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How William McDowell-White impressed in his debut as an Australian Boomer
After an impactful national team debut in the weekend's FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, McDowell-White might have sealed the deal as a regular moving forward.
The Australian Boomers have been blessed with a wealth of talented guards through the years. From Eddie Palubinskas to Ian Davies, Phil Smyth and Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal and more, Australia has always been able to lean on the stars in their backcourt.
That continues to be the case in the present day, as the Boomers have had a pair of star guards in place for the last decade or so. Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova have played a huge role in the seismic leap that Australian basketball has taken in recent years, and neither looks close to being done just yet.
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Mills led the Boomers to last year’s remarkable Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo and recently inked a fresh deal with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, while Dellavedova has overcome a torrid injury run and captained the Boomers to a 3-0 record in last weekend’s FIBA World Cup Qualifying window. Still, with Mills turning 34 this August and Dellavedova 32 in September, the clock is slowly ticking. After all, Father Time remains undefeated.
There is a next generation waiting in the wings, with the likes of Josh Giddey, Dyson Daniels and Tyrese Proctor all in or around the NBA scene. All three are still early in their development, though, and looking further ahead there is always the fear that NBA stars may not always be available or willing to don the green and gold.
Thankfully, the weekend’s qualifiers saw another young guard stamp his papers as a key Boomer now and into the future. William McDowell-White has impressed in patches over a season and a half with the New Zealand Breakers, but he emerged as a key contributor in Australia’s latest wins over China and Japan. As Australia maintained their unbeaten record in the second stage of qualifying, he provided a steady hand both alongside and without Dellavedova and unlocked plenty of options for head coach Brian Goorjian.
After sitting on the fringes of the NBA just two years ago, COVID-19 brought McDowell-White home to the NBL, where injuries and roster turnover have made life difficult. His performance in the green and gold showed that he is still an elite talent, and he is primed for a breakout in both international and domestic competition.
Cracking into the Boomers core
The Boomers entered the weekend’s three-game series with an air of mystery around them, as a squad with just one Olympic holdover and six debutants gathered with only four days to prepare. With the bulk of his ‘regular’ stars missing, Goorjian dangled a big, juicy carrot in front of that new group of players.
“The guys that play in this have to have some sort of reward. I'm watching this very, very closely and there's nothing more I would like than a couple of these guys to knock out a couple of the others and have an opportunity to play in this [World Cup],” Goorjian said prior to the opening game against China.
After Friday’s 46-point drubbing of Japan, the coach had at least one name highlighted in his little black book. “We’ve seen McDowell-White, what he’s done at New Zealand… I was very high on him coming in, and I thought he’s a really important piece in this,” he said. “We’ve talked about guys out of this moving on to the next one, he’s one that we’re having a real good look at.”
Those comments came after McDowell-White tallied 14 points, six assists and two steals against Japan; two nights later, he was part of a huge fourth-quarter run to overcome Japan and finished with eight points, five assists and two steals. Playing for the Boomers for the first time, he looked like a seasoned veteran and played a huge role in the undefeated weekend.
Playmaking has been his staple skill in the NBL, and that was on full display across the qualifying window. An adept pick-and-roll player, McDowell-White found a synergy with Australia’s big men despite the team’s limited preparation time. Sam Froling was another breakout performer for Australia, tallying 12 points against Japan; in that game, three of his six made baskets came from McDowell-White assists.
“[Dellavedova and McDowell-White] are such talented passers, and Mitch [McCarron] is as well, they put me in good positions to make pretty easy ones,” Froling said post-game. “Playing with those guys, they just make the game a lot easier for you, they read it so well.”
That ability to create offence was crucial for a team that didn’t have the time to implement complicated offensive sets. As Goorjian said after the win over Japan, “it’s four days of practice or three practice sessions — it ain’t rocket science”. It was left largely to Australia’s guards to drive the tempo and generate good shots, and they did so with aplomb.
Speaking of tempo, McDowell-White was far from a one trick pony at the offensive end. Australia’s opponents were very willing to mix up their defensive schemes through the three games, with China in particular running a full-court press for long stretches. One of the most impressive things about McDowell-White’s play was his ability to read the defence being thrown at him and find the best way to pick it apart.
Nothing was ever forced, and his patience was most evident in the game against Japan. McDowell-White was scoreless at half-time, but tallied five assists; as the defence sat off him in the second half, he poured in 14 points without missing a shot, including three triples and a pair of driving layups.
That scoring profile was valuable, as it allowed McDowell-White to line up alongside both McCarron and Dellavedova. As Australia reeled off a 26-3 fourth-quarter run against China, all three were on the court together. “We moved Blanchfield out and brought in that third guard, and things opened up from there both on the offensive and defensive end,” Goorjian said post-game. With McDowell-White shooting 6-13 from three across the weekend, Goorjian was able to play two or all three of his ball-handlers without sacrificing any spacing.
It helped that McDowell-White also wasn’t out of place in that company on the defensive end, where both Dellavedova and McCarron are renowned. His size and smarts allowed him to slide up a position when needed, and he too made a big impact at that end, nabbing 1.7 steals per game and disrupting plenty of offensive sets with his quick hands.
With Mills and Dellavedova still willing and able to play at major tournaments, and with Giddey and Daniels waiting in the wings, McDowell-White won’t be handed the keys to the Boomers any time soon. His performance over the weekend showed that he can provide a point of difference, though, with the flexibility at both ends to play alongside those stars while also running the second unit as required. At just 24 years of age, he could be one of the players to bridge the gap between two generations of Boomers stars.
Breakers breakout on the horizon?
McDowell-White’s play in the green and gold also bodes well for the upcoming NBL season, where he was already looming as a breakout candidate. The New Zealand Breakers are in the midst of a major roster overhaul, and while their pieces aren’t all in place it seems certain that McDowell-White will be central in their plans.
“Keeping Will McDowell-White in a Breakers jersey was one of our main targets for the offseason,” new Breakers coach Mody Maor said after the guard re-signed with the team. “He is a true competitor with a ‘team first’ mentality and exemplifies the core traits of the team we are building.”
It has been a rocky start to McDowell-White’s Breakers career — he arrived midway through the COVID-affected NBL21 season, and with little stability on their roster since he has struggled to nail down a consistent role. Despite entering the league after impressing in the G League and spending time in training camp with the Houston Rockets, he played just 23.9 minutes per game last year in his first full season with New Zealand.
His struggles have started with the players around him, with a rotating cast of Breakers guards made up largely of ball-dominant and shoot-first players. Playing with the likes of Tai and Corey Webster, Levi Randolph, Hugo Besson and Jeremiah Martin, McDowell-White hasn’t had many opportunities to fully utilise his strengths as a playmaker.
It seems likely that he will take the reins as New Zealand’s starting point guard in NBL23, and as of now, the team’s new additions point to a roster much better suited to his skillset. New import Derek Pardon brings a reputation as a dynamic screener and finisher in the pick and roll; Izayah Le'afa is a fellow point guard, but one that has experience playing off the ball with South East Melbourne; and Cameron Gliddon remains an elite shooter that doesn’t need the ball in his hands.
The skillset that McDowell-White displayed in the weekend’s FIBA action was not completely new, but it was a refined version of what has been flashed at NBL level. His performance with the national team should provide a huge confidence boost, both to McDowell-White himself and to the Breakers as they prepare to give him the keys to the team.
McDowell-White was primed to make a strong NBA push before returning home in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has delayed his rise towards becoming a household name in Australian basketball, but his Boomers debut signalled a return to that upwards trajectory. It showed that he can be a regular on the national team, that he could soon be one of the NBL’s local stars, and it may eventually be remembered as the starting point of his push towards the NBA.
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