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Breaking down the Australian Boomers’ 19-man training camp squad
Brian Goorjian has cut his 25-man Olympic squad down to 19. Did he make the right cuts? More importantly, who should make the final 12?
The Boomers’ shot at redemption, history, and gold begins in just over a month.
As such, we’re drawing closer to Brian Goorjian announcing who exactly will assume the weighty responsibility of shooting for that redemption, history, and gold. With the NBA and a number of other basketball leagues, including the mighty NBL (and NZNBL!), still going, every team is leaving it late to announce their respective squads. Team USA, for instance, have only got as far as officially naming 57 finalists.
In case you missed it, Goorjian got closer to finalising his team last week, after narrowing his initial 25-man extended squad down to a 19-man group who will make the trip to the U.S. for selection camp. Of the 19 camp participants, 15 will travel to Tokyo, accounting for 12 on the final playing roster and three reserves.
So what should we make of that list? Has Goorjian left himself with the right group of 19 to choose from? Is there an obvious roster of 12 lying somewhere in there?
Goorjian’s six cuts (Deng Adel, William McDowell-White, Mitch Norton, Mitch McCarron, Thon Maker, and Will Magnay) were fairly predictable. Virtually no uproar emanated from #AussieHoops Twitter upon their exclusion.
Adel, Magnay, and McDowell-White would’ve been the easiest to cut. All returned to our shores after stints in the U.S., but none of them showed nearly enough during their limited time back to warrant inclusion in the final 19. Adel was legitimately one of the worst performing players in the NBL during his brief stint in Illawarra. Magnay has, understandably, struggled to find a role for himself in just 12 games on a humming Wildcats team. Instead, he’s turned in a variety of uninspiring and largely invisible performances. McDowell-White offers desirable length as a ball handler but didn’t show nearly enough on offence during his time with the Breakers to prove he’s on the level of the guards in the final 19.
Elsewhere in the NBL, Norton and McCarron are both great defensive guards finishing off fantastic NBL campaigns. Yet, neither are great fits with the rest of the roster. Against other top international teams, Norton and McCarron’s offensive games scare precisely no one. Additionally, the Boomers already have a bunch of elite defensive talent along the perimeter in their 19-man squad who, generally speaking, offer more on offence than Norton or McCarron.
Thon Maker is easily the most interesting and noteworthy cut on the list. He has spent the last few months doing, um, nothing of particular consequence basketball-wise since being released by the Cavs. Still, it’s a tad surprising that he’s not on the list — with his talent, one would assume that Goorjian would have at least liked to see him in camp to see what type of nick he’s in.
Maker has since come out saying that he turned down the training camp invite to participate in NBA minicamps. There’s nothing out there to discredit this assertion but it sure seems like an odd decision if he is indeed focusing on his career. If his goal is to get back into the NBA after doing nothing for half a year, surely having a chance to play in the Olympics — which every NBA scout will be watching — instead of attending crowded mini camps would have been the way to go.
Who’s next on the chopping block?
Getting from 19 down to a final squad of 12 is a brutal exercise. I know because I crafted a mock squad of 12 before writing this.
To my eye, there are only two somewhat ‘easy’ cuts for Goorjian to make from that squad of 19: Xavier Cooks and Josh Giddey.
Cooks is one of my favourite NBL players and is an excellent, winning player worthy of his training camp spot. Yet, I just can’t get over the idea that he doesn’t really fit with the team’s core players, namely, one Ben Simmons. Cooks’ length, rebounding, defensive versatility, secondary playmaking, and slashing are all desirable attributes, but they’re all things that Simmons covers. Cooks’ inconsistent shooting ability, on the other hand, means that he’ll cramp the floor for Simmons. The Boomers already have Simmons, Thybulle, Dellavedova, and Exum (if healthy) as likely locks for the squad — they don’t need someone else who raises floor spacing concerns, especially when his most valuable attributes are already covered off by the team’s best player.
Giddey is a slightly easier cut to make. He was remarkably impressive during the NBL season, but his game still needs polishing before he’s ready for the Olympics. The Boomers are going for gold — they need 12 players who are ready to play at this level. They aren’t as talented as, say, the USA, who might be able to throw in a Christian Laettner-type spot purely for experience.
There is a case to be made that he should go as one of the three reserves just to be around the squad to be more prepared for future campaigns. I’m not so sure I buy into that argument — not only are injuries possible, but this time around, there’s the added risk of someone getting COVID. The three reserves need to be ready to go into battle.
Mills, Ingles, Thybulle, Simmons, and Baynes are unarguable locks. I’d even assume that fivesome is Goorjian’s most likely starting five.
Jock Landale is the next easiest player to pick. Given his two-way dominance, you can make a fairly strong argument that he is the best player in the NBL. His Game 3 semi-final performance against the Phoenix was a sight to behold — that game proved his credentials as Australia’s best player outside of the NBA. His immense versatility is an added bonus. With his three-point stroke and ability to defend perimeter players without trouble, he can cover the four or the five and blend in seamlessly alongside just about any frontcourt partner.
Most will also have Matthew Dellavedova nailed in. I’m not 100% certain that he should be on the plane, but I think we should treat him as a lock — it’s just hard to see him not getting picked. During his last two years in the NBA, Delly has not only been hampered by injuries, but has struggled to score so badly that it’s becoming worrying. Dellavedova isn’t going for his scoring but it’s a concern that over his last two seasons combined he has shot 32.9% from the field and 21.6% from deep. Still, with his experience, defence, and elite passing (he posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 9 in 13 games this season), it’s worth having him on the plane. Not to mention, he’s a valuable locker room presence and offers every intangible under the sun.
Finally, I think Nick Kay should be treated as a deadset lock on that list, too. Many won’t have him as a lock, but all the evidence suggests that he is the third-best big on the roster (or fourth, if you consider Simmons a big) and thus demands a roster spot. While he hasn’t enjoyed an extremely productive first season in Europe, his 2019 World Cup performance should put to bed any concerns surrounding his ability to hang at this level. As a four in the international arena, he has basically no weaknesses. Like Landale, with his shooting, defensive IQ, rebounding, and mobility, he can be paired with basically any frontcourt option. He’s ideal next to bigger guys like Landale and Baynes. He can slide up to the five in a pinch if Goorjian wants to go small. If Goorjian wants to go uber-big, he could get away with playing Kay, Simmons, and Landale/Baynes and still have just enough shooting on the floor to get away with it.
The wild card
If I’m right about those eight locks, that leaves us with *checks notes* four slots remaining for nine training camp players (if we exclude Giddey and Cooks from the discussion).
Of those nine —if healthy— Dante Exum is the easiest to pick. This isn’t just because of Exum’s reputation and NBA pedigree — he offers something a tad different to the locks discussed. At his best, Exum can be dynamic in the pick and roll game and as a slasher. His length and burst makes him a serious threat at the rim, whilst his vision and ability to create for others has always been one of his greatest attributes. Even for an immensely talented training camp roster, the Boomers don’t have much of that, especially when Simmons sits. They could use another guy who can split defences, get to the rim, and create for others, even if just to diversify their offence.
If it’s clear in camp that he’s not 100% right, the Boomers may need someone else to fill that ‘wild card’ void. I think the squad is calling out for someone who, like Exum, can diversify the offence and add some punch to the second unit.
After combing through the rest of the roster, the vast majority of the players I don’t consider locks or easy cuts are guys that fit in as clear role players next to their stars. Most of the rest fit into one of the following boxes: pure shooters (Goulding, Broekhoff, Motum), extra big depth (Motum again, Duop Reath, Isaac Humphries), or three and D guys (Josh Green).
Among the aforementioned nine players competing for four spots, there are only two other guys outside of Exum who don’t really fit into one of those role player boxes: Mitch Creek and Nathan Sobey. Despite his uptick in efficiency during the NBL season Creek is still a relatively unreliable three-point shooter, as his NBL semi-final performance shows (3/15 from deep in that series). If his shooting isn’t up to par at the Olympics, it’s hard to see him slotting in easily next to the Boomers’ core pieces. Sobey can shoot but is far more limited defensively than the other contenders for the final spots.
What both offer is a different element to the offence. In Creek’s case, his weirdo herky-jerky one-on-one scoring ability could come in useful if the Boomers’ offence stalls. Per jordanmcnbl.com, during his 2021 NBL season Creek scored at an above league-average rate in isolation and was the most efficient high usage post-up player in the league, scoring at a rate of 1.17 points per possession on 85 attempts. Despite having an awesome frontcourt rotation, Australia don’t really have an obvious post-up dimension to their offence. As long as he gets the right matchups, Creek could add that to the offence.
Sobey, on the other hand, provides a skill set vaguely similar to Exum. Sobey evolved into an elite scorer in both the isolation and pick and roll game during the NBL season. Like Exum, he gets downhill, can pry open defences, and put heat on the rim in ways that most of Goorjian’s other guard options do not. It’s easy to see him filling the role of a scoring sparkplug for a few minutes in each half while Simmons and/or Mills rests, in order to keep the offence afloat.
However, given how set in stone the Boomers’ core pieces are, Goorjian should be prioritising players who complement the likes of Simmons and Mills, rather than players who can come in the few minutes while they rest. Still, I think there’s at least one spot on the roster for one of these guys to fill. If Exum proves he’s healthy in camp, it’ll be him. If not, the NBL might get one more representative in the squad.
End of bench battles
If we pencil in eight locks, or borderline locks, two relatively easy cuts, and if you agree with my hypothesis that we’ll get at least one of those three wildcard-type players, that leaves us six role players in the mix for 3 playing spots: Reath, Motum, Humphries, Broekhoff, Goulding, Green.
Those players split themselves evenly: three bigs, three wings. But with only three spots open in the roster construction I think Goorjian will go after, you obviously can’t split those roster spots evenly between bigs and wings.
How that split is determined will likely depend predominantly on how Goorjian views Ben Simmon. Seeing as I am not Brian Goorjian, for the purposes of this article, I can only offer my opinion. Personally, I think it’s fairly obvious that the Boomers should avoid gumming up their offence with additional bigs with Simmons in tow.
Even if Goorjian wants to utilise Simmons as the team’s point guard on offence, he should want as many shooters and shot creators around him as possible, given his clear limitations. Even if he acts as the team’s point guard, given the amount of quality defenders the Boomers have along the perimeter, Simmons would probably be best deployed on defence as a highly disruptive four.
I still do think it would be wise to spend one of those final three roster spots on a bigger body, though. As far as pure bigs go, discounting Simmons, my current projected roster has just Kay, Landale, and Baynes. It’s worth having another body in there, even if he’s merely an end of bench option.
Of the three bigger options, all offer completely different things. Humphries is the biggest, thickest body and the most traditional of all — an absolute monster of a rim protector when he’s on song, and isn’t much more than an at-basket finisher on offence. Motum, with his laser beam from long range, is the complete opposite. Reath, despite still being rather raw, offers a bit of both, as both an effective outside shooter and an effective rim protector with his length and athleticism.
In terms of the perimeter options, I can’t see both Broekhoff and Goulding going. On this team, they both fill the role of specialist reserve shooter. I can’t really envision any scenario in which Goorjian would be tempted to play both at the same time, so it genuinely wouldn’t make any sense to take both. Broekhoff has Olympic experience and is the more established option within the Boomers setup. But his form is obviously worrying — for a specialist shooter, Broekhoff shot just 36.5% from deep on over 4 attempts per game during his stint with the Phoenix. Despite having a higher shot difficulty and greater offensive responsibility with Melbourne United, Goulding has drained 38.3% of his 8.9 attempts per game.
As for the final perimeter spot, it’s all down to taste. If Goorjian's looking for another two-way guy to act as a complement, Josh Green is the man for the job. Green may be young, but he earnt real NBA minutes on a good team with his excellent defence — adding another good three and D option around the Boomers’ stars can’t be a bad thing. Green shot it poorly in his rookie season with the Mavericks, so it’s a stretch to call him a three and D player. Still, his college stats indicate that his poor shooting stats are largely influenced by small sample size. I wouldn’t worry too much about his ability to fire from downtown, especially with a shorter line.
If you’re confident in Creek’s three-point stroke, and are looking for someone a bit bigger, it should probably be him. If you think the offence needs even more off the dribble juice, Sobey is likely the choice.
Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that the 19-man squad Goorjian has picked is littered with great options and endless potential combinations. The Boomers shouldn’t be settling for anything less than a medal with this group.
My hypothetical squad of 12
BIGS: Aron Baynes, Jock Landale, Nick Kay, Humphries/Reath/Motum
WHATEVER BEN SIMMONS IS: Ben Simmons
WINGS: Joe Ingles, Mattise Thybulle, Goulding/Broekhoff, Green/Creek/Sobey
BALL-HANDLERS: Dellavedova, Mills, Exum