“He’s too old.” “Injury-riddled.” “Can’t move laterally.” “He couldn’t fight a cold, let alone through a pick.”
Now that we have confirmation that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed for roughly a year and will take place at the latest by summer 2021, I’ll have an attempt at predicting the 12-man roster that the Australian Boomers will take to Tokyo.
For the sake of this exercise ground rules need to be in place. I’ll assume that all Australians will make themselves available, meaning Ben Simmons will don the green and gold and Matisse Thybulle will also put his hand up for selection.
A call will also need to be made on the nearly 36-year-old Andrew Bogut. His career was all set up to play one last year at the Sydney Kings and then head off to the Olympics before sailing into the sunset and retiring from professional basketball. Unfortunately for him, due to COVID-19, the Olympics have been delayed 12 months, which is not the news he wanted to hear.
Comments like, “I can’t go through another season like this year,” suggests to me Bogut is facing an uphill battle to make it to Tokyo. He deserves the fairytale of heading to another Olympics and finally earning a medal, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in Japan.
This one might be hopeful, but Bryce Cotton has been living in Australia since January 2017 and lodged his Australian citizenship application around August 2019. Fingers crossed that this 12-month delay gives him enough time to gain citizenship for the Boomers to take him to Tokyo.
Point guard: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons is easily the most important member of the Boomers set up. He’s a two-time all-star in the NBA and easily the most talented basketball player to ever come from Australian shores. The only question is whether or not Simmons puts his hand up for selection. If he does go to Tokyo, the Boomers quickly become a popular selection to win a medal.
A silver lining of the Olympics being delayed is that Simmons is recovering from a nerve impingement in his back. While he was expected to be back for Philadelphia during the regular season, it also might have been more serious than Philadelphia let on. This back injury definitely won’t be hanging around in 12 months time, so fingers crossed Simmons buys into what the Boomers have been trying to do for a while and bring a medal back to Australia.
Shooting guard: Patty Mills
Patty Mills is the heart and soul of the Boomers. He is a role model who loves his country, which was highlighted by his efforts throughout the bushfires earlier in the year with him flying back to Australia during his all-star break to donate supplies and help out where he could. Patty Mills would be the perfect person to select as the flag bearer.
From a basketball perspective Patty Mills has led the Boomers in scoring at every major tournament since 2012. He has averaged over 20 points in every tournament, which was highlighted by leading the 2012 Olympics in Beijing in scoring with 21.2 points per game. The idea of having Patty play off the ball with a ball-dominant point guard like Ben Simmons playing is something the Boomers haven’t had a chance to see yet, but it sure is an exciting prospect.
Patty will captain this side in his fourth Olympics, and the 31-year-old has continued to improve playing for the San Antonio Spurs, currently averaging a career-high points per game in the current NBA season, so let’s hope we haven’t seen the best of Patty on a national stage.
Small forward: Joe Ingles
Joe Ingles has been a major cog in the culture of the Boomers squad over the past decade. He forced his way onto the team that travelled to the Beijing Olympics at the age of 19 and hasn’t looked back. He hasn’t missed a tournament with the Boomers yet, and like a fine wine he has gotten better with age. His constant improvement has him as premier knockdown shooter in the NBA for the Utah Jazz, which is a far cry from the guy who was cut multiple times from NBA rosters before signing with Utah in 2014.
He stands at six foot seven inches, can knock down the shot from anywhere on the court and is a solid playmaker. He led the Boomers in assists at the 2019 World Cup and is a mainstay for this team. He will be a vital part if the Boomers are to have any success at these Olympics.
Power forward: Jock Landale
Jock Landale really came from nowhere but is now very much on NBA radars. He’s still only 24, so he’ll be a key Boomer for the next couple of Olympics, but his current growth will tell a tale on our success in Tokyo. Landale’s ability to stretch the floor and shoot the deep ball leaves an interesting combination with Baynes. Hopefully they can coexist together, because a starting five of Simmons, Mills, Ingles, Landale and Aron Baynes opens the entire floor. All can shoot and all are very good defenders.
Centre: Aron Baynes
Aron Baynes is another of the core members of the past decade. He debuted in 2010 at the World Championships and then played in two Olympics and two World Cup campaigns. Having picked up basketball in his late teens, he has been a late bloomer. He didn’t get into the NBA until he was 26 but is now currently putting up career-best numbers at the age of 33 as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
He utilised his opportunity when franchise star centre DeAndre Ayton got suspended for 25 games when Baynes was inserted into the starting line-up to average nearly 18 points, six boards and four assists while shooting 58 per cent from the field and 45 per cent from deep. His ability to stretch the floor has become a massive key to his game and will help the Boomers stretch the floor in Tokyo.
In previous campaigns Baynes has barely shot the three ball, but his hard work is seeing him more confident in shooting – he hit five triples in a second-round win against France at last years World Cup. Baynes even put up 37 points and 16 rebounds while connecting on nine triples in a Phoenix win earlier this month.
Baynes selects himself and will be vital for these Olympics. He’s in career-best form, so let’s hope he can bring it next year.
No. 6: Matisse Thybulle
Matisse Thybulle’s eligibility came from nowhere. As it turns out, he was born in the US and lived in Australia between the ages of two and nine before returning to the States. This could be a massive gain for the Boomers. He’s only 23 and already proving to be a solid three and D player of play-off calibre NBA roster. His ability on the defensive end will add plenty of grunt in any future tournaments the Boomers compete in. Like Simmons, though, we need Thybulle to actually put up his hand and want to play for the green and gold.
No. 7: Bryce Cotton
As mentioned above, this one might be a bit hopeful, but realistically he is a chance of becoming an Australian citizen by 2021, and if that’s the case, Bryce Cotton will be on the plane to Tokyo, just like American Kevin Lisch did in the 2016 Olympics. In his four years at the Perth Wildcats he has done what not many have achieved: two league MVPs, three championship rings and two finals MVPs, putting him in the conversation of best import ever to grace the NBL.
He is a great team man, which can be rare for star imports, so there is no doubt about how he would fit into a Boomers team. The thought of having playmakers like Ben Simmons and Joe Ingles hitting up a scorer like Bryce Cotton should get Australian basketball fans very excited. Here’s hoping that citizenship can get fast-tracked.
No. 8: Matthew Dellavedova
Delly has been the definition of grit and hustle throughout his career – never the most talented but will give 110 per cent every single time he steps on a basketball court. This will be Dellavedova’s third Olympics, and while he is at the back end of his career, he still plays a very important role in this Boomers team.
You know what you’ll get from him defensively each game, but it’s his assist numbers that have shown his improvement as a player. In the 2016 Olympics he averaged seven assists and again in the 2019 World Cup he averaged 6.3. Just before the NBA season was postponed he averaged nine assists across his last five games, suggesting he’s got a bit left in the tank as one last hurrah in the green and gold outfit.
No 9: Ryan Broekhoff
Broekhoff might have been forgotten about by Boomers fans due to missing the 2019 World Cup, but it was for a good reason: he became a dad during that tournament. He has played plenty of good basketball this season for Dallas with limited opportunity.
He was unfortunately waived recently, which left him desperate for another crack at the NBA. Broekhoff will be desperate to have a good Olympics because it might be a stepping stone to get back into the NBA. Broekhoff shot 40 per cent from deep throughout his career, so he should offer some scoring off the bench just like he did in 2016 at Beijing.
No. 10: Nick Kay
Watching Nick Kay play basketball often raises eyebrows. He isn’t elegant across the hardwood, his jump shot isn’t sexy and overall he might look a bit awkward, but that doesn’t matter – he gets the job done every night. He brings the energy, and it’s contagious. You know he will never give up when rebounding, he’s good defensively and offensively he’s improved out of sight, as highlighted by his shooting performance in Game 3 of the NBL finals, in which he had 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists shooting seven from nine from deep.
Many people questioned the selection of Nick Kay for the 2019 World Cup, but he earnt plenty of praise from his performance. In limited minutes he proved a valuable spark off the bench, averaging eight points and five boards across the tournament, including a 16-point, 11-rebound performance against Spain in the semi-finals. Nick Kay simply needs to be on the plane to Tokyo.
No. 11: Mitch Creek
Probably stiff to miss out on more of a crack at NBA level, but Mitch Creek is a great Australian talent. Creek possesses good athleticism and great defence, with the only thing really holding him back from an NBA roster a lack of ability to consistently knock down a three-point shot. He was a frontrunner for MVP in the NBL early stages before a few niggling injuries held his production up later in the season.
It is beyond me as to why Creek was a last-minute injury replacement to the World Cup in 2019, but he showed what he can do with limited game time throughout the tournament. He then went onto average 20 points and seven boards throughout the NBL season with South East Melbourne.
No. 12: Josh Green
This should be by far the deepest Boomers outfit ever assembled, and giving our best young talent the exposure on an international stage will help his development in the long run, a little bit like the USA national team taking the best college talent with them to the Olympics each year. With the Olympics being delayed, however, Josh Green will be in the NBA by then, and he’s tipped to go in the top 20 of the upcoming draft. We will definitely be hearing a lot more about Josh Green in the coming years.
Ben Simmons felt he was ready for the Boomers World Cup tilt in 2014 even though he was a teenager, but then coach Andrej Lemanis opted for more experience, which probably didn’t help with Simmons’s decision to so far not return back to the Boomers camp. It might be a blessing in disguise that the Olympics being 12 months delayed gives Green extra time to develop and actually play a full season in the NBA so we don’t have to make any tough decisions and leave him out of the team like Simmons in 2014. The sooner we get this kid into the line-up the better we will be in the long run.
The Boomers have been saying for many years now that they want a medal. They’ve come home empty-handed every single time, but now it’s finally time. Anything less than a medal isn’t acceptable. They made the decision to get NBA coach Brett Brown, which should help Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle’s decisions to play for Australia. Brown coaches them every day, so they have a strong relationship already.
It’s fair to say this is the last crack at an Olympics for Dellavedova, Baynes and Ingles, and I really hope Bogut makes it to Tokyo too. They have been the catalyst for the culture around Boomers basketball, and it would be a great send-off with a medal. They sure deserve it.
The Boombers finally have depth. Dante Exum and Thon Maker will definitely be pushing for selection, but on current form I can’t see how they get in – though in 12 months things could be different.