The Case for Ben Simmons and Australian Olympic Gold

Can Australia break the Team USA Golden streak in Tokyo and add a Gold medal to Ben Simmons' resume?

Mid-July 2020, commentators in a multitude of languages buzz with excitement as the Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo is about to host the men’s basketball Olympic gold medal game. Tip-off is between Anthony Davis and Thon Maker, the United States and Australia. Both teams have had unbeaten runs to the final. Tonight, one team records their first loss and heads home second-best.

That may become a reality as the Australian national team, the Boomers, are looking formidable on the world stage. Due in no small part to the inclusion of 76ers star Ben Simmons who will be two years closer to his prime by the time he makes his Olympic debut.

The current Rookie of the Year recently expressed his plans to play for Australia in the Olympics and for future years to come, “I also want to be the flagbearer, can we hook that up somehow?” says Simmons in an interview with Australian media.

Since 1992, the formation of The Dream Team, America has dominated the Olympics and all forms of international basketball (if you forget 2004 ever happened…), and have been known to waltz into the Olympics and come home with the gold.

That may change in the next Olympics as the Boomers have a squad full of stretchy role players to surround Simmons. Their depth chart, if they played today would look something like this:

Position Starters Bench 1 Bench 2
PG Ben Simmons Patty Mills Damian Martin
SG Dante Exum Matthew Dellavedova Chris Goulding
SF Joe Ingles Ryan Broekhoff Mitch Creek
PF Thon Maker Jonah Bolden Mangok Mathiang
C Aaron Baynes Andrew Bogut Matt Hodgson

In recent international tournaments like the Olympics, Patty Mills has had to shoulder an abnormal amount of the offense compared to what his usual role in the NBA. To his credit, he has been efficient and stepped up in big games, such as two 30-point performances against the USA and Spain en route to their fourth-place finish.

Adding Simmons to the mix will allow players like Mills and Joe Ingles to take a secondary role in the offense and not have to create as much themselves. JJ Reddick thrived in his first season next to Simmons registering career highs in points per game and made threes per game, Mills could play a similar role to Reddick, but with the added ability to be able to attack off closeouts.

Another one of the Simmons soon-to-be teammates, Joe Ingles, would complement him defensively, being able to defend both forward positions and switch with Simmons. This is seen with the current Robert Covington and Simmons forward pairing.

The similarities between what the Boomers can put on the court with the 76ers last season is remarkable (excluding a generational unicorn center) and it will very likely translate to international success.

International basketball is a lot less strenuous than playing in the NBA and Simmons has already proven he has what it takes in his Rookie of the Year season to be the lead option of a winning team. He averaged nearly 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists without making a single three-point shot. For a wing and primary ball handler that is unheard of.

Per Basketball-Reference, the only players to average numbers of Simmons caliber or higher in their first five seasons are a few guys you might have heard of; Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

In two years, the average age of the Boomers starting line-up will be 26 (assuming savvy Veteran Thon Maker is as old as he says he is), which is another argument for them; the age of their competition. I don’t want to discount any potential young prospects on other teams, but here is the average age of strong international team’s starters in two years’ time: (starters are determined by the five most played minutes in the 2016 Rio Olympics)

  • Spain: finished third place, beating Australia in the bronze medal game. Average age of starters by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: 34.6 (including Marc Gasol in the starters as he would’ve been in 2016 if healthy)
  • France: eliminated in the quarter-finals of 2016. Average age of starters by 2020: 31.8
  • Serbia: lost to America in the gold medal game. Average age of starters by 2020: 30

The last time they played was in the group stage of the Olympics, in which America won 98-88 after the Boomers had no answer for Olympic Carmelo, who finished with 31 points, including nine threes. He was able to feast whenever a big was guarding him, which happened quite a bit as Australia were playing two-big line-ups.

Watch how often it's Bogut, Baynes or another big that has to chase Melo on the three-point line or guard him one-on-one:

Olympic Melo or whoever the next high-volume player is for Team USA won’t be able to attack slow-footed big men next time as they did against Australia and others. They will be attacking a long and versatile defensive line-up featuring Exum, Ingles, and Simmons with solid big men in Baynes and Maker behind them.

In August 2019 Team USA is visiting Australia for two exhibition games against the Boomers. While an exhibition game, it will be interesting to see how the two teams play, and whether the Boomers can win both games and get in USA’s head leading up to the Olympics.

Saitama Super Arena, after the jump ball the center taps it out to his point guard, number 25. The player holding the ball may very well be the best player on the entire court and he isn’t wearing blue and red.

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