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Friday, 25 July 2008

2008 Olympic Basketball Preview : Australian Boomers


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The teams are set and it is time to start theorising and posturising over the fortunes of the Olympics Mens Basketball squads for 2008. Two very strong pools have formed with neither group containing any 100 percent certainties. Today we will look at the Australian Boomers, the Aussie battlers from Downunder and how they plan to make their way out of competitive Pool A, which includes defending champions Argentina, Eastern-European powerhouses Lithuania and Russia, Croatia and Iran.

As the country's highest profile player Andrew Bogut said recently, "Representing a small country like Australia, 20 million people, it's always great fun to go and try to knock off the big dogs in the Olympic Games."

However, will that underdog, never-say-die spirit be enough for Australia to counter-act some of their obvious weaknesses against more favoured opponents such as Spain, Argentina and USA? Let's have a look at how the squad shapes up in the tournament.

STRENGTHS

-- Big men: the Aussies have a solid stable of bigs with flexible skill-sets.

-- Coaching: Brian Goorjian brings a defensive style which works well in International ball.

WEAKNESSES

-- Experience: the veteran stars that carried the Boomers of the 90s, including Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke and Luc Longley are long gone from international duties and two of the veterans of the team, Sam MacKinnon and Jason Smith, are injured.

-- Outside shooting: the team is lacking in real gunners from the perimeter, despite Goorjian's coaching style relying on this for much of the team's offence.

There has been a strong emphasis in the media's pre-Olympic analysis on the strength of the Aussie frontline -- and rightly so. It clearly holds the most internationally credentialled component of the team, to the point that 2008 Toronto Raptors draftee, Nathan Jawai, was pushed out of the team. The big man department includes starting centre Andrew Bogut, Boomers captain Matt Nielsen, CSKA Moscow champion David Andersen and NBL MVP Chris Anstey. However, despite this range of styles and strength of experience, Bogut rightly points out that the key for the team will fall to the guards:

"But Bogut yesterday warned total reliance on the awesome foursome would prove the Boomers' undoing at the Beijing Games.

"You definitely have to have above-average guards that are going to have their work cut out for them," Bogut said at the Gold Coast Boomers camp.

"We need to play one through 12. It's not going to be Andrew Bogut or David Andersen averaging 20 and 12 for us to get a medal.

"I think the most important thing is having guys coming off the bench and contributing, having everyone being on the same page, having guys playing for their country and not thinking about their best job in Europe, or trying to get a contract in the NBA or impress the scouts. It's not about that, it's about being collective as a group of 12 and getting a medal for your country.

"Pressuring full court and doing those things which a lot of European teams don't do, that's going to help us – rebound, play defence and score those buckets down low.

"We're going to have to junk the game up."

BOOMERS LINE-UP

BIGS

Andrew Bogut

The big man came onto the scene at the 2004 Athens games and proved himself immediately to be the starting centre the Boomers had been looking for since the retirement of Luc Longley. His international-sized frame, coupled with his agility and passing ability, make the Boomers legitimate down low and will not leave them wanting against any Olympic opponent in middle. He has proven himself in the NBA to be a solid double-double performer and the Milwaukee Bucks have rewarded him as such with a recent five-year contract worth up to $72.5m. The Boomers will hope for him to grab close to ten rebounds a game, offer a large amount of interior scoring and intimidate opposing offences.

Matt Nielsen

After proving all he could in the Australian NBL, the lanky combo-forward headed to Europe to ply his wares for substantially more money. Standing 6'10", Nielsen is a solid rebounder and shot blocker with an array of offensive moves in the post and facing up. He has the speed to blow by many bigger defenders and occasionally will switch to the small forward spot where his size will dominate. He currently plays for BC Lietuvos Rytas, who have been quite successful with Nielsen playing a starring role. He provides some of his thoughts from last season here.

David Andersen

The forward/centre provides a slightly different look to Nielsen at the four spot, as he is just as good a jump shooter, but slightly stronger whilst lacking some of the captain's speed. A shade short of 7'0", Andersen has seen a great deal of success firstly with Kinder Bologna and then with CSKA Moscow, where he helped the team to two Euroleague titles. He was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2002, but has scorned their most recent offers to enter the NBA for the greater money and playing time that Europe offers, recently signing with Barcelona. His experience and size will be greatly relied upon in the clutch games for the Boomers down the stretch.

Chris Anstey

The former Bull and Maverick returned to the NBL after successful stints in Russia and Spain, to claim the 2006 and 2008 NBL MVP awards. His 7'0" lanky frame is most at home at the three point line it often seems, giving the Boomers a very different look to Bogut inside.

Shawn Redhage

The 6'8" American-born naturalised Australian will get some minutes at both forward spots to provide additional scoring punch in Brian Goorjian's occasionally anemic offence. Redhage is a solid all-rounder who will fill whatever gaps arise for the team, as he does on a consistent basis for his club, the Perth Wildcats.



SWINGMEN

Mark Worthington

Worthington (6'7" F), as one of coach Goorjian's favourites, may end up a top performer for the Boomers by the time the Olympics is over. He excels at scoring inside and out and uses his intense personality to lock down opponents on the other end of the floor. After a solid career at Metropolitan State University, Denver he has become one of the top performers in the NBL and challenged for the 2008 MVP trophy.


David Barlow

Another Metro State alumnus who fits well into Goorjian's system, Barlow may well start at shooting guard after recent displays of extremely effective three point shooting. He often fails to make the best decisions off the dribble, but is athletic and will provide the Boomers with a swingman capable of matching opposing scorers at the 2/3.

Brad Newley

Drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2007, he was told to further refine his game in Europe and has spent a successful season in Greece, where he will continue next season (albeit for a different team to previously -- Panellinios). Newley (23 years old) is a solid scorer at the shooting guard position and will provide Australia with one of its best perimeter scorers for years to come. He should get an opportunity to play plenty of minutes in this tournament.


Glen Saville

One of the team's few veterans, Saville has seen Olympic duty previously with the Boomers at the 2004 Athens games. A completely unbiased and emotive wikipedia entry for Saville sums him up best: "Glen Saville is one of the NBL's most versatile players and at times he is called upon to man any position on the court using a combination of size, strength and speed to handle whatever match-up the opposition throws his way."


Joe Ingles

Ingles may find himself mired towards the end of Goorjian's bench in these games, but will definitely feature much more prominently in the Boomers' future. His unique combination of length, shooting and ball-handling make him a difficult matchup at the 1/2/3.


POINT GUARDS

CJ Bruton

One of the Boomers' leaders and veterans, CJ will be a key to the team's success. A solid floor general with an ability to get very hot from the outside, he has had a wealth of experience around Australia as well as in the States. A recent injury scare in camp shook up the Boomers' hopes, however it appears that Bruton's ankle will be ready to go for the Olympics, notwithstanding the disruption to his preparation. Bruton should get the lion's share of minutes at the point and his experience in tight situations will be relied upon.


Pat Mills

Aboriginal star Mills has been the recent sensation of the Australian team. His slight 6'0" frame belies his ability to come up big on the court, as he did for St Mary's University, leading them to a 2007 upset of Oregon with 37 points. He is the youngest ever to play for the Boomers, at age 19. His blinding quickness brings a change of pace off the bench and will likely see him get his chance to make his mark in Beijing.

The Boomers have their sights set on earning a medal at these Games. It has been rare in recent history that Australia has managed to gather all of their top players to compete in international tournaments, so much is expected in these games. The stock of bigs will be relied upon for much of the scoring and to dominate the middle against smaller teams, whilst the real emphasis will fall to the perimeter players to step up and hit their shots for the Aussies to do as well as hoped. Don't rule them out of the medals equation.




2 comments:

At the Hive said...

Came over here from Green Bandwagon. Great breakdown the Aussie team, I enjoyed the read!

Don said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.