Boomers talent pool runs deep for shot at Rio redemption
Australia was on the cusp of something great, something special in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Having assembled what could be considered the most talented Boomers line-up in history, including a host of players with NBA experience, the Boomers did much more than just play good basketball. They captured the attention and the imagination of the Australian public.
As was expected, they played with the hard-working ethos and spirit that has become synonymous with the Australian national sporting teams on the world stage. However, there was something different about this team, something that was unlike any other Boomers team before them. They played an exciting brand of up-tempo, selfless, team-oriented basketball that made the world sit up and take notice. Yet, it was more than that - they played with a belief that a gold medal was a realistic goal. It wasn't just a dream - it was possible, and they could beat anyone - including a star-studded Team USA - along the way.
While the Boomers got to within 10 points of Team USA, the fact is the Boomers came away empty-handed and without a medal. Things did not go according to plan in their semi-final against Serbia, a talented team they had previously accounted for in group play. What followed was even harder to accept, as they were denied a first ever major championship medal at the hands of Spain, which all came down to a dubious officiating call.
Make no mistake, the pain of 2016 lingers for the Boomers. Ask any one of the players or coaching staff from the Rio campaign, and the hurt is obvious. However it that sense of unfinished business which is now set to underpin the Boomers' tilt at making amends at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China come mid-year.
The most important figure in Australian basketball in 2019, could arguably be Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis. The architect behind the Boomers 'equal-opportunity' offense in Rio, Lemanis utilised the strengths of his star players to near-maximum impact in Rio, and was able to get all 12 players on the roster to buy in. What resulted was simply brilliant, and beautiful to watch too. His ability to replicate that style of basketball in China, if not bettering it, will ultimately determine whether the Boomers can finally break through for that elusive medal.
A selection headache
Lemanis' first task however, is to select a team that can do what no other Boomers team has done before - bring home that elusive medal. If Lemanis had selection headaches for the Rio campaign, he'd better have a good supply of paracetamol lined up this time round, as it is nothing compared to what awaits the Boomers team for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Australia's talent stocks have continued to expand since Rio, with a record 11 from down under now treading the hardwood of the NBA. The Boomers have also successfully navigated the Asian qualifiers with a largely all-NBL line-up, with just two games remaining. When you factor in those also starring in Europe, and the Boomers all-of-a-sudden appear to have an embarrassment of riches, with the talent pool running deep for a shot at Rio redemption.
So who should be considered for inclusion in the boomers preliminary World Cup squad? Let's break it down using three categories: centres and power forwards, versatile forwards that can play big or small, and the playmaker guards and wings. Using this as a basis, I selected a potential Boomers squad of 24 that could prepare for the biggest basketball event of 2019 and possibly the biggest ever for the Boomers.
Centres and power forwards (10)
Australia's possible front court options in China is impressive. Andrew Bogut was one of the pillars that the Boomers success in Rio was built around. With his dominance in the Australian NBL, Bogut along with a fit and available Aron Baynes are automatic selections.
The emergence of Thon Maker and more recently Jonah Bolden in the NBA provide Australia with versatile players that can switch across the 4 and 5 spots, protect the rim, and also stretch defenses with their three-point shooting. Motum is one of the most potential offensive players on the list and continues to pour in the points at a high rate in Turkey and the EuroLeague, while Jock Landale and Mangok Mathiang have been starring in Serbia and Italy respectively. Throw in a still-young Isaac Humphries who has been able to impress on the NBA G League, Nick Kay and Daniel Johnson who have enjoyed success in the NBL as have been staples of the Boomers Asian campaign - Lemanis has plenty of options to consider.
Aron BAYNES / Boston Celtics (NBA) Andrew BOGUT / Sydney Kings (NBL) Jonah BOLDEN / Philadelphia 76ers (NBA) Isaac HUMPHRIES / Erie Bayhawks (NBA G League) Daniel JOHNSON / Adelaide 36ers (NBL) Nick KAY / Perth Wildcats (NBL) Jock LANDALE / Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) Thon MAKER / Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) Mangok MATHIANG / Vanoli Cremona (Italy) Brock MOTUM / Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey)
Versatile forwards (5)
Four of the five versatile forwards who can play big or go small, are currently playing in the NBA. Joe Ingles is the star of the lot, with his experience, playmaking and high-IQ making him one of the most important pieces for the Boomers line-up in China.
The other three NBA players have all yet to establish themselves at that level, with Ryan Broekhoff yet to receive any sustained opportunity to shine, while Deng Adel and Mitch Creek have impressed in limited opportunities to date having just recently launched their NBA careers. Like Ingles, Adel can switch to play the two spot and has exceptional athleticism. Broekhoff is right up there with Ingles as a premier perimeter threat, but he is also an exceptional rebounder and underrated passer and defender. Creek has been a workhorse and the Boomers best player in their Asian qualifying campaign, able to play above his height if required. Xavier Cooks is currently starring in Germany in his debut professional season, and has an all-round game. 2019 may be too soon for Cooks and possibly Adel, but they deserve inclusion in any Boomers squad and the opportunity to push their case.
Deng ADEL / Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) Ryan BROEKHOFF / Dallas Mavericks (NBA) Xavier COOKS / s.Oliver Würzburg (Germany) Mitchell CREEK / Brooklyn Nets (NBA) Joe INGLES / Utah Jazz (NBA)
There are some names on this list that pick themselves, including Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, a fit Dante Exum and of course Ben Simmons - availability permitting of course.
As a future star in the making, Josh Green should be included in this squad with a distinct eye on the future, while it is hard not to see Lemanis rewarding those who served him well in the Asian qualifiers either. Despite his inconsistent form in the NBL, Chris Goulding deserves a chance to push for selection, as does Nathan Sobey, Mitch McCarron and Jason Cadee due to their efforts over the past 12-18 months. Given the level of NBA talent available, and the fact that likely automatic inclusions such as Ingles, and Broekhoff can play small (Ingles at the point if need be), it is hard to see any of the NBL guards making a final 12 for China.
Jason CADEE / Brisbane Bullets (NBL) Matthew DELLAVEDOVA / Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) Dante EXUM / Utah Jazz (NBA) Chris GOULDING / Melbourne United (NBL) Josh GREEN / IMG Academy (US High School) Mitch MCCARRON | Melbourne United (NBL) Patty MILLS / San Antonio Spurs (NBA) Ben SIMMONS / Philadelphia 76ers (NBA) Nathan SOBEY / Adelaide 36ers (NBL)
It is yet to be seen whether Lemanis limits his squad to just 24. He might include as many as 28, which means others who have been part of the Boomers Asian qualifying campaign any get a camp invite. While not playing down their value to this campaign, it would be unrealistic to suggest that anyone outside the 24 players listed above will make the final team of 12 come China.
So who makes the final team of 12 for China 2019?
There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge between now and August. Injuries and availability are likely to come into consideration, including the biggest question of all; will Ben Simmons make himself available?
Ultimately the decisions will rest with Lemanis and his coaching staff, and largely be based on who they think will be able to deliver on their game plan.
Nonetheless, here is my Boomers 12 for China 2019 if everyone is fit and available, and I'd like to think it is the most talented and potent Boomers team ever on record - if it ever happens to be. I really wanted to include Jock Landale in this team, but Baynes and Bogut are essentially playing the same role and ahead of him in the pecking order, plus Maker, Motum and Bolden able to pinch hit at the 4 if needed.
Mitch Creek was my last pick for China.
Aron BAYNES / Boston Celtics (NBA) Andrew BOGUT / Sydney Kings (NBL) Jonah BOLDEN / Philadelphia 76ers (NBA) Ryan BROEKHOFF / Dallas Mavericks (NBA) Mitchell CREEK / Brooklyn Nets (NBA) Matthew DELLAVEDOVA / Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) Dante EXUM / Utah Jazz (NBA) Joe INGLES / Utah Jazz (NBA) Thon MAKER / Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) Patty MILLS / San Antonio Spurs (NBA) Brock MOTUM / Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey) Ben SIMMONS / Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
Andrej Lemanis has the most important job in Australian basketball this year, and if he can pull it all together and deliver the Boomers' first ever medal at a major event, he will create history.
Who would you like to see on the Boomers squad?
Team USA will face the Australian Boomers on Thursday 22 August and Saturday 24 August 2019 at Marvel Stadium as part of both teams preparations for the FIBA World Cup, to be held in China.