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Australia Boomers squad for FIBA World Cup Key questions for Brian Goorjian

Jun 29, 2023

Josh Giddey talks about what he's seen from his Thunder teammates during Summer League and the culture being built in Oklahoma City. (2:53)

Boomers camp is in session.

The entire offseason has seemingly been leading up to this point: the beginning of the Australian Boomers' training camp, in preparation for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

An 18-man squad - led by head coach, Brian Goorjian - headed to Cairns, Queensland ahead of the official start of camp on Aug. 1, preparing to one up the bronze medal the program won at the Tokyo Olympics as they approach the other major international tournament on the basketball calendar.

The group is already in the tropical Far North, diving into different cultural elements of representing Australia before they hit the court for the more intense selection portion of the camp. They experienced a Kup Murri - a traditional Torres Strait Islander method of cooking, utilising a makeshift underground oven - and, on Monday evening, gathered to watch the Matildas' 4-0 win over Canada in the group stages of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

A record 10 NBA players are part of the extended squad, with the 18-man cohort set to be cut to 15 ahead of the Boomers' warm-up games in Melbourne around the middle of August, before a final 12-man team will be selected to travel to a World Cup that begins in Okinawa, Japan for the first round of Group Phase action.

The tournament tips off on August 25 for the Boomers, and Goorjian has the unenviable task of putting together a team that can meet the high expectations the Boomers have, rightly and warrantably, set for themselves.

Who are the locks?

Going into camp, some players can be categorised into different buckets. There are the absolute locks from the Tokyo Olympics campaign, the reasonably obvious retentions from that team, and the zero-chance-you-leave-him-out addition to the mix.

The first group features Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and Jock Landale. Mills is self-explanatory, as is Ingles; both are Boomers mainstays who should bring a predictable level of production and leadership to the team. Landale has also thrust himself into this category, not just as the team's premier big, but also, seemingly, as a new member of the senior core.

Then, there's Nick Kay, Matisse Thybulle, and Josh Green. Kay and Thybulle showed their worth in Tokyo, particularly defensively, with both having demonstrated success as part-time starters for a full-strength Boomers lineup. Green was the 12th man on the Boomers' recent Olympic team, but that was two years ago. He enters this camp as, probably, a top-three talent in the squad - based on his production and impact with the Dallas Mavericks - and fits the style Goorjian wants to play; it's tough to see a world where he already hasn't secured his place on the team.

Duop Reath is perhaps on the fringe of this category; the back-up centre spot is his to lose, and the feeling going into camp is it'd take a lot for him to relinquish it.

Then, there's Josh Giddey. He just missed the cut for the Olympic team but, after two seasons in Oklahoma City, enters camp as Australia's most talented and prolific player. He's only 20, but Giddey is a lock to start at the point for the Boomers, during this campaign and for the foreseeable future.

Who wins the back-up guard battle?

So then, who plays behind Giddey and Mills?

Goorjian has a varied mix to pick from. It includes a few Boomers veterans - Matthew Dellavedova, Danté Exum, and Chris Goulding - as well as some newcomers in Dyson Daniels and Will McDowell-White.

Goulding probably sits in his own bucket here, as the only no-leave shooter on this team outside the prominent starter-level guys. Exum was incredibly effective as the team's backup point guard in Tokyo, so his selection also seems likely.

The team's final ball-carrier - a third string point guard, in its traditional sense - could come down to a few things. Dellavedova's experience will be considered, without question, as well as McDowell-White's growth as a floor general this past NBL season. Daniels - a 20-year-old, 6'8-and-still-growing point guard - meanwhile, is maybe a top-five talent on this squad and will be a Boomers lock for the foreseeable future.

The other element Goorjian and his staff - featuring Matt Nielsen, Adam Caporn, and David Patrick - will consider, is how the team wants to play, and the positional versatility that could lend itself to that style being effective.

"As it grows, you've formulated a style of play, and you can build on it," Goorjian told ESPN.

"I think, if you said 'what did we do well [in Tokyo]?', I thought we were better defensively, and I did think we were more athletic on the perimeter. I think we've advanced there with the group, and we've got a style of play, and we're gonna add a couple of pieces to that.

"I thought we moved the ball, I thought we got in the lanes, we trapped on-balls, we rotated, we played at a higher tempo. I think the selection of this team, when you look at it, there's more depth in the areas we're talking about. We're even longer, and we've got more depth as far as athleticism goes, which is different to the teams in the past in Australia."

The early momentum seems to be behind Daniels: someone who can play and guard one-through-three - perhaps one-through-four in FIBA basketball - and fits that athletic mould Goorjian wants more of on his final team. There's also a sense that it could just come down to who shows up in camp; either way, it's a question that's definitely at the top of mind.

Is it already time to build around Giddey?

The Boomers have been guided by the play of Mills for the past decade, but the passing of the torch is inevitable. The question is: could that transition begin at this World Cup?

Mills is coming off his least prolific NBA season in a decade and is about to turn 35, while Giddey is still 20 and just averaged 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists a game, in his second season with the Thunder. He's the Boomers' obvious starting point guard, and will be for, basically, however long he wants to the job.

Of course, Mills is still the Boomers' barometer until he shows otherwise, but Goorjian is already looking at how best to build this team around Giddey.

"I find the whole situation with him exciting," Goorjian said of incorporating Giddey into his Boomers team.

"A lot of film has been watched. How does OKC use him? He's had a great career with them already and, this year, another level. You're watching it and you're going, 'how do they use him?'. He does have the ball in his hands a lot, and he's an unbelievably good passer, and he has unbelievable feel, and he's big.

"What he is, and as we get him with the group, and as it expands, a lot of it's gotta be built around him. That athleticism side of it, around him, is really helpful, but also we need guys like (Chris) Goulding, who can shoot the ball. That's one thing you saw with OKC; they put around him guys that can catch and shoot, because he'll find them. I see that as exciting. you're adding a piece now... that is completely different. He's a guy that can make all those guys better. He's a piece we didn't have in the last one. He's something we're gonna build around."

Goorjian was already leaning toward a more athletic, faster-paced group, and Giddey being a 6'8 point guard who's already one of the best young passers in world basketball only amplifies that feeling.

One can already envision Giddey as the lead guard, with a mixture of shooting and slashing around him - think Mills, Ingles, Thybulle, Green, Goulding; just mentioning the Boomers off-guards in Tokyo - and Landale as a pick-and-roll partner. It's a team that's balanced and, like at the Olympics, has the ability to get stops and push the pace.

"This team's gonna be really fun to watch," Luc Longley, one of Australia's most accomplished players, told ESPN.

"It's not hard to be more athletic than the Boomers teams I was in. A great combination of youth and old heads; that's gonna be the tricky bit for Brian. Some of the old heads are not gonna get many minutes, and some of the youth will take over. You're gonna need young bodies, so I'm guessing Brian will pick some young bodies."

Cooks or White... or both?

If Goorjian opts for third-string point guard, then there may only be a singular spot left for that athletic, rebounding, defensive-minded energy forward, which means only one of Xavier Cooks and Jack White can end up on the final team.

Of course, the decision-makers could feel perfectly fine with the creation across the roster and opt to bring both Cooks and White, but there's a sense going into camp that it'll be one or the other.

Both bring a similar skill set, and are each coming off impressive individual seasons: Cooks is the NBL's reigning Most Valuable Player, while White was extremely effective in the NBA G-League, and ended the season winning an NBA title with the Denver Nuggets.

White brings more shooting, while Cooks is the better connector. Both are elite, multi-positional defenders, and crash the boards as well as anyone. If there's only one spot to fill for that role, the Cooks-or-White debate could end up being Goorjian's toughest decision of them all.

Will a surprise selection emerge?

There's always one.

At the 2019 World Cup, it was Cooks; though he suffered an injury and never suited up. Going into the Tokyo Olympics, Nathan Sobey was seen as a surprise selection.

As much as it feels like this team is largely decided and there are one or two outstanding, uncontroversial decisions to make, we've learned to never, truly rule out anyone.

There's a world where McDowell-White carries over his NBL form to shine in camp and legitimately enter the conversation to be the team's third-string - or even second-string - point guard, or for Keanu Pinder to thrust himself into the Cooks/White debate from earlier.

As much as Reath feels like a lock as the team's back-up five - especially when taking into account his performance in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League - Thon Maker is entering camp as somewhat of an unknown quantity and could emerge as a preference there. The same could be said for Sam Froling.

Our preconceived notions are generally well-sourced and well-researched, but can be redundant as soon as camp begins. As soon as camp starts, all assumptions are out the window, and all eyes are laid solely on Goorjian, who has some difficult decisions to make.

Australian Boomers' extended squad: Xavier Cooks, Dyson Daniels, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Sam Froling, Josh Giddey, Chris Goulding, Josh Green, Joe Ingles, Nick Kay, Jock Landale, Thon Maker, Will McDowell-White, Patty Mills, Keanu Pinder, Duop Reath, Matisse Thybulle, Jack White

Who are the locks?Who wins the back-up guard battle?Is it already time to build around Giddey?Cooks or White... or both?Will a surprise selection emerge?Australian Boomers' extended squad: