Something was lacking ahead of Spain. A few weeks out from the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Australia had a glaring void on the wing.
At its core, basketball revolves around one thing: scoring. And with Patty Mills sidelined, the Boomers faced the very important question of who would put the ball in the damn hole.
Joe Ingles was a scorer, but a reluctant one. He’d be more willing to see the ball whipped around the court than dominate the shot tally. Sure, the Boomers scored by committee. But they typically lacked the world-class shooters.
Very few, aside from perhaps Coach Andrej Lemanis and those privy to Boomer workouts, were acutely aware that a first-year pro by the name of Ryan Broekhoff lurked, let alone would be part of the answer.
Australia didn’t medal at the World Cup and Broekhoff didn’t stuff the stat sheet. He averaged a modest eight points per game. But the eye test evoked greater results and an ‘I really want to know Who He Play For’ curiosity. We might have even nabbed a sneak peak into what he would look like as a NBA player.
“It showed you how he can adapt to a culture and a system easily,” One NBA scout recently told Downtown.
“He’s playing with a bunch of really high level guys, especially in the Australian team, which has 8 other NBA guys. He has shown the last two summers – the World Cup and this summer with the Australian team – that he’s on the verge of being an NBA player.”
Broekhoff distinguished himself as one of the Boomers’ key players, with a versatile skill set that allows him to haul rebounds from the wing and score on the perimeter. A 6-foot-6 guard/forward, Broekhoff has somehow wedged a significant role in an Australian team that already boasted a microwave heat check in Mills, two behemoths and Ingles facilitating the offense. Simply, his last two years as both a pro and Boomer have gone even better than imagined.
And yet, despite his swift rise on the Australian depth chart, his innate rebounding ability, his gangly arms and delightful shooting stroke, he’s fighting for his basketball life… in “quite mild Russia”, no less.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a fight to stay relevant,” Broekhoff told Downtown from his apartment in Krasnodar.
Sure, the Aussie isn’t exactly ‘fighting’ for his basketball existence. After all, he’s entrenched in the Boomers program, only 25 years old and is a definite Euro guy. But he is fighting for that NBA opportunity.
“If he continues to have success and has a good season in the Euroleague, and then he carries it through onto the Olympic team, I don’t see any reason why he can’t land a spot on a NBA team,” added the NBA scout.
“He’s playing a kind of role for Lokomotiv that he would play in the NBA.”
Of course, you can only string along that NBA vibe and intrigue for so long, particularly if the Euroleague already feels like its own 10-round slugfest.
Broekhoff traded in familiarity in Turkey with Besiktas – where he averaged 11 points, 6 boards, 1.4 dimes and 1 steal while shooting an impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc – for a chance to extend the momentum established over the last 18 months. He’s essentially a rookie once more learning the speed of a new level, so growing pains are understandable.
‘’The pace and the physicality of the game is next level this season, so my first couple of games were a little bit choppy with some turnovers,’’ Broekhoff shared.
Even still, the early signs have been promising for the Lokomotiv recruit. He posted a season high 16 points including four triples last weekend against Panathinaikos.
European teams can be like patchwork though: built for the now and not especially pressed for the tomorrow. Playing time can be volatile. Indeed, the Euroleague draws the NBA’s wandering eye, but it can also squash a player’s stock, which is often bred from major FIBA tournaments. Sometimes showing NBA traits in international competition isn’t enough to nab a ticket to the big show. What happens between those green and gold moments can bury you amongst the haystack.
There’s precedence here.
Joe Ingles was a prime example of how a talented player can quickly drift in-between FIBA’s signature events. The Aussie swingman first captured the NBA’s attention with standout performances at the London Olympics. But his NBA buzz stymied. Instead of nabbing an NBA contract or even spearheading a Euroleague team, he endured sporadic minutes for Barcelona and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Two years later, Ingles had lost some of the hype he garnered at the Olympics. It was not until last year’s World Cup that Ingles finally laid down his exclamation point.
Broekhoff wants to plant himself on the NBA periphery and ultimately in the bubble. And the switch to Russia and the Euroleague is the oil to his NBA candidacy. At least, that’s the plan. After all, this is Europe, where the depth of its rosters and the lunacy of its politics can be equally overwhelming.
“I’ve been playing really good minutes at the moment but things can kind of change in a week here,” said Broekhoff.
“So yeah, it’s going to be a battle all season. Every guy at this level can play and given the opportunity can really show out.”
Like the best stories, Ryan Broekhoff was never the high school or AIS prodigy. He made his first state team in under 18s as a top ager and didn’t really shred the point guard build until he was roughly 16. No one quite knew what identity he could forge on the basketball court. And maybe that’s because Broekhoff has always been a stoic; content with plugging away in the background and seldom revealing his ‘edge’.
“I’m just a bit different from those who have been hyped from a younger age. I’ve always been that quiet guy in the back working and waiting for that opportunity to finally show what I can do,” Broekhoff reflected.
He’s carried his mild-mannered reputation with him at every stop. You’d have to dig deep in the archives to unearth declarations of his basketball ambition.
‘’My sister did show me something, a positive!’’ laughed Broekhoff.
“She showed me when I was home a few months ago. It was an assignment from grade four or five where we had to write out our dreams and goals. Mine was all about wanting to play for Australia and do this and that.”
Let’s be honest: Sometimes the footprint left by hot streaks and chest-pounding outbursts can eclipse a player’s actual development. The thing is, Broekhoff’s hot streak has been far from an accidental rupture. He inherited his rebounding and basketball smarts from his parents, and of course, his supreme shooting touch grew organically. He’s a diligent worker but not an overbearing one. His overall skill set has a distinct NBA flavour.
“It’s easier for Ryan to fit into an NBA system in terms of what he brings to the table. Especially if you compare him to guys like Chris Goulding and Corey Webster, who need the ball in their hands more to be affective. In the NBA that’s not something they’re going to have,” noted the scout.
For the third year pro, this season is about finding a fit on not only a talent-laden Lokomotiv roster but in the NBA conversation. And to find that fit he has to evolve even more. He knows this. Adding some extra off-the-dribble spice is a nice place to start.
‘’Especially this year, I’ve tried to put the ball on the floor a little bit more and work on creating for others, and doing more things instead of being just a spot up shooter. I think that’s a part of the game that I feel needs to improve next for me to take that next jump,’’ Broekhoff summated.
No one can say whether Broekhoff will make the NBA. Could his minutes dwindle this season and see his NBA hopes dip? Sure. He also could go back to working under the radar, and silently plugging holes for Australia behind its more prominent names.
“My last two years, I’ve worked under the radar, which I always have,” Broekhoff said.
“I don’t seek the limelight. I’m just happy doing what I do and helping where I can. If the team does well then everyone gets credit, which is what I’m looking for.”