Australia's preparations ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Cup for Men have all but now come to an end, with the exhibition games completed and game plans at the ready. Craig Rayner, Travis Reid and Damian Arsenis take one last look at the Boomer's form leading into what is shaping as one of the most important campaigns for basketball in Australia and look to answer the burning question; can the Boomers bring home a medal?
The Boomers will be united in their pursuit of a first ever senior medal on the world stage - Courtesy Basketball Australia
Damian: Starting with the Boomers, how do you view their preparation ahead of the World Cup?
Travis: Their preparation has been solid, certainly in terms on the amount of games played. I cannot recall another Boomers World Championship (Cup) preparation that has included nine games against quality opponents. I did find it awfully frustrating that both the Boomers and Team USA were in the Canary Islands (Gran Canaria) at the same time, yet we failed to arrange a game against them. That would have been a huge publicity boost to both the Boomers team and Australian basketball in general.
In terms of performance, as expected the team has been up and down with their form, partially due to fatigue from travel (cue the loss to Finland in Finland), and also due to constant line-up changes as Coach Andrej Lemanis and the coaching staff seek to find the right mix heading into our first World Cup game against Slovenia.
Craig: I think the Boomers preparation has been unprecedented in their history getting so many games under their belt in a short period of time against quality opposition. Playing European teams with European referees makes a big difference although that fact our 9 games were only against 5 different opponents is the one flaw for me. In saying that, I guess 'beggars can't be choosers' in some cases and when you compare our preparation schedule with teams like New Zealand and Korea for example, we have been very lucky.
Travis: I too would have liked to see a little more 'variety' in the Boomers opponents, but when looking at the schedule, one can't help but think Basketball Australia have targeted Finland and Ukraine as either could likely be our crossover opponent in the Round of 16.
Damian: Totally agree that the preparation is something no Boomers team has gone through previously. Hopefully the number of games and time together as a team pays dividends when it matters most. I think there were two really big positives to come out of the warm up schedule. The first is the outstanding performances of Aron Baynes who has been a model of consistency. Without Andrew Bogut, he needed to step up and so far he has. The second is the emergence of Ryan Broekhoff who provides exactly what this team needs; reliable 3-point shooting - he has been deadly!
Craig: What areas do you guys see as a concern from the Boomer's preparation games leading into the World Cup?
For me it was turnovers and probably not enough players being a little more selfish on the offensive end. Joe Ingles needs to take the open look more often while Dante Exum proved time and again he can beat his defender off the dribble but then seemingly let them off the hook by not going hard to the hoop and either putting up a soft shot or passing off.
Damian: Yes - turnovers have definitely been a worry. Maybe it is a sign that the team is still coming together? The Boomers cannot afford to keep giving up the ball so frequently against quality opposition as it will hurt them badly. A major concern for mine is that the team still goes through patches where they struggle to score. The Boomers need to find a way to keep the score ticking over during tough times - getting to the free throw line may be key during any such stretches and this is where Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles need to provide some more value. The form of Nathan Jawai is also a major concern - he has been largely ineffective to date and still looks totally out of shape.
Travis: It has been good to see Lemanis prepared to make changes to the rotations and lineups so willingly. At the start of the European tour Broekhoff was barely playing, now he is starting! The offence demanded the change to be made. From the very first game the guys were generating plenty of good looks from the perimeter, unfortunately Exum just wasn't able to knock them down.
On Exum, I much prefer him coming off the bench. Being a young, inexperienced guy it's good to let the initial heat out of the game, let him come in when things cool off a bit and he can use his length and athleticism to try to make an impact. On his finishing (or lack of), one of the major knocks on him prior to the draft was a 'lack of explosiveness around the rim'. You would expect most 6'6" guys with his speed to be able to blow by their man and finish at the rim with a dunk. He can't do this at the moment, and whether its due to a lack of confidence or lack of ability remains to be seen.
Another concern for me, and it feels almost blasphemous to say it, has been the lack of production from Dellavedova. Coming off a strong finish to his NBA season where he put up a couple of double-doubles, into a Boomers team bereft of it's best offensive player, I would expect his numbers to be better than the 5.3 points and 3.8 assists per game over the nine games he provided.
Craig: Totally agree re the lack of output from Delly. Some games he was shooting the ball less than 5 times and only in a couple of games did he get aggressive and hit some floaters in the lane at a much-needed time when little else was happening on offense. As for Jawai, I wasn't expecting him to set the world on fire but expected more than we've seen. In the Euroleague when he's been aggressive, he's been good for 15-20 points a game and this would be a huge bonus for us up front to take the load off Baynes but as has been said, he simply looks out of shape and out of touch and sadly, will be out of the rotation in Spain...
Travis: Delly's output seems more alarming in that he is the captain of this ship, and without Patty most pundits are expecting the offence to stall from time to time. Someone has to be prepared to make things happen at these times, and the two obvious candidates are Delly and Ingles, however both have often looked timid on offence. As for Jawai, I was excited to see him back in the team. Lemanis described him as an 'impact' player, and he certainly can be that when he's in peak condition. However it remains to be seen whether he can reach that kind of condition prior to the end of the World Cup tournament. Fingers crossed Baynes stays out of foul trouble!
Damian: We shouldn't overlook the fact that Brad Newley has been pretty good and Brock Motum, like Broekhoff, is arguably exceeding everyone's expectations so far. Motum could be that player to help provide some scoring off the bench when the team needs it, while Bairstow is likely to be needed to help provide some backup to Baynes more than ever given that Jawai does not look like he can deliver just now.
So what do we want to see more of come the opening game against Slovenia?
Craig: Definitely nothing that is even close to being tentative. Previous opening matches in big tournaments has seen us timid, shy and almost looking embarrassed to be on the big stage. We need to be aggressive offensively and attack and not sit back and hope the game comes to us. If we have to muscle up to the shorter Slovenians early to show them we mean business then so be it... Did I just create a job for Jawai in the first quarter?
Damian: Yeah, but no to Jawai just now...I want to see controlled Aussie aggression at both ends of the floor. Dellavedova taking control on offense and the Boomers sharing the ball around with a purpose - not just swinging it around for the sake of it. The players need to confidently take the open shot without any hesitation. I would also be more than happy to see our defense spark our offense.
According to Roy Ward who spoke with Lemanis tonight (28-Aug), we can expect to see Delly and Broekhoff starting against Slovenia. Just reward for Broekhoff who has gone from last man cut for London to now starting for the Boomers at the following World Cup.
Travis: In the opening game against Slovenia, I want to see someone step up on the offensive end and take what would have been the bulk of Patty's (Mills) shots. The team has struggled for an offensive identity thus far, and the whole 'offence by committee' plan could see us come unstuck against some of the better teams. I'm looking at Ryan Broekhoff to be the x-factor for the Aussies. He's shot the three-ball at close to 60% throughout the warm-up games, but has never taken a large number of shots. I'd like to see Delly and Ingles running an offence that looks to get Baynes 3-4 good inside looks per quarter, and the same for Broekhoff on the perimeter, with Brock Motum providing an offensive spark off the bench. The Aussie grit and determination on defence should see that we are always in the games, however the ball still needs to go in the basket more times than the opposition!
Craig: Where do you think the Boomers will finish and who's your pick to take the whole thing?
Damian: I think that Group D will be tight at the top, with Lithuania slightly favoured over Australia and Slovenia. Any of these three teams can finish in first place though and all could definitely make a run through to the medal rounds. I'm hoping that the Boomers can finally break through, enjoy a golden run, and find their way into a semi final - how good would that be? I am daring to dream that the Boomers can win a medal - it won't be easy, but I'm staying positive!
Craig: I am thinking probably quarter finals for the Boomers and then I can't commit beyond that depending on who we would meet at that stage. Some teams get all the luck in the quarters while others don't. Hopefully with our "bad" luck at the last two Olympics we can have a winnable match at this stage.
As for the title, I am backing Spain all the way. Their team is very similar to the silver medal winning Olympic teams and looking back at those gold medal games, it took heroics from the likes of Kobe and Lebron to get them over the line. Team USA don't have that ultimate superstar type calibre player this time that they can lean on in my opinion. Factor in Spain's hunger in front of their own crowds and I think they will be even better this time around. They looked extremely sharp in their last friendly versus Argentina.
Travis: As for where the Boomers will finish? I tend to agree with Craig. We certainly will finish top-4 in our group, so will advance to the round of 16. At this stage, based on pre-World Cup form I think we'll probably finish third in our group behind Lithuania and Slovenia, which will set-up a very winnable cross-over game against the second ranked team from group C. It's been nice to hear the Boomers guys not shy away from their goal of winning a medal, but in reality without our two best players in Bogut and Mills that would seem unlikely. In my opinion a top-8 finish is most likely and would be a great achievement, whilst reaching the medal round would be perhaps the greatest achievement in Boomers history.
Damian: Top 8 should be the goal and would be a great achievement for the Boomers - it's good to see they are not shying away from aiming for a medal.
In picking a World Champion, realistically it is hard to go past another Spain versus USA gold medal game. Spain is experienced and deep. They have size at all positions and have great shooters - they could really hurt some teams and could inflict a rare defeat on the favourites. They are there are many question marks with the Americans this time around as Craig pointed out. I think Spain can and will prevail this time around - can you imagine the party that will follow on the streets of Spain?
Travis: My pick to win the Cup? I would be astounded if we didn't see a USA versus Spain final. And really it's the one all basketball fans deserve to see. They have been far and away the leading basketball nations for many years now. It will be another great final. The Spaniards certainly have the edge over the USA in the front-court with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, however the questions remain about whether they will be able to control the USA's suite of elite guards. As much as I like Coach K, I'm hoping to see him lose his second game in charge of USA basketball. Playing in front of a home crowd should be just enough to get Spain over the line for a legacy cementing gold medal.
Damian: As Aussies, we like to go for the underdog! In any case, basketball fans in Australia will be spoilt with all Boomers and USA games being telecast live (where they do not clash) on free to air television. They are also showing every game from the quarter finals onwards. And for any other games fans wish to catch, they can log into FIBA's livebasketball.tv.
Heads Up: #TeamPnR's Craig Rayner, Travis Reid and Damian Arsenis will be covering all the Australian Boomers games on Twitter via @OzBallPnR - use hashtag #GoBoomers
Check back on pickandroll.com.au for a recap after every Boomers game.
Australia opens the 2014 FIBA World Cup against Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain on August 31 at 1:26am AEST live on ABC2 or online on FIBA's livebasketball.tv.
Preview of Australia's Group D Opponents (in order)
Slovenia (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 1:26am AEST Korea (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 9:26pm AEST Lithuania (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 1:26am AEST Mexico (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST Angola (Preview) - 4 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST