FIBA World Cup: Lessons from Canada's exhibition games against Australia

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Andrew Nembhard drives to the basket against Matthew Dellavedova of Australia on August 17, 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)
Andrew Nembhard drives to the basket against Matthew Dellavedova of Australia on August 17, 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Is there still some light at the end of the tunnel?

With all the talk about who isn’t there for Team Canada for the upcoming FIBA World Cup, and the ‘Group of Death’ they’ve been assigned to, many have written off the Nick Nurse-led squad before tip-off. Throw in dropping a pre-tournament tuneup to Nigeria before flying over to Australia, and the concern is understandable.

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But the two games against Australia showed that while Canada’s task is indeed difficult, it certainly isn’t beyond the team. Canada will take on The Boomers in what will likely be a decisive group phase matchup on Sept. 1, so here are some takeaways from the two friendlies they played in Perth over the weekend.

90s basketball... plus threes

In the first game, it was Canada that brought the intensity and physicality before Australia returned the favour and some in Game 2. That rematch seemed to be a lot more in line with how The Boomers will look to play in the games that count, with Joe Ingles saying after the first game that they were mainly looking to get a feel for what the red and white bring to the table.

Canada had a hot shooting night the first time around but that dissipated in the second game. While Australia didn’t exactly shoot the lights out in their win, the 12 threes they made proved pivotal in pulling away. Both games were tightly contested into the fourth quarter and one would think that trend will continue when they battle again.

There were a couple of chippy moments over the course of the two games as well, with Nurse substituting Kyle Wiltjer late in the first game after he showed some frustration over some excessive contact on the inside while battling for a rebound and Canada up by almost 20.

In the second game, Mitch Creek got out on the break for a layup and after Aaron Best did his best to contest at the rim, the two got tangled as they landed with Creek then clearly hooking Best’s arm and leg so he wouldn’t be able to inbound the ball quickly. A big part of deciding who wins their World Cup meeting will be who handles the physicality better.

Whole greater than the sum of its parts

Both teams predicate themselves on ball movement and unselfish play. While the team was still in Canada, Nurse said that the lack of a go-to scorer meant that the system was going to do a lot of the work for the offence and we saw that through both games.

Canada ran a tonne of high screen-and-roll as well as dribble hand-offs to either create mismatches or at least create some sort of separation and runway to attack the basket.

Kyle Wiltjer is going to be pivotal to the execution of this because of his ability to knock down the outside shot as well as the fact that he is the only reliable shooting big. Anytime Australia looked to switch, Wiltjer was able to shoot over the top and that usually ended well. It would appear that Khem Birch is also being encouraged to shoot from the outside to keep the defence honest, but he really struggled with his jumper.

Of course, we can’t talk about Canada’s execution offensively without mentioning the man who will have a key role in initiating a lot of it, Kevin Pangos. He was excellent in the first game with 18 points and mixing up getting in the lane with his outside stroke perfectly. He’s a high IQ player Nurse can rely on and between him and Andrew Nembhard, the offence is in good hands.

For Australia, Patty Mills and Joe Ingles are looked in as the two playmakers. Matthew Dellavedova really struggled over the course of the two games, and The Boomers will need him to improve if he’s going to continue to soak up the bulk of the minutes at the point.

Ingles is such an effective pick-and-roll ball handler and while he isn’t the prototypical go-to scorer, his ability to orchestrate the offence at his size consistently creates good scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Andrew Nembhard continues to stand out

Baby faced assassin is a nickname made for a player like Nembhard. His build and boyish look makes him unassuming but his maturity and control over the two games was great to watch. In pick-and-roll action, he uses his body to create separation and chooses between the midrange jumper, floater, going all the way or finding the big in a manner that belies his years.

If there is something the 19-year-old will look to improve on, it’s dealing with the full-court press Australia threw at him in the second game with incessant pressure from Dellavedova.

Look out for...

While names like Ingles, Mills, Dellavedova, Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut will stand out as the “NBA guys,” a couple of players who really impressed over the course of the two games were Jock Landale and Chris Goulding.

Landale plays for Partizan in Serbia and saw plenty of time on the floor as the starting power forward in the two games. He’s really energetic on both ends and gets himself in great position to attack the glass. Not looking for touches either, Landale stays within his role but will look to pop from three on the rare occasion.

Goulding started for Australia in the second game with Mills resting and provides solid shooting and playmaking at the two-guard position. Frankly, based on the two games, he provides much more than Dellavedova on the offensive end but it’s probably the toughness, leadership and defence that helps Delly stay on the court.

Nicholas Kay is another who had some decent minutes at the forward position but the two aforementioned players are definitely the role players who figure to hurt Canada the most come Sept 1.

Notes and other musings:

  • With the two games being played as a back-to-back, both coaches implemented load management to help their players be fit for the games that count. Aron Baynes sat out the first game for Australia while Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut missed out on the second game. For Canada, Melvin Ejim sat out the first game and Kevin Pangos the second.

  • Cory Joseph was not with the team but is expected to meet them in Sydney and then fly to China. There is still no confirmation on whether he will actually play. Brady Heslip didn’t feature in either game as he was away from the team but is expected to rejoin them the rest of the way, per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star.

  • Despite playing both games and being particularly effective as an energy big in the second matchup, Jonah Bolden isn’t one to worry about since he withdrew from consideration for Australia for personal reasons.

  • Kaza Kajami-Keane has shown more comfort with his outside jumper over the course of the four games Canada has played than I remember during his time with the Raptors 905. It seems more consistent, too, and one can’t help but wonder if some of that is a result of the faith Nurse places in his players.

  • Owen Klassen gave Canada some nice minutes as well, showing good mobility for his size and really good instincts on the defensive end. The team’s transition defence seemed to be at its best when he was on the floor.

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