• Ian Stacker

Boomers quest for the Holy Grail

Given that we are about to start another Olympic campaign with the Boomers and Opals I thought it timely to have a look back at the Boomers past performances at major events, which in basketball are the Olympic Games and World Championships, and revisit some of the disasters, controversies and achievements. Given that the Boomers haven’t made the top four since the home 2000 Olympics in Sydney, achievements may not take long. Probably the Gold medal at the Commonwealth games in 2006 will be held up as a glowing moment, but let’s face it when Australia play New Zealand in the Gold medal game you can be sure no other basketball powers were involved in the event.

The biggest disaster, for me since 2000 was the pool play game loss to Greece at the 2006 World Championships. This was during the Goorjian era and I can remember watching the game live, Australia well ahead in the final quarter, and I was wondering when the inevitable collapse would occur. However, as the game wound down I started to think, bloody hell we are going to beat Greece! Even with as little as a minute to go the game didn’t look losable, however lose we did. You can watch the final 60 seconds here and I will never understand why the Boomers didn’t call a time out once Greece levelled the scores at 69-69.

You can see on the faces of everyone in Green and Gold that they were devastated, the team never recovered, getting belted by Lithuania in the next pool game then defeating Qatar before a group of 16 match up against the USA where they went down by 40 points, thus missing out on the top eight.

The 2008 Olympic games were next. While some would say that we had a couple of our greatest results in this tournament a closer look might be needed. Firstly, the Olympic Games only have 12 teams in attendance, divided into two pools of six, compared to the World Championships where 24 teams are divided into four pools. Russia was the first of the big names to fall to the Aussies, a significant result by 15 points and then the Aussies claimed the next big scalp in the Lithuanians by a massive 31 points – some would suggest the Litho’s took this opportunity to rest some of their top stars but the Aussies also shot an incredible 64% from the 3-point line in this game. The issue for the Boomers though was the five-point loss to Croatia in the first game of the tournament which ultimately led to them coming fourth in their pool and the death sentence to play the USA in the quarter final where they went down by 31 points. The Litho’s meanwhile went on to finish fourth.

The Goorjian era finished with a seventh place their best performance over his time at the helm following from ninth at the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Brett Brown era started at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey. The Boomers had a near death experience in game one of the tournament where they narrowly beat Jordan 76-75. The rest of the pool games went as expected with a close loss to Argentina, a win against Germany, a significant loss to Serbia and a final pool win against Angola. By finishing third in their pool they had averted the terminal dreaded match up of playing the USA in the group of 16 and drew the smallest country from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia. Sadly, Slovenia belted them by 29 points, eliminating them from the meaningful games and they eventually finished 10th

The 2012 Olympic Games in London were next for the Boomers. They again started the tournament poorly losing the crucial first game against Brazil by four points. The rest of the pool games went pretty much as expected with a loss to Spain, a win against China and an easy win against the host nation, Great Britain. Their final game of pool play was against the Russian’s. Again, a meaningless game as Russia had already secured top spot in their pool and the Aussie’s were not going to finish any higher than fourth. This, of course meant they played first in Pool A who was as usual the USA, they went down by 33 points. It was interesting to note Spain’s final two pool games resulted in losses to Russia and Brazil. Odd it might seem, but not when you see that by losing those two final games they guaranteed themselves third in their pool meaning they would not face the USA until the Gold Medal game, which they eventually made and lost by seven points. Once Spain lost to Russia in their pool play they had no interest in finishing second in their pool. Anyone who thinks team don’t deliberately lose games to avoid the USA in these tournaments is, well, deluded.

Brett Brown had bigger fish to fry now and returned to the USA to pursue his NBA career where he is now the Head Coach of Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Brown era returned a 10th place in Turkey and 7th in London.

The 2014 World Championships in Spain started again with great optimism and the start of Andrej Lemanis’ era as Head Coach. As is their habit, the tournament started with a poor first game, losing to nemesis team Slovenia in the opening game by 10 points, a win against Korea followed. The next game was a huge win against nemesis team in medal games Lithuania – the Litho’s have beaten Australia in both their chances to win bronze medals in 1996 & 2000. This was a significant win and took the heat off the Boomers with regard to finishing in a comfortable spot in pool play. A win over Mexico followed and all of a sudden Australia were in a position to consider what a win or a loss in their next game against Angola would mean. The win would make them all feel good but also ensure a quarter final match up with the USA, assuming they win their round of 16 game. A loss to Angola would mean they wouldn’t face the USA until the semifinals, if they were good enough to make it that far. They chose to toss the game against the Angolans, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal except they made it so obvious they were trying to lose they drew the wrath of the basketball world.

Anyway, they made the group of 16 where they were eliminated by Turkey by 1 point.

In the game against Turkey the Boomers had a two-point lead with under 24 seconds remaining, Turkey with the ball, so what would you do as the defensive team? If you foul Turkey and put them to the foul line then even if they make both, you get the ball back, have a chance to score and win and the worst case scenario is probably overtime. If you don’t foul then they will certainly get a shot off, if it misses then you probably win, if it goes in and it’s a three-point attempt then you probably lose. Most teams would foul in this situation, the Boomers didn’t, went down by one point, and avoided playing the USA, by not advancing into the quarter finals.

The Lemanis era started with a 12th place finish.

So now the Boomers have announced they are going for Gold, a bold statement given their history at these events but if you’re in the fight you might as well try to win it. Most readers would be aware I was Head Coach at the AIS from 2010 – 2013 and my self-driven mission was to try to help the Boomers achieve better results at these events. My strong opinion was that for us to do better we needed to develop a style of play that gave us the best chance and we needed to significantly improve our shooting. One of my previous blogs goes over the style of play proposed. It’s changed how I watch games now and what I look at first when I see the stats from games these days.

While watching the Olympics these will be the things that I think can make a difference for the Boomers;

  • Three-point percentage -The Boomers shot the best three-point percentage of any team at the 2014 World Championships at 47%, if they can maintain this they will be well in the fight for medals. In the group of 16 loss against Turkey they shot only 26.7%. The target should be to shoot over 40%, especially in the meaningful games.

  • Three point attempts - The Boomers attempted less three point attempts of any team at the 2014 World Championships at 15.7 per game!! They were shooting better than any team but taking less attempts. In my view, there was a fatal flaw in their offensive structure where perimeter players were often in the key area when “kick out” or “extra passes” were available, thus resulting in less three point attempts. If they had only attempted and made a couple more attempts in their game against Turkey (they attempted exactly 15) then that one-point loss becomes a 4 or 5-point win. It will be interesting to see if they stick with the same structure. They should be attempting over 20 threes per game.

  • Create “kick out passes” and “extra passes” In their half-court offense - A kick out is basically a pass out from inside the key to players positioned on the three-point line away from the ball. Kick outs usually result in high percentage shots. You get the ball inside the key through either dribble penetration or by feeding into posting up players. Extra passes are when the player who receives a kick out pass makes an extra pass to another player spotting up outside the three-point line. These types of shots tend to be even greater percentage than kick out passes.

This video link show some clips I put together while at the AIS to highlight the concepts above.

You will note the great ball movement by Spain especially. They generate many kick out and extra pass opportunities by being patient with the ball and being prepared to go very late into the shot clock for the right shot and they shoot the ball very well. All things Australians are capable of.

The final few clips on the link just show some great shooting ability by individual players, another thing we are all capable of.

I’ll be watching to see how we pass the ball, how we penetrate the ball and the first stat I’ll be checking is three-point percentage. As I put this article together the Boomers have just played a warm up game against Lithuania where they have gone down by 13 points. They went 4/19 from the three at 21%, that isn’t going to get it done.

It’s a given that we will be strong defensively, we are well respected internationally for our aggressiveness and effort we devote to defense. If we can maintain the standard all our teams have set over the years in international competition, then we should be competitive at that end of the floor. There were some worrying signs of our ability to defend dribble penetration in the series against the College All Stars but I’d imagine with Andrew Bogut around the basket it will be a little sounder.

These three areas above appeared to me to be the biggest areas for improvement not only for the Boomers but for our style of basketball generally. If we can show improvement at these Olympics in these areas then I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Boomers can in fact make the medal round. I think they are dreaming that they can win Gold but making the top four would certainly be within their reach.

So how is the schedule looking? The crucial game one is against France, very tough game, Game two is against Serbia, another very tough game, game three is against the USA, it’s not getting any easier. If the Boomers can avoid being 0-3 by this stage, then they have already done very well. The final two pool games are against China and Venezuela, they will need to win both of these to stay in the hunt but if they finish pool play 2-3, then they are likely to finish fourth in the pool and set up the first elimination game, the quarter final against number one from the other pool. Likely to be Spain or the dreaded Lithuania, get past one of these two European super powers and the final four is theirs.

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