BEIJING, China — The Australian Boomers entered the 2019 FIBA World Cup with a certain luxury.
We knew what the starters would be able to accomplish, because we’ve seen them perform at a high level for years, all across the world.
Patty Mills might just be the tournament’s best player, Aron Baynes is playing at a level that isn’t far behind, while Joe Ingles and Matthew Dellavedova have been calming, reliable influences on both ends of the floor.
But then, look down at the bench.
Live stream every game of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup with KAYO on your TV, Mobile, Tablet or Laptop. Get your 14 day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Andrew Bogut is the best player on his Sydney Kings team, while Chris Goulding may be the same for Melbourne United. The Perth Wildcats’ best local player? Nick Kay. How about the South East Melbourne Phoenix? That’s right, it’s Mitch Creek.
That’s what Andrej Lemanis’ bench unit looks like, but that’s not what the luxury is, per se. The luxury – that added advantage – is the fact that that NBL quartet has been completely fine with playing a utility role for the now-6-0 Boomers.
Goulding may well be the most talented scorer in the Southern Hemisphere, but, when it comes to playing for Australia, he’ll gladly put ego aside to help the team win.
“It’s gauging what we need, what the group needs when I come in,” Goulding told foxsports.com.au.
“Sometimes it can be aggressiveness on offence; other times, it can be as little as camping in the corner and dragging the defence and spreading the defence so we can work on our pick-and-roll stuff a little more, so I’m kinda watching the first few minutes of the game, seeing what we need, and trying to add that when I come in.”
The Boomers’ depth has been even more significant when considering the nature of the victories over the course of their time in China.
Despite playing some less-talented opponents at times, the Boomers haven’t been able to blow out any of their opponents. A win is a win, and point differential is out the window now that Australia is through to the semi-finals – they play Spain on Friday evening – but big wins could have allowed the team’s key players to get some much-needed rest.
That’s also part of the luxury of having a healthy Goulding and Bogut come off the bench.
“I’m definitely being used as a bit of a breather for Joe and Delly, and the other ball carriers,” Goulding said. “If that’s how they wanna use me, I’m happy to be out there doing that.”
Kay has mostly been used as a replacement for Jock Landale – both of whom have put together impressive performances during the World Cup – while Creek’s role has been a bit more sporadic.
At times, we’ve seen him enter the game as a small-ball power forward with the goal of adding some athleticism and energy into the game, while we’ve also seen him matched up against some of the tournament’s dynamic perimeter scorers.
“Regardless of whether it’s 10 seconds, a minute, the end of a quarter, you play the whole quarter because Delly gets in foul trouble like the game before, you just have to be ready, you’ve gotta throw bodies at him,” Creek said of the team’s bench.
“(Delly) was tired tonight, at the end of the game, asking for a timeout, and we’re saving our timeouts because we know we’ve got him tied, and we can throw guys like myself, and even Nick Kay guarding for a little bit… just to provide energy and effort; sometimes that’s all it needs.”
That’s what makes that bench mob so valuable, and it’s why the Boomers are often the envy of world basketball. They’re a team with a chemistry developed over the years, and willing to take on whatever role needed to help the team win.
Olgun Uluc is the Senior Basketball Reporter for Fox Sports Australia. Twitter: @OlgunUluc