Written by Oliver Kay
Nothing is easy in the FIBA World Cup and Australia’s next opponent is proof of that. France will be the Boomers toughest challenge yet in a must-win game that will have far-reaching consequences once the knockout stage begins.
With Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier firing on all cylinders, the Boomers will face significant challenges on both ends of the floor against the French.
The biggest hurdle (both figuratively and literally) is Rudy Gobert. Standing at 216 centimetres tall, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year is currently leading the tournament in blocks with 2.3 per game. Thanks to his enormous height, length and instinctive timing on block attempts, Gobert has managed to stay clear of foul trouble, only averaging 2.8 fouls per game. If that wasn’t enough, he also ranks fourth in rebounds with 9.5 a night.
It’s not just on the defensive end of the floor that Gobert will be a problem for Australia. The ‘Stifle Tower’ is averaging a modest 11.8 points per game, though he has been incredibly efficient, shooting 72.7 percent from the field. Once Gobert enters the paint he immediately draws a crowd, giving him the option of scoring over the opposition defence or kicking out to open shooters on the perimeter.
It will be vital for the Australian’s to attempt to draw the Utah Jazz centre out of the paint due to his lethal defensive ability. For the Boomers to play at their best, the paint needs to be a viable scoring zone. Look for the Boomers to utilise a lot of screen action and put pressure of Gobert to guard the perimeter.
"He’s a hell of shot blocker. I think we understand that it’s going to be tough to finish around the rim but it’s not going to deter our effort to try and make that happen and I’m sure the coaching staff will come up with ways that we can pull him out of the paint a little bit," Jock Landale responded when asked about the challenge of facing, Gobert.
Aron Baynes, Landale and Andrew Bogut will likely share the Gobert responsibilities. However, Bogut offers the most interesting benefits. His passing and knack for setting imposing screens that force mismatches may be exactly the weapon the Boomers need to stifle Gobert’s defensive presence. Bogut’s NBA experience and phenomenal basketball IQ will also hold him in good stead.
Fournier is to France what Patty Mills is to Australia.
He is the French go-to bucket-getter. The Orlando Magic swingman is averaging 18.3 points per game and is hitting the three-ball at 46.2 percent clip. Needless to say, he’s been a handful.
With Gobert as the team’s primary screen setter, Fournier is in a system built to give ball-handlers space to shoot, slash or dish. Unfortunately for Australia, he can do all three.
Fournier heads into the Australia game riding a wave of momentum. He is coming off a 24-point performance against Lithuania where his gift for scoring in pick and roll situations with Gobert was on full display.
Fournier is a true microwave scorer, gifted in isolation situations with ability to catch fire quickly for a game breaking stretch. He can lull defenders to sleep on the perimeter as well as blast past his defender to the basket.
Of all Australia’s players, Joe Ingles is probably the on-ball defender most suited to the task of smothering Fournier. He has the defensive IQ to maintain correct positioning in the Boomers scheme, while also possessing the length to maintain an optimal distance from the unpredictable French scorer.
Although Fournier has improved as a defender over the years, it remains a weakness in his game. If Australia can force him into tough matchups, they may be able to drain his batteries a little quicker, making life more difficult for him in his natural offensive habitat.
The matchup is poised to be one of the games of FIBA World Cup thus far, with Boomers head coach, Andrej Lemanis as excited as anyone for the challenge.
"France are a very good basketball team and it’s a matchup we look forward to. They are long, athletic, good defensively, they execute offensively very well, well drilled, well coached," Lemanis said after the win against the Dominican Republic.
"In many ways we see them playing a lot like ourselves in the way that they share the ball, the way they hang their hat on the defensive end."
Australia v France tips off at 10:00pm (AEST) – Watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo.