The Boomers caused an emphatic upset on Tuesday morning, defeating the star-studded Team USA 91-83 in their second exhibition game in Las Vegas.
It’s their second win over the United States in the past three years, after having previously never defeated the reigning Gold medallists before the 2019 FIBA World Cup exhibition matches.
The win was thoroughly well-deserved, with a dominant second half proving the difference after Australia trailed by nine points at the main break.
These are the five key takeaways of the Boomers win over Team USA, as they ramp up preparations for Tokyo 2020.
1. Goorjian has stamped his defensive trademark
We knew coming into Tokyo 2020 that – with Brian Goorjian again at the helm – the Boomers would hang their hat on their defensive tenacity.
It was on full display on Tuesday.
Without starting centre Aron Baynes, Goorjian’s system came to the fore with the likes of Matisse Thybulle and Jock Landale heading up a masterclass against some of the world’s best players. It proved that a two-big combination isn’t a must-have for Australia.
It’s a defensive system that allows for offensively-gifted players to have extended minutes on the court. They can be hidden away when defensive rotations, corner help and pick-and-roll shows are as fluid as they were today. When Australia fell to a double-digit deficit in the second term, their defence rose to bring them back into the game.
Damian Lillard was the only player who enjoyed a big day offensively, and even he struggled at times finishing with five turnovers.
Thybulle has become the disruptor for the Boomers and allows others to play slightly more aggressive on-ball with him roaming like an NFL safety. He had another combined five steals and blocks, to take his defensive stats to 12 in just two games for the Boomers.
Goorjian will be pleased with the defensive display, which bodes very well for the Olympics.
2. Duop Reath can alleviate the Centre position headache
At 6’11 (211cm), Reath was everything the Boomers could have hoped for when he was turned to in the absence of Aron Baynes, who didn’t return to the game after a knee-on-knee collision three minutes in.
Having logged just four minutes against Argentina, he shouldered 13 minutes and proved he can be relied upon if there are injuries to Landale or Baynes.
Reath has provided excellent rim protection and outplayed Bam Adebayo for the majority of his court-time. His positioning was always good, and he was able to avoid fouling on the low block and in pick-and-roll defence. This has been an issue for Landale previously, and also forward Nick Kay.
Having recently turned 25, Reath is still rounding out his offensive capabilities but showed incredible flashes and minimised any mistakes that you often see with developing centres. He recorded no turnovers despite regularly being used with the ball in hand.
He finished with the second-highest plus/minus at plus-10 for the Boomers, even showcased his range with a confidently stroked three-ball from the top of the arc.
There were big question marks surrounding the centre position coming into the Olympics without Andrew Bogut.
It will be impossible to replace what Bogut brought, but the performances of Landale and Reath have gone a long way to alleviating the stresses that the Boomers would be exposed inside.
3. Boomers small ball is scary
Heading into the third quarter, The Boomers trailed Team USA by nine points. Their starting centre, Aron Baynes, was out so Goorjian inserted Matisse Thybulle into the starting lineup and shifted Jock Landale to the centre position.
Australia won the quarter by 14 points.
Their run-and-gun in the third term had Gregg Popovich and Team USA scratching their heads for an answer to the Boomers onslaught.
A rotation that sees Landale, Reath and Baynes (when fit) share centre minutes exclusively opens up additional minutes for play-makers and shot-creators. Chris Goulding saw over double the minutes he got against Argentina, and we got our first looks at Xavier Cooks and Josh Green.
Nick Kay was the biggest beneficiary, and he once again showed that he will find a way to score against any team in the world after a brilliant World Cup in 2019. He has a wonderfully crafty offensive game and has added to his range since making the move from the NBL.
The Goorjian defensive system can protect the likes of Goulding and Kay – who aren’t great defenders – from being exposed. It then allows the Boomers to benefit hugely on the offensive end.
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4. Chris Goulding is still an NBA-level talent
Goulding has become a consistent Boomers rotation piece over the last few years but has never truly had a decent crack at making it in the NBA. It’s a blessing for NBL champions Melbourne United.
Goulding only played a touch under 10 minutes on Tuesday after four minutes against Argentina, and he figures to maintain that limited role off the bench at Tokyo. But what he is capable of producing offensively as a spark plug is staggeringly good.
The 32-year-old finished with a plus-13 box score plus/minus in his sub-10 minutes on the floor to lead the team in that category. In that time, he had 11 points which included three triples and a beautiful mid-range to extend the Boomers’ run in the third.
Goulding will once again be important on the international stage, and he continues to demonstrate the world-class talent that the NBL possesses.
5. The Boomers have an issue at Point Guard
Despite the brilliant result, the Boomers win over Team USA confirmed a negative takeaway from their first hit-out – there’s an issue at the point guard spot with no Ben Simmons.
Matthew Dellavedova has historically shouldered the load at point guard, which allows Patty Mills and Joe Ingles – who are very capable ball handlers and distributors – to focus on providing much-needed shot-making in the half-court.
Dellavedova has really struggled so far.
With 46 minutes of court time in the two exhibition matches, he has failed to score the ball. It isn’t his role for the team, but he looks devoid of confidence in his re-worked jump shot, and it is seeping into other aspects of his game that made him an NBA Champion.
The 30-year-old had the unenviable task of guarding flame-thrower Damian Lillard, and he will receive these same assignments in Tokyo.
Lillard scored with complete ease from the perimeter. For the most part, there’s nothing you can do when Lillard is in that form, but he was able to get by Dellavedova off the dribble, which is a big concern for Goorjian.
Dante Exum is the other option, with the just-turned 26-year-old still finding his feet at the international level. He has played around 15 minutes per game so far and defended the perimeter well for the Boomers against Team USA.
Often given the defensive assignments of Zach Lavine, Bradley Beal and Lillard, his long frame and defensive nouse that saw him be a top-five NBA draft pick were on full display. Both he and Thybulle found greater success on these types than Dellavedova.
By no means has Dellavedova been a net-negative on the court. He is a combined +16 plus/minus in his two outings and provides scrappy defence, great leadership, a safe handle and savvy passing ability.
However, there are issues that he needs to work through, and a bold Brian Goorjian may – at some point – turn to Exum in that starting role.
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