoughts on factors that could swing the game.
Let's get this out of the way. One of the things that has kept the Boomers' wins from looking more impressive than they are, has been the unwelcome deluge of turnovers. Australia has averaged 14 turnovers through four games in the World Cup. To be fair, this isn't even top three (Jordan takes the throne at 17.8), but if we're trying to achieve a medal in China, this needs to be cleaned up. Turnovers have been a troubling trend that reared its head against Canada, and have not noticeably improved since.
It's not that the players aren't locked in on winning. Perhaps, they're trying too hard to win the right way --through team play-- that they move the ball too much, even at times when the opportunity isn't quite there.
“Everybody’s trying to do the right thing, everybody wants to do the right thing,” Boomers head coach, Andrej Lemanis commented, following Saturday's game. “They’re a competitive group which is part of what makes us a good basketball team. Guys want to do well and want to win, and we want to perform at our optimal all the time.”
The Boomers have shown a tendency to play to the level of their opponent at times. If this is true, the team is likely ready to go, right from the tip. Against a talented team like France, there's minimal room for mistakes. Turning the ball over and letting the other team go off in transition is a scenario that needs to be avoided.
2. Perimeter depth
France currently boasts the highest three-point field goal percentage in the tournament, at 48.8% (39/80 made). Australia in comparison, is noticeably less efficient at 38.8% (40/103). This isn't an accident - France has six players who are averaging better than 45% on three-point accuracy. This includes Evan Fournier (3.2 3PA, 46.2%), Amath M'Baye (3.5 3PA, 64.3%), Nando de Colo (3.5 3PA, 50%) and Frank Ntilikina (2.0 3PA, 50%).
“Fournier is one of the most talented guys at this tournament," Bogut said. "We've got to make sure we make life tough for him.”
Needless to say, perimeter defence will be a point of emphasis. We'll need to see more of that patented Patty Mills scoring, along with the consistency Chris Goulding has brought to the floor. (Another 6/10 shooting night from Matthew Dellavedova would be very welcome.)
In contrast to Australia's systemic play, where shots are generated through offensive execution more than isolation plays --the Boomers average 25.5 assists a game, and assisted on all 30 of their field goals against the Dominican Republic-- France is capable of fielding multiple perimeter playmakers and lengthy defenders in Nicolas Batum, Fournier, de Colo and Ntilikina, among others.
“[France is] long and athletic, they’re good defensively and they execute offensively very well," Lemanis said. “In many ways we see them playing a lot like ourselves in the way that they share the ball and the way they hang their hat on the defensive end.”
Faced with the option of multiple athletic defenders, Boomers might find it harder to execute, and it's more important than ever that the ball be taken care of (reference point above), and offensive droughts be minimised.
3. Stifling the Tower
France is ranked second in the tournament on blocks per game, at 5.5 behind Nigeria's 6.3. This stat isn't necessarily a surprise, given the presence of Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert (also known as The Stifle Tower), who ranks second in the World Cup with 2.3 blocks a game. The French centre has been a force in China - he's averaging 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks through four games.
Despite Gobert's reputation, this can't be a game where Australia lives and dies by the three. Unlike earlier games, where cuts and slip screens got the Boomers easy --and at times, uncontested-- buckets, the team still has to find ways to score inside, under the shadow of France's menacing defensive anchor.
“[Gobert is] a hell of a shot blocker,” Boomers big man, Jock Landale said. “We understand that it’s going to be tough to finish around the rim, but it’s not going to deter our efforts to try to make that happen and I’m sure the coaching staff will figure out ways that can pull him out of the paint a little bit.”
Having multiple big men on the floor who can shoot the three-pointer will help - Aron Baynes, Jock Landale, even Nick Kay have displayed a willingness to fire away from the perimeter, when the opportunity presents itself. Despite the shorter three-point line, the same defensive principles that work in the NBA, will hold true here. Forcing Gobert to close out on his defensive assignment will create spacing that can be exploited by roving Australian cutters, and hopefully better opportunities at the rim.
The Australian Boomers play France on Monday night, 9 September at 10pm AEST.
Australian Boomers schedule for 2019 FIBA World Cup: (All times AEST)
September 9: Boomers vs France (10:00pm)
September 10 & 11: Quarter-Finals
September 13: Semi-Finals
September 15: Medal Games