After preaching process over result and cycling through many lineup combinations against Canada, Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis provided us with much more meaningful information in last night’s 86-102 loss to Team USA.
With only eight players seeing the floor over the first quarter and a half, a clear rotation was visible and an eye to work towards a result and get legitimate practice for a future must win World Cup game was apparent.
This plan was in stark contrast to the team’s first warmup game where 21 different lineups were put on the floor with numerous substitutions throughout. Excluding the final three minutes of last night, the Boomers used a shorter rotation with 13 different groups hitting the floor.
“This is the first time that we could start to get into rotations and see how all that looks. We‘ve got good learnings from this game," said Lemanis.
Of course, this matchup played out in front of a whopping 51,218 spectators, a unique basketball event staged in what is predominantly an Australian Rules football stadium.
It was certainly an experience and, despite the comments from some on the ground level regarding seating arrangements, as well as disappointment with star player absences, the game had many on-court takeaways.
The first half was encouraging with the Boomers executing for the most part and limiting areas of Team USA’s game that can often be standout strengths.
Australia restricted their transition opportunities, even outperforming them in this area early on, whilst they kept USA off the free-throw line and forced shots from either mid or long range.
Choices must be made when tasked with defending a team that can score in a myriad of ways like Team USA and giving up space in the mid-range can be a worthy gamble.
Of course, when the opposition hit these shots, it can make a pick and roll coverage look poor, but it’s hard not to give up something – Australia doesn’t have the athleticism at each position to cover everything.
“The big was pretty far back, so we just wanted our bigs to get a small piece of the guards,” explained USA’s Kemba Walker.
“I was trying to get to my spot as much as possible, which is the mid-range. I was able to knock it down a few times.”
Whilst Walker and his team did a good enough job of knocking down shots, they weren’t all coming easy and the intent of the Australian defence was strong, most notably in the first half.
“I thought we had a few nice examples of where guys got into the hip and kept chasing and forced them to at least hit a tougher long-two,” explained Lemanis.
As encouraging as the first half was though, the third quarter was a reminder of how Team USA have an ability to score in bunches and punish mistakes or signs of fatigue.
Minimising turnovers, something Australia did well in the first half, became problematic to start the second half which led to scores against a defence that wasn’t quite set at times. Team USA used their shot-making to establish what would be a game defining lead.
“Our offense dictated how badly we played our defence,” said Australia’s Patty Mills.
“A couple of bad shots and bad offensive plays led to defensive rebounds, run outs, dunks, threes. An athletic team like USA can put points on the board pretty quickly.”
Whilst the offence was at a below-average efficiency for the third game in a row, there were signs of some of the crisp Rio Olympics ball movement that is so fondly remembered.
Australia’s assist rate has steadily increased, whilst their turnover percentage has also decreased, in each of their three pre-tournament games. They finished with a staggering 24 assists on 29 field-goal makes last night.
“The Boomers run some hellacious offence – really hard to guard,” said USA head coach Greg Popovich.
“They do a great job moving and cutting. We’ll watch the film and learn a lot from what we had to guard tonight. I give them a lot of credit.”
Andrew Bogut is often at the head of this with his hand-off actions and high-post passing to cutters moving towards the rim. One particular highlight of the night was his behind the back dish to find Mills for a layup.
“I have no idea what [Bogut] scored tonight but he still is a pretty significant and influential part of our offense and making it work with his reads and passes and smarts,” said Lemanis.
Whilst it’s been the Boomers style to share the ball and post some gaudy assist stats in this recent era, this style also comes out of necessity with few (or any) number one-type offensive options or elite creators outside of Mills on the roster.
One player who had positive moments as a scorer last night was Chris Goulding. Given the absence of several top-level talents, most notably Simmons and Exum who both have an ability to make the defense shift, Goulding’s confidence and ability to find his jump shot needs to be one of a few pieces that helps to ensure there isn’t an over-reliance on Mills.
Expectations have certainly changed from the initial thoughts of a dream Australian roster that included both the old and new NBA brigade together, and with that drops the team’s margin for error against the best squads.
In order to be competitive and reach the desired late stages of tournaments, the Boomers will need to continue to find that slick ball-movement and understanding on offense, as well as produce four quarters of intensity and execution on defense – Australia’s chemistry needs to be a weapon.
Lemanis was right to stress process over results in the Canada series with caginess evident against a team that is in our World Cup group but, as the warm-up stage concludes, the needle shifts towards results being what will define this group.
“We’re certainly not where we would like to be in terms of rhythm,” revealed Lemanis.
“There’s time to get this where it needs to be.”
Remaining International Basketball Series Game Schedule
Australian Boomers vs USA Basketball, Saturday 24 August 2019, 2:00pm
USA Basketball vs Canada Basketball, Monday 26 August 2019, 7:30pm
All times are denoted in AEST, and games available via SBS and SBS On Demand.