The 2021 Tokyo Olympics might just be the most important campaign in the history of the Australian Boomers, so the selection of the team needs to be right.
Though the current iteration of the Boomers may be the envy of the international basketball community because of how purely the team plays, they've yet to deliver the program's first ever medal at a major international event. Adding to that urgency is the fact that there's a very good chance these Olympics will be the last time we'll see this Boomers core in its prime; this very well may be the last chance for some staples of the program to lead the way to some form of success.
That sentiment was felt enough through the core and Basketball Australia that Brian Goorjian was brought back as head coach, and the legendary figure now has some important decisions to make.
Boomers camp is set to begin in Los Angeles at the end of June, a mini-tournament in Las Vegas will follow that, before the team jets off to Tokyo in search for that elusive medal. A 24-man group is already in the ether, and that was widely expected to be cut down to a 15-man squad for the Los Angeles camp; though that's now likely turned into a 16-man squad, thanks to the late - and warranted - addition of Nathan Sobey.
Over the course of the NBA, NBL, and European seasons, each player has been auditioning for a spot in that squad; one that's expected to be announced within the next few weeks. Here's who we think should be headed to Boomers camp.
ESPN's 16-man Australian Boomers squad
This is the easiest pick. Mills is the Boomers' captain, leading scorer, and should be Australia's flag bearer at the opening ceremony (assuming there is one). Mills averaged 22.8 points per game on close to 50-40-90 splits at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and his role on the team isn't expected to change.
If Simmons wants to play, he's a no-brainer. How the 6'10, non-shooting point guard fits in the FIBA game is a legitimate question - we saw how ineffective Giannis Antetokounmpo was in stretches with Greece in 2019 - but he's the best player on this squad; probably the most talented Boomer ever, at this point. A player like Simmons in a high-IQ Boomers offence that operates off ball and player movement has an extremely high ceiling, and the upside is even larger on the other end of the floor.
Another obvious lock, Ingles has been a consistent figure in the Boomers' starting group and that's not going to change. For Australia's sake, here's hoping the wing can bring his NBA form - 12.1 points per game, on a career-high 45.1 percent from downtown - to Tokyo.
Baynes is in the midst of a down-year in his first season with the Toronto Raptors, but he's a proven entity in FIBA basketball and has by no means fallen to the point where he's no longer a lock for the Boomers. With Andrew Bogut retired, Baynes' experience becomes even more valuable; he's the starting five-man for Australia in Tokyo
Every country is allowed one 'naturalised' player, and, for Australia, that's going to be Thybulle. That would've been the case even if Bryce Cotton had gotten his Australian citizenship in time; there's really just no world where a coach like Goorjian doesn't pick one of the best defensive players on the planet to be a part of his team. The only-just-over-30-percent three-point shooting is a slight concern, when it comes to playing him alongside Simmons, but figuring out line-ups and chemistry is what camp is for. By the end of June, don't be surprised to see Thybulle in the starting group.
Dellavedova is an institution within the Boomers program, and a disrupted season wasn't going to change that. The point guard has dealt with health issues over the course of this recent campaign with Cleveland Cavaliers - first a recurring concussion, then a neck injury - but, if he's healthy, then he's in. Assuming Simmons plays, having Dellavedova play the point for the Boomers' second unit would give the team a big lift and a lot of flexibility.
Goulding was a gunner for the Boomers during the 2019 World Cup and he's expected to play that role again in these Olympics. The Melbourne United guard will more than likely make the final 12, because his shooting is just so valuable. Outside of Mills and Ingles - and maybe even including them - Goulding is the best three-point marksman on this squad.
On a squad that will feature Simmons and Thybulle, shooting will be at a premium, and that's where Broekhoff is also extremely valuable. There's good reason to question his current form, due to a mixture of injury and a lack of game reps, but Bogut put it best: "Even at half-cooked Ryan Broekhoff, where he's not playing mass minutes, you put him in the corner with Simmons and Ingles and Mills out there; no-one's leaving him," the three-time Olympian told ESPN. "Period."
There's a really good chance that Giddey will be the starting point guard for the Boomers from the moment the Tokyo Olympics ends, so getting the 18-year-old experience with this group just makes a lot of sense. He's performed at a high level in the NBL so we have reason to believe he can be effective at camp, but, more importantly, Basketball Australia wouldn't want to make the same mistake it made with Simmons years ago. Getting the young core of the Boomers involved now will only be a good thing for the future of the program.
That same sentiment holds with Green. He's only 20, but has shown to be effective - particularly defensively - on a Dallas Mavericks team preparing for the playoffs, and would benefit greatly from having his first national team experience amid the Mills-led core. He'd be one of the best defenders on this team, so being in the Boomers' rotation isn't out of the question, by any means.
Like Goulding, Landale is in that tier of so-very-nearly already being a lock to make this Boomers team. The big-man was a starter for the Boomers at the World Cup, and carried his form over to an NBL season where he's one of the league's most dominant players. He's experienced playing FIBA basketball, and has demonstrated that his range out to the three-point line is very legitimate. It would be very surprising if he didn't make the final 12.
No Bogut means there's a real need for a rim-protecting five-man, and Humphries is probably Australia's best. The seven-footer leads the NBL in blocked shots, and was playing at an MVP level before going down with a foot injury. Humphries is expected to be healthy and ready to go for Boomers camp, should he be selected, and he provides a valuable skillset for a team that needs it. Bogut also picked Humphries as part of his 15-man squad for training camp: "When you look at that group, the only rim defensive presence is Humphries, and that's why I had him in there," he said. "I think he's a good insurance policy... whether it's five-10-15 minutes, you need a rim presence, especially in FIBA basketball... he probably makes the group based on need; there's no shot-blockers out there."
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Andrew Bogut joins Ball and the Real World to discuss who makes his Boomers squad for Tokyo, and the value of young talent vs experience.
Fit is always the question with a player like Creek when picking Boomers teams, but he's clearly one of the 16 best players and would have a shot at taking one of those last spots in the final group for Tokyo. The big difference now is the jump-shot, which has improved a ton; he's shooting 44.4 percent from downtown, on a lot of attempts, and his free throw percentage has also taken a noticeable leap.
Motum has become somewhat of a forgotten man in Australian basketball, but his resumé and current form should elevate him into the training camp squad. He continues to perform at a high level across good European teams - he's currently playing in France, with Nanterre 92; no NBL team can afford him right now - and has the offensive skillset that could be effective with these Boomers.
Kay was a surprise pick for the Boomers' World Cup squad, but performed really well in China, so he deserves to have a spot at this training camp on the back of that. The big-man has been serviceable during his first season with Real Betis; not blowing anyone away with his play, but remaining a solid producer. In the final Boomers team, there's room for maybe two versatile four-men who can slide up to the five at times, and look for Kay to be among those looking to use this camp to prove he should be one of them.
On Thursday, Sobey was added to the Boomers' extended squad for these Tokyo Olympics, so that means there's a good chance he's off to Los Angeles for camp. It's well-deserved, too; the combo guard is among the NBL's leading scorers and doing it relatively efficiently. Making the final 12 is more of a long shot, but just getting to this point after not making the initial 24-man squad is a wildly impressive feat of resilience and should absolutely be commended.
Who missed our cut?
Exum suffered what was called a calf injury at the start of the NBA season, and hasn't seen the floor since. He has his body to sort out before being considered for this Boomers squad.
Cooks didn't make our final squad because he just hasn't played much basketball lately, but he's definitely a dark horse to end up in LA. He recently returned from his long-term foot injury and has looked like the Boomers-level, multi-positional energy guy for the Sydney Kings. If he ends up making Goorjian's squad, I wouldn't see it as a huge surprise.
It's very difficult to consider someone like Maker for this squad when he hasn't played a game of basketball since the middle of January. He was waived by the Cavaliers at the start of 2021 and hasn't been signed to a team since; there are too many guys out there performing at a high level for Maker to get in over them.
Magnay is another big-man who just misses the cut; in part because he hasn't played much high-level basketball of late, and also because there are better options ahead of him. He's turning 23 this year, so he has time on his side.
Reath has a ton of potential to be an effective, versatile four-man for the Boomers going forward, but there are just too many guys in this position ahead of him right now.
McCarron is another player who is in the midst of a really impressive season with his club team, but an abundance of guards in the squad hurts him. Depending on what you value most, there's an argument to be made that he'd make more of an impact at a camp than Sobey, but he probably just misses the cut.
Like I said, Goorjian can only bring so many guards, and, despite a season with the Perth Wildcats where he'd be in the running to win the NBL's Best Defensive Player award, Norton hasn't done enough to see him leapfrog some of the guys above him.
We've seen some really impressive flashes from McDowell-White, but he's a point guard who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and this squad already has multiple players with that skillset. There's NBA-level upside in McDowell-White, so expect him to be part of these squads for years to come.
This one is quite obvious. Adel was released from his contract with the Goorjian-coached Illawarra Hawks - the team called the parting of ways "mutual" - because he wasn't performing close to the standard of a marquee player. Adel needs to show that he's a starting-level player in the NBL before he expects to be considered in Boomers teams moving forward.
The Brian Goorjian factor
There were two key ideas to zone in on when Goorjian was brought back as head coach of these Boomers.
The first was understanding the unique nature of the Boomers' leadership group, which has been the program's driving force for the better part of a decade. The team has effectively been autonomous over the last few major tournaments, so there will be a natural concern about how a larger-than-life figure like Goorjian might collide with that chemistry. Any consternation, Bogut says, should be alleviated by Goorjian's long-term relationships with most of those key members of the Boomers core.
"I think he takes feedback well," Bogut said. "He's coached most of these guys, which is very important... he understands those personalities quickly; he'll welcome a lot of feedback."
The other thing to look closely at is how Goorjian makes an impact from an Xs and Os standpoint. The Boomers may have to incorporate Simmons, who is offensively most effective when the ball is in his hands. What does that mean for Dellavedova, who's coming off a World Cup where he was the team's primary creator? With Simmons comes the potential desire for opposition teams to load up on him, so how does an inconsistent three-point threat in Thybulle fit on a court one would be trying to make as wide as possible? On the flip side, Goorjian will also have the opportunity to play around with a heap of versatile defensive lineups, which is the side of the floor he excels at leading.
"I think defensively is the big one where we can make some tweaks," Bogut said. "We have multiple switching groups now, we can go small ball.
"But, the tweak for me, offensively, is Ben Simmons. What happens when we've got him in the lineup with another non-shooter and teams just muck the paint? Do we have to move Ben to the four - a point forward role - which I understand he hates, he hates playing the four-spot and the five-spot? ... That's the buy-in we're gonna have to get from Ben.
"In FIBA basketball, teams are gonna dare you to shoot, so when you're in there with a guy that already isn't a great shooter in Thybulle, or maybe a Humphries at the five who doesn't shoot that many threes, that paint now is clogged up. So, there's gonna have to be some quirky things that Goorj pens up on that board from time to time, but I think he's up for the job.
"The guys like being around him and it'll be interesting to watch from afar."