The four key questions the Australian Boomers must answer ahead of Tokyo 2020

With the Boomers returning to the hardwood against Argentina tomorrow afternoon, Daniel Lo Surdo returns to break down what Brian Goorjian's side must display ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Photo: FIBA

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another Olympics crusade for the Australian Boomers. One that - like much of 21st century Australian basketball folklore - begins with optimism and looks to end with a medal. 

With the Australian men boasting a squad glimmering with NBA talent, that end goal seems to be as achievable as it ever has been before. 

The Boomers’ road to the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo kicks off in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon when the Australians take on World Cup runners-up Argentina to start a series of friendly matches in preparation for Tokyo 2020. 

The side’s first hit-out promises to both unveil and answer the most pertinent questions of Brian Goorjian’s 12-man squad for Tokyo, while also showcasing the new dimensions of play that a revitalised Boomers’ unit can display from their World Cup campaign two years ago. 

So without further ado, here are four questions that look to be answered in the Boomers’ return to the hardwood. 

What will a Brian Goorjian defence look like in Tokyo?

With the announcement of the final Boomers squad last Saturday, Olympic debuts were handed to the trio of Matisse Thybulle, Danté Exum and Josh Green: three NBA-level perimeter defenders who will offer Goorjian elevated levels of athleticism and disruption in the Japanese capital.

The introduction of the three to the Boomers’ set-up gives the side the athleticism that has generally been lacking from the Australian program and will give Goorjian a plethora of options when defending the diverse playing styles synonymous with Olympic competition. 

Thybulle and Green are two long, athletic wing defenders who will be key to the disruption of ball-handlers and playmakers in the halfcourt. Exum is a smart, quick defender who can defend anywhere from the perimeter, and will be looking to establish his defensive presence as key to his value for the Boomers in Tokyo. All three promise to shine in a Brian Goorjian system espousing defence as critical to team success. 

The promise of Australia’s perimeter defending will be tested against Argentina, as the North American-based trio of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza and Gabriel Deck will look for dribble penetrations to capitalise in the paint and from the three-point arc. With Thybulle, Exum and Green in tow, a capacity to nullify and disrupt actions from the Argentine perimeter will be an encouraging sign ahead of the Olympics, where containing playmakers one-on-one and eliminating shooting lanes will be paramount to defensive success in Tokyo.

How will the Boomers second unit generate a consistent offence?

Perhaps shaping as the largest question mark of the Boomers’ selection last week, a perceived lack of scoring production on Australia’s projected second-unit will look to be dismissed against Argentina. 

The respective withdrawal and omissions of Rio 2016 pair Ryan Broekhoff and Brock Motum from the 12-man squad signalled a reliance on Melbourne United talisman Chris Goulding to shoulder the Australian perimeter offence once the Boomers’ first-string unit moves to the bench. 

With Goulding the only Rio 2016 representative set to reprise his role on the Boomers’ bench, Goorjian will be forced to look to the 2018 NBL Grand Final MVP at times to find Australia a basket whilst in Tokyo, with little options for a Plan B. 

While this may not look a particularly difficult task for Goulding, the three-time NBL Champion’s sustained production throughout the fortnight of Olympic competition will be critical as the Boomers progress into the latter stages of the tournament, where opposition defences become hyperaware of the actions and motions of their counterparts. 

While the second-unit’s offence looks to be supported by the playmaking of Exum and the low-post and perimeter threat of Jock Landale, it remains to be seen how the bench will react against sides prepared to blow up the actions of their opposition. It will be undeniably important in these situations for Goulding to play spontaneously and randomly to open up new dimensions for Australia on this side of the floor - a pretty important responsibility to bestow upon one bench player. 

Against Argentina, we will see the first glimpses of the second unit, their reliance on Goulding for offence, and just how productive the two-time Olympian can be in Tokyo. 

What role will Duop Reath have?

With the retirement of Andrew Bogut from professional basketball last year, the place as Aron Baynes’ understudy in Tokyo looked one of the least certain spots ahead of the Boomers’ pre-Olympic camp in California last month. 

That role was seemingly awarded to Duop Reath last week; an extremely athletic, energetic centre who played his 2020/21 season with EuroLeague and Serbian powerhouse KK Crvena zvezda. 

Against Argentina, Reath will see his first big test ahead of Tokyo. An ability to run the floor, rebound on both ends and set strong screens in the pick and roll will be critical to his value for the Boomers, and may also open another dimension of offensive consistency for the Australian second-unit. 

Reath’s length and size shape as an important piece in the knockout stages of the competition, where Baynes may invariably require assistance or suffer foul trouble against the Gasol’s of Spain, France’s Rudy Gobert and against a revamped D’Tigers Nigeria squad in group play. 

A failure to stick with the pace of Argentina will likely see Goorjian experiment with Landale or Nick Kay with the backup five minutes, which will force the Boomers to adopt a quicker system away from Reath’s skillset. 

How quick can the revamped Boomers’ squad play?

While the plethora of shooters and playmakers that make up much of the Olympic squad promise to enjoy a stream of success in the halfcourt, an uptick in athleticism promises to offer a revitalised Boomers’ transition that can capitalise on their projected defensive proficiency. 

With the length of Thybulle and Green, live-ball turnovers seem inevitable in the defensive halfcourt, where the Boomers can look to push the ball and either get on the rim or find sharpshooters on the perimeter. 

In previous Olympic campaigns, length, size and athleticism have scarcely been a strong suit of the Boomers, who have consequently enacted a more calculated, strategic approach in the halfcourt. 

Now with athleticism and length a fixture throughout the squad, the Boomers have the opportunity to be rebranded as a fast, up-and-down team with multiple avenues of scoring and playing styles. 

In the open-court, perimeter menaces of Joe Ingles and Patty Mills make for an ever present three-point threat to keep the offensive key deserted for Thybulle or Dellavedova to get on the rim. The second unit holds similar promise, with Exum or Green afforded space to attack the key with Goulding positioned by the three-point arc. 

Drag screens set by Baynes, Landale or Kay in semi-transition will create scoring options in the paint and perimeter from either the pick and roll or pick and pop, which will add more wrinkles to an unnerving Boomers’ fast break. 

While playing against teams teeming with shot-making talent like the USA, opportunities to selectively find easy, quick opportunities to score in the open court may prove crucial to keeping the scoreboard moving while also allowing time to be readied for the subsequent defensive possession. 

The Boomers will begin their week of Olympic warm-up matches against Argentina on Sunday, 11th July 2021 at 1:30 pm AEST. They will also play the USA twice and Nigeria once before travelling to Tokyo.