The Boomers placed fourth again. So, what now?
For the uninitiated, Australia’s national basketball team – the Boomers – have placed fourth five times in Olympic and FIBA competitions since they entered the tournaments in 1988.
The team is showing no signs of breaking this streak, recently falling one place short of the podium twice in a row.
In light of yet another fourth place finish for the Boomers, here a four reasons they didn’t manage to medal.
Writer’s Note: The Boomers performed really well in the early rounds but that’s what makes missing the medal even more devastating.
Reason 1: Our ‘old school’ play style
Admittedly the Boomers’ so-called old school style is one of their greatest assets when it comes to hard-nosed defence but it’s proven a hindrance down the offensive end.
In China, fundamental pressure points where this hurt most were the team’s ‘overpassing’ and inability to fully embrace the three-pointer despite having players equipped for it.
Plays for shooters were rarely run, and there was too much inside-post-play for a team with four potential shooters on the court at any given time.
Popularised by the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, passing to find the perfect shot with the mindset that there’s always a more open shot is known as overpassing and is a generally embraced and expected in modern basketball.
Overpassing isn’t inherently problematic but the Boomers took it to the extreme, passing up great potential shots to dish to players who weren’t open. This ultimately led to more turnovers, and the team finished with the most turnovers in the competition and averaged second highest per game.
Reason 2: Team Structure
The Boomers’ selection processes and team structures indicate they view themselves as less of a competitor than they actually are.
Repeatedly bringing back the same guys who’ve almost earned a legacy place on the team is a strange move that effectively rewards underperforming players with a place on the squad.
Unsurprisingly, the modern brand of basketball – with lots of shooting, high speed and execution – requires modern players. Perhaps trialling the younger players and being cut throat with the selection process would put the team in better stead in this contemporary era of basketball.
Reason 3: Substitutions
Although he’s had success and improved the team in many areas, coach Andrej Lemanis remains unchanged in his faulty substitution technique.
Tying into the Boomers’ old school playing techniques, Lemanis insists on playing most of the roster every game and seems obtuse to the idea that certain players require consistency.
In the final game against France, Chris Goulding was kept off for a majority of the second half, then subbed in for the second overtime. Goulding then went on to get 0/2 from three-point, airballing one of those missed three-pointers.
Suffice to say the player faced his own issues that game, but this miss-call is nevertheless a sign of an outdated coach who doesn’t understand or prioritise his shooters’ need for consistent minutes to have a better feel of the game and successfully score.
Reason 4: Not deferring to our best players when we need to
Even in the games the Boomers’ won, the team is repeatedly guilty of failing to defer to its best players when needed.
There’s a simple and obvious solution to this: get the ball to Patty Mills.
While this might sound like an armchair coach opinion, it proves true for a multitude of reasons. Mills is the team’s most proficient ball handler, best isolation scorer, and the ideal pick and roll guard. Put simply, there’s no reason for the ball not to be in his hands.
Time and time again we see Matthew Dellavedova dribble the ball up the court in the clutch, always creating a sense of unease. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Dellavedova as a primary point guard, he’s careful. But he hasn’t played in a relaxed, calculated system in the NBA like Mills for the San Antonio Spurs.
Admittedly, the ball was able to get in Mills’ hands for the end of most games, which is why the Boomers got as far as they did. But it should have happened every time and it’s also why the team lost the games they did.
In the final two minutes of the loss to France, Dellavedova missed two threes and had two personal fouls while Mills had one made three with having only one attempt.
The final two minutes and overtime of the Spain game told a similar story with Dellavedova going 0/4 from the field with two turnovers while Mills – who was having a pretty underwhelming game – still managed 11 points in that same period.
Realistically, the ideal scenario for the Boomers is keeping the ball in the hands of the two players who’ve played in elite NBA systems in Patty Mills with the San Antonio Spurs and Andrew Bogut with the Golden State Warriors.
Image by Lucas Binns