Welcome home, Boomers
Paulo Kennedy looks at why the Boomers have started to roll in London.
Welcome home, Boomers
It is with irony that I think back to Brett Brown’s press conference after the Boomers had fallen to Slovenia in the first knockout round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
Responding to a question, Brown said the NBL was a “good, physical contest” but added he didn’t think it prepared players well for the international game.
Brown had studied the way other international teams played and decided the Boomers needed to go down that path. It’s not unusual to move to a new neighbourhood and try to blend in, is it?
But the irony is, after five consecutive losses to top shelf teams in 2010 and at the London Olympics, Australia finally stepped up and knocked off Russia playing a very ‘NBL’ style of game.
Whenever Russia pulled in a rebound there was a Boomer slapping at the ball. When they tried to run their offence there was a defender in their face and pressure in the lanes making it hard to make the next pass.
Rather than being able to run exact sets, the Russians had to improvise and make decisions on the run. They missed a number of easy shots as a result and committed four more turnovers than average.
Once they missed or turned the ball over the Boomers ran, attacking the ring audaciously. If that didn’t work they moved the ball and moved the players in the half court. Little men curled, big men stepped out, everyone shot the ball with confidence.
The two lowest percentage shooters took almost half the shots but in the end it didn’t matter, the entire team seemed to be in ‘the flow’, and the Russians were always having to respond. It was just the sort of aggressive basketball you expect from the Breakers or Wildcats.
It had been a lean few years as an Australian Boomers fan. Stagnant offence that rarely posted a winning score, poor shot selection, and some players seeming to lack the confidence to shoot.
Despite the talk of ‘great defence’, it has been inconsistent. It would be very impressive for a half - or a complete shutdown of a minnow - but ultimately the predominant dour style couldn’t deliver many victories.
At the FIBA World Championship in 2010, Jordan, Slovenia and Serbia all racked up their second-highest scores of the tournament against the Boomers, while only Germany was held to its lowest score.
In London, Spain and Russia have picked up their second highest tally against the Boomers, who haven’t held any team to either their lowest or second lowest total.
But the bigger reason the defence hasn’t been delivering victories was without consistent aggression it wasn’t generating many easy scores.
If you aren’t a good half-court offensive team, playing a style of defence that forces you into a half-court grind won’t help you show off your strengths.
Just like in 2008 – when Iran were the victim – it took a game against a minnow to remind the Boomers what the Aussie style of play is.
Facing China and then Great Britain, who both lack world class guards, the key to victory was to pressure the ball and get in the passing lanes, not giving them a chance to run their half-court sets.
It worked a treat, not only limiting the opponents’ offence but also creating plenty of transition and fastbreak opportunities to ‘uncork’ Patty Mills and take the pressure off the half-court offence.
Then, come Russia, that aggression carried over. It was no longer aggressive for a short period, or a few players applying pressure and others not. Most importantly, the team didn’t wait until they were in a big hole to turn up the heat.
The Boomers may have given up some more easy buckets as a result, but they were more than compensated by easy scores of their own that weren’t there against Brazil or Spain.
With the entire Australian team on the same page the refs let them play and the whistles were few and far between, and Russia were playing at Australia’s pace.
The game had around 170 possessions, similar to NBL pace. With the exception of their blowout of Great Britain, Russia’s games had averaged around 145.
Australia’s game with Spain had approximately 150, and close to half of them occurred in the last 15 minutes once the game was already decided, with Spain the ones turning defence into offence.
So conceding 80 points to Russia was far better from an Australian perspective than conceding 82 to Spain, 75 to Jordan, 87 to Slovenia or even 75 to Brazil, because the defence was generating many scoring opportunities in return.
Australian basketballers don’t grow up walking the ball up the court, playing half-court grinds and executing precision plays.
They get up the floor, pressure the ball and disrupt opposition offences. At the other end they run, move the ball and move off the ball.
And they like to score – since 2004 Australia is 2-13 when they score under 80 points. Those two wins have been over Jordan and Angola.
When the Boomers score 80 or more in that period they are 11-3 with wins over Brazil, Lithuania and twice over Russia.
It’s a style of game that shows itself on NBL courts, and it’s something to be embraced, not shunned, by our national team.
We must understand the other styles and be able to play them, but our style must come first. We know how hard it is to beat European teams at their game, but they struggle to adjust to ours too.
That’s why New Zealand continually place in the top 16 despite lacking comparative talent. They disrupt with smoke and mirrors, and they move so much on offence that opponents get dizzy.
The unfortunate news for Australia, on an immediate level, is this rediscovered aggression won’t likely get the job done against the USA, who are at home taking the game on.
But long term, we must make sure the Boomers play like Australians, and the lessons that successive coaches have learned the hard way don’t have to be learned again.
A good, fast, physical contest suits us well.