It’s no secret that the Boomers have only one thing on their minds in Rio: stepping onto that podium and winning the first ever Olympic medal for an Australian men’s team.
On paper, we have our best team ever assembled, but that means little once the ball is tipped. Even after a less-than-ideal series of warmup games, largely without Andrew Bogut and with Joe Ingles missing time to welcome two future Olympians, as well as some concerns over lodging in the Olympic Village, all that matters is how we perform from here on out.
Group A is going to be tough and that starts right away at 3:15 a.m. AEST this Sunday as the Boomers meet France in the opening game of the tournament.
Both teams feature five current NBA players and those matchups may decide the outcome of this game.
This starts in the middle, where France boasts an up-and-coming centre in Rudy Gobert who has the ability to influence the outcome of games alone. Our best counter to Gobert has played exactly nine minutes in the warmup games.
Bogut’s presence will be vital for keeping Gobert, a teammate of Joe Ingles at Utah, off the offensive glass. Bogey will also ensure Gobert has to honour his impact on the boards and in operating out of the high post, which may help keep Gobert from camping in the paint defensively. Bogut’s ability to play solid minutes in this game is key as Aron Baynes is the only other player we have capable of limiting the Stifle Tower’s impact.
A matchup as intriguing as any in this game pits two teammates against each other. Patty Mills has spent the past five seasons guarding Tony Parker in practice and probably knows his game and tendencies as well as anyone. Of course, Matthew Dellavedova will spend time on the six-time All-Star too, but it makes sense to have Patty use his experience here.
Parker has slowed down recently, but is still exceptionally effective in pick-and-roll situations as well as getting into the paint. Mills’ ability to stay in front of Parker and limit his impact offensively is crucial to the Boomers dictating the pace of this game.
Of course, Parker knows Mills just as well and with Patty being our feature scorer, the Boomers may need to use him as a decoy at times and find different ways of scoring.
Speaking of Delly, he’ll be needed to generate offence from his passing, but also for himself if Patty is contained by Parker and France. Delly missed the first warmup game against the Pac-12 All-Stars in Melbourne, but has been playing well since, including hitting a clutch shot to help beat Argentina last week.
He’ll be matched up on Nando De Colo, another former Spurs player, who currently plays for CSKA Moscow. De Colo was in great form for France through their qualifying run in Manila last month. He was huge in the final game against Canada, scoring 22 points on 8-of-12 from the field with three steals, three assists and five rebounds. He finished fourth in scoring in that tournament with 17.3 points per game at a crazy .585 clip from the field, and he can score in a variety of ways, so Delly will need to be locked in on him.
Another tough matchup will be at the three spot where Ingles will go against Charlotte’s new $120-million-dollar man, Nic Batum. Ingles has always performed well in the green and gold and has experience against Batum the past two years in the NBA, but he’ll have his work cut out here. Ingles will need to make Batum work on the defensive end to help slow him down offensively. Both players are long and should bother each other and that may end up being the matchup to watch.
At the four spot, Baynes will need to honour the range of Denver’s Joffrey Lauvergne and his old Spurs teammate Boris Diaw, as both can stretch the floor. On a per-36 minutes basis, Baynes and Lauvergne had very similar numbers this past NBA season, but Baynes’ offensive game is featured more with the Boomers than in Detroit, something that may be the opposite for Lauvergne.
Diaw will hurt the Boomers if he’s given room to operate, so he’ll need to be denied as much as possible, something that Baynes, Brock Motum and Cam Bairstow have the ability to do. All three also need to be aggressive offensively in this one to help carry the load, especially as Mills, Bogut and Ingles will be guarded tightly.
From a depth perspective, France features a number of experienced Euroleague and French league players such as De Colo, Thomas Heurtel, Antoine Diot, Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus, however they lack depth up front as those guys mostly play as guards or wings. Pietrus plays some four, but is more of a bruising three and at 35 years old is not seeing the court as much these days. Heurtel and Diot must not be underestimated as both have performed well in FIBA play in the past, and while Les Bleus will lean on their NBA players and De Colo a lot, their bench could easily swing a game.
The Boomers will counter that with doses of Chris Goulding, Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Lisch, who all have European experience, as does Motum, so this game may come down to who shoots better on the day.
As is often the case, our X-factor could be David Andersen in this one. His ability to score on the inside as well as to draw Gobert out of the paint could be crucial. Andersen was playing in the French league for ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne with France’s Charles Kahudi (a team owned by Tony Parker), so he’ll know some of their games well, as will they his, so it will be interesting to see how Andrej Lemanis deploys the veteran in his fourth Olympics.
The Boomers are a little younger on average than France, but not by much, however it’s no secret that Lemanis wants to press and trap to create offence from defence. That may prove difficult against France’s experienced back court, so our ability to challenge Gobert in the paint and take advantage in the post when he’s off the court will go a long way to deciding this game.
France failed to qualify for Rio directly out of EuroBasket last year and that was on their home floor. They also did not dominate the Olympic qualifying tournament in Manila, only winning one game by double-digits, squeaking by New Zealand in the final minute (66-59), and defeating Canada by nine points in the final.
Are they in decline as an Olympic contender? Possibly, but given their experience, I still see them as most likely to finish second in Group A behind the U.S.
Our advantage in this game should come from our speed and pressure, and again, we’ll have to shoot exceptionally well to beat them. There are no easy games, but there are also three teams in Group A capable of finishing second and this game features two of them. As of Friday night, Sportsbet had Australia at $3.25 and France at $1.28.
“All the games are tough,” Dellavedova told FIBA.com this week. “Definitely, France are a tough team and important game for us, so obviously we’re going to have to be ready to go at the start of the tournament.”
Let the games begin.
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