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Friday Five: Boomers qualify, Simmons' Raptors woes, Exum's vanishing minutes
Welcome back to the Friday Five. Let us bounce around America and cover five storylines in Australian basketball this week.
1. The Boomers are officially off to China
While there is plenty happening in the NBA, the biggest event this past week was Australia’s victory over Iran. This result officially qualifies the Boomers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China next year, and they are the first Asian Qualifiers team to do so.
The Pick and Roll has spent this week checking in with various Boomers personnel in America, on whether they have been keeping up with the team.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova: Yeah, definitely. I was lucky enough to play with the boys in the offseason. It’s just a great environment no matter who is playing. I think Dre [Andrej Lemanis] has done a great job of having guys in and out, and still keeping that culture so strong. Everybody loves playing for Australia. Excited to see them get the job done and we are off to China.
Long Island Nets head coach and current Boomers assistant coach Will Weaver: I never disconnect from those guys. We had some really good coaches meetings, on Skype, over the past 10-days.
I couldn’t be prouder of those guys. Me and Mitch [Creek] talk about it every day. I am sharing the scouting report with him. We are talking about Iran’s personnel. Mitch is engaged and asking things like ‘is that the same guy he played against in Beirut.’
Our sights, as a program, have been set on qualifying. You look around the planet. Slovenia didn’t qualify. Good teams from South America didn’t qualify. Canada is having to fight for everything they are getting. You don’t take it for granted.
One comment someone said to me is: it’s funny that you would have to watch Australia play Iran to see what a basketball team should look like. Twelve people played in the game. Double digit players scored. The score sheet is 11, 10, 8, 7, 7, 6, 5… it is just beautiful stuff.
Long Island Nets swingman Mitch Creek: I actually had a friend of my screen record the [Iran] game and then send it to me, in five-minute segments over Facebook messenger. I watched the first three quarters and then it was over by then.
It was a selfless game. If you want to teach someone how to play team basketball, then show them that tape. I looked at the box score afterwards and asked myself who actually played well? Everyone played well because everyone was moving and sharing the basketball.
We punched our ticket and we will get ready for China. We understand that we have an 'X' on our back. We finished fourth at the last Olympics so we trying to become a powerhouse nation and we have the team to do it. Hopefully I can be apart of that and continue to follow on. If not, I will continue to watch every single game like I am playing in it.
2. Ben Simmons' Raptors woes continues
Ben Simmons has saved his worst performances as an NBA athlete for the Toronto Raptors. When the clubs first met this season, Simmons committed a career-high 11 turnovers. He then followed this up on Wednesday night with seven more giveaways, and a defensive effort that can best be described as awful, as the Sixers were defeated 113-102 in Toronto.
Simmons has committed seven or more turnovers five times in the NBA; three of these games have come against the Raptors. In six career games against the Raptors, Simmons averages 6.2 turnovers per game.
Toronto, who is equipped with a flurry of defensive wing options that range from elite (Kawhi Leonard) to very good (Danny Green and Pascal Siakam) to competent (OG Anunoby), constantly rotate the Simmons match-up, ensuring an energetic, rangy defender is always curtailing the Australian.
This leads to moments that harken back to Simmons' struggles in the post season against Boston last season.
Simmons has done a better job this season of, either, (i) keeping a live dribble on his drives, or (ii) going straight into a shot when he hits the paint. While that rings true as a general comment, he has failed to translate league wide progress against the Raptors.
Toronto is very good. They are currently the best team in the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA, so being limited against them isn't an indictment on Simmons. But is shows much improvement is required before the Sixers can be taken seriously against the Raptors.
All told, Wednesday night was a horrible night for the Philadelphia. After a promising start to the game, Simmons' defence disintegrated and was awful in the second half. Joel Embiid played his worst game of the season, while Leonard reminded the NBA world of his MVP potential.
3. Dante Exum’s disappearing role (and Utah’s shooting resurgence)
Kyle Korver’s acquisition provides the Utah Jazz with a much-needed boost to their outside shooting, but it has come at the expense of Dante Exum.
Korver has effectively absorbed Exum’s minutes in Quin Snyder’s rotation. The Australian has played a total of six non garbage-time minutes in the four games that Korver has played. While the pair have opposing skill sets, the Jazz have utilised Donovan Mitchell more as the back-up point guard when Korver sees the floor, and early returns have been promising.
Without Korver, Utah was the second worst three-point shooting team in the NBA at 31.9%. Since Korver arrived, they have risen to the second best at 43.3%. Attributing this entire boost to Korver would be to overstate his impact, although there is no doubting his presence is aiding the likes of Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio in creating offence for the Jazz.
Exum being booted from the rotation is nothing new. It happened this season before the Korver acquisition and he will get another chance. Time and time again, this Utah regime has reaffirmed their faith in his potential by throwing him into the fire.
Things are more complicated now, however, and if Utah can get enough shot creation from staggering their starting line-up, then it is legitimately fair to ask if they are better without Exum having a regular role.
Korver’s offensive impact is simply greater than Exum’s defensive talents. The Jazz need outside shooting and all the benefits of a spaced floor, more than a wing defender with limited offensive game.
4. Matthew Dellavedova on Bucks, Thon, leadership and Boomers
The Pick and Roll also caught up with Dellavedova after the Bucks played the Knicks in New York City this week to talk about the current NBA season. Below is a transcript of our chat with the six-year NBA veteran.
Q; The Bucks are sitting second in the Eastern Conference. What are your thoughts on the team’s performance so far this season?
At our best, we have shown that we can play some high level basketball. We just need to do that a lot more consistently, against all teams too. Lately we have, for whatever reason, just taken the foot off the pedal a little bit and teams are too good in the NBA to let them back in.
Even when we were playing at our best, everyone thought we have a lot of room to improve, so it’s exciting and I think we are going to have a good year.
Q: What is your messaging, internally, to the team after the promising start to the season?
We have to get better. It’s a long season and we have to be a lot better team in April when the playoffs start than what we are now if we want to go deep into the playoffs. We just have to keep working and be consistent. Keep working physically and mentally, to keep sharpening up and keep learning each other in the new system. So that when we get into moments like overtime or the last two minutes of a game, we know what we are going to.
Q: Your minutes have been limited this season, but you have maintained a leadership role with the young Bucks squad. Is it difficult to lead when you are not getting consistent playing time?
Obviously you always want to be out there and it is always easier to lead when you are playing. I can still lead from the bench and I am always trying to help out. Whether it is something I see out there or just some general encouragement. I am definitely staying involved. I know my opportunity is going to come and I will be ready when that comes.
As we do have such a young team, I need to be more vocal. I’ve been around people who have led really well without playing a lot. James Jones was probably the best, with how much experience he had. He would say the tough things when they need to be said. Mike Miller as well in the one year that I played with him. You can still be effective being a leader even if you aren’t playing as much.
Q: What have you seen from Thon Maker in year three?
John Henson was playing really well before he hurt his wrist. Thon was in there working hard, because you know the season is so long and you are going to get an opportunity at some point. When your opportunity comes, you need to be ready. He has been through that, where it hasn’t come until really late in the year and had a really great playoffs.
5. Spurs sliding into the abyss
A sombre note for Patty Mills to finish this week. His San Antonio Spurs look like a team headed for the NBA lottery. Their 34-point loss to Utah on Tuesday night marked the third time in the four games the Spurs have lost by 30-plus points. Yikes!
The Spurs sit 14th in the Western Conference after 25 games. Yes, the standings out west are log jammed and San Antonio is a short winning streak away from a playoff position, but seeing them so low is striking, regardless of the rationale.
San Antonio entered this season with their weakest roster of the century – reminder: they have made the post season every year since 1998! – and a flurry of injuries have crippled what depth they had. Pau Gasol is the latest to succumb, with a stress fracture in his right foot sending the Spaniard to the sidelines.
Personally, Mills is having the best season of his career. His importance has never been higher, but the infrastructure around him is falling. Mills has made the post season every year of his NBA career and that streak is under serious threat.
If San Antonio free falls down the standings, is there any chance they trade Mills? Probably not. But here is one idea that makes sense, conceptually, and would further concentrate the Australian influence in the city of brotherly love.
A trade of Mills to Philadelphia for Markelle Fultz would provide the Sixers with a Marco Belinelli replacement from last season’s playoff run. It would give San Antonio a young reclamation project. Just a thought, as you head into the weekend!
That’s another week of basketball in the books, and another Friday Five complete. Did we miss anything? Let Ben know on Twitter if there is anything you would like to see next week.