The Australian Boomers took to the court for the first warm-up match before Tokyo 2020.
Argentina – led by the ageless 2004 Olympics Gold medallist Luis Scola – proved to be a tough, competitive hit-out for Brian Goorjian’s men, who played great basketball in patches, but have some learnings to take away from the matchup.
The Boomers ended up winning the game thanks to a Patty Mills game-winning three 87-84, with some standout performances from several Aussies.
These are the five key takeaways for the Boomers as we enter the final stages of preparation before Tokyo 2020.
1. FIBA Patty is back
It was an off shooting night for Mills, the go-to bucket-getter of the Boomers for what feels like a decade now.
With the scores tied at 84-84 and just 2.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, the Boomers had possession in the frontcourt. Mills was always going to be the one to take the final shot, taking the inbound pass and delivering to Landale who immediately passed back to him at the top of the arc.
With two Argentina defenders draped over him, Mills squared up, pulled up, and dropped in the buzzer-beating game-winner with casual grace.
It didn’t matter that Mills had shot 33 per cent (5/15) up to that point of the game. When the game is on the line, Patty Mills always steps up for Australia.
His team-leading 17 points and five assists, plus the spectacular buzzer-beater capped off a superb NAIDOC week for the proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man, who was named male Flag Bearer of the Australian Olympics Team earlier in the week.
2. Landale and Baynes need to co-exist
Jock Landale and Aron Baynes are rarities in FIBA basketball. Big men who can protect the rim, and then stretch the floor on the offensive end. The latter capacity is currently only theoretical, though.
Combined, they shot two of 11 from three-point range. Coach Goorjian knows it’s imperative that they can force big men out, with the likes of Mills, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum who struggle to finish over rim protectors in the paint. It’s why they both shot so many threes, with a steady diet of pick-and-pops and corner kickouts run for the pair of them.
The two bigs simply can’t co-exist if they can’t force their defender to respect their long-range shooting, like tonight.
Defensively, the Boomers become quite slow, but they were able to protect the paint brilliantly and forced the likes of Scola and Facu Campazzo to take jumpers (that they were able to make with regularity).
Baynes struggled from distance with the Raptors after catching fire with the Suns in the NBA in 2020. He, in particular, needs to find the range before Goorjian makes the call to go small with Ingles or Thybulle at the four.
Without Andrew Bogut, the Centre position is looking quite sparse. These two need to step up.
3. Matisse Thybulle is a FIBA monster
Thybulle finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds, one assist, four steals and three blocks off the bench. Under the slight alterations of FIBA rules to NBA rules (hand checks, goaltending) his athletic traits are heightened even further, and Goorjian will be more excited about Thybulle’s output than anything else he saw in the game.
In his first defensive possession after coming off the bench, Thybulle switched onto the Argentina centre on the low block, denied the entry pass into the post, switched back onto the ball as the shot clock dwindled down, timed his jump to perfection and blocked the mid-range attempt.
On his second defensive possession, he helped on the ball-handler drive, before scrambling back to the corner and blocking the three-point attempt in the blink of an eye.
His athletic traits are ridiculous; the combination of his wingspan, out-of-the-gym athleticism and innate defensive instinct saw him named as a Second Team All-Defensive member in the NBA this season.
Just like Justin Simon was utilised for Goorjian at Illawarra, Thybulle can be the ultimate disruptor for the Boomers at the Olympics by playing either on-ball or off, and the defensive-minded Goorjian will be licking his chops.
On the offensive end, he provided exactly what the Boomers have needed from the wing. His athletic dominance saw him finish at the rim with explosive power, dunking over defenders with ease.
More importantly, he hit all three of his three-point attempts, including a vital one late in the piece to put the Boomers in front.
Thybulle will be a must-watch for the Boomers at Tokyo 2020.
4. Exum can play his way to starting Point Guard
Dante Exum suited up for the Boomers for the first time in years, and it was beautiful to see. The former lottery pick has had a horrible run with injuries in his NBA career and has foregone international opportunities including the 2019 World Cup to maximise his value to NBA franchises.
Carrying the ball-handling responsibilities for the second unit, Exum didn’t set the world on fire but provided glimpses of brilliance in his 15 minutes. The lengthy point guard was comfortable bringing the ball up the floor despite consistent full-court pressure from the Argentinian guards.
Some of his sweeping lay-ups and offensive transition flashes for the Boomers were dazzling and will excite Australians as we near Tokyo 2020.
In his 24 minutes, the starting point guard Matthew Dellavedova only took three shots and had four assists, in a down display.
Exum is a different type of defender to the scrappy NBA Champion – who recently signed with Melbourne United – but provides great length and forms a scary combination with Thybulle when on the court together.
There is potential for Exum to snag the point guard position as he shows Goorjian more and more of what he is capable of.
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5. Josh Green may be the odd man out
We knew heading in that the Boomers had a log-jam in the backcourt, with Dellavedova, Mills, Ingles, Thybulle, Exum, Nathan Sobey and Chris Goulding all able to play minutes at guard. Mavericks rookie Josh Green was the odd man out in the first warm-up game, being the only one to not get any game-time.
Green is a high-intensity defensive guard, who can take up assignments on multiple positions at 198 centimetres. He was unable to find the range at NBA level, but with the shorter three-point line had the capacity to shoot the ball well and provide high energy in transition and as a weak-side offensive rebounder.
For Green to get some minutes as a lockdown defender and floor stretcher, the Boomers may need to play extended time as small-ball at Tokyo 2020. It remains to be seen if Goorjian’s prepared to do that.
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