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NBL well represented in Rio

Imposing wins over France, Serbia and China – and a ten point loss to the United States – have set the Australian men in Rio up nicely to have a crack at that elusive Olympic gold medal. The team is led, of course, by a starting unit of NBA stars; Andrew Bogut (Dallas Mavericks), Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee Bucks), Aron Baynes (Detroit Pistons) and Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz). But make no mistake, the NBL’s footprints are all over this squad. In fact, all but four of the team in Rio have either played in the NBL or are set to debut in the league this season. Five of them – David Andersen & Chris Goulding (Melbourne United), Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats), Kevin Lisch (Sydney Kings) and Cameron Bairstow (Brisbane Bullets)  – will be lighting up NBL arenas this year. So how are our NBL Olympic members faring under the intense Olympic spotlight? David Andersen (Melbourne United) Competing in his fourth Olympics, Melbourne recruit David Andersen has been as solid as a rock for the team in Rio. The 36-year-old is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game on a phenomenal 65 percent shooting from the field.  All in just 18 minutes per game. “If I am turning heads that’s good,” Andersen told media in Rio yesterday, when asked about his outstanding form. “It’s good at my age to play at this level and keep fighting.” The captain was outstanding against Team USA, with 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) and 5 boards. He then joined the starting line-up against China in place of Andrew Bogut (rest) and was, as usual, very good (12 points in 14 minutes). Like most, Andersen is excited about what may lie ahead for this tight-knit Aussie team. “We have a great character, a great chemistry," he said. “We’re building something, hopefully something special. We’re definitely on the right path.” Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats) In limited minutes, Martin is having an impact for the Australian team in Rio. The Perth captain has seen time in three of Australia’s four games thus far, knocking down his open looks (2-of-2 from three!), grabbing loose balls and terrorising unsuspecting opponents with his suffocating on-ball defence. “It’s just been fantastic,” Martin said after Australia’s win over China. “All the big names have really stepped up and we like to think the role players are complementing them too.” Martin helped seal the win during the fourth quarter of Australia’s opening game by frustrating French star Tony Parker. Then, against the USA, Martin enjoyed his signature Rio moment; stripping four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant to spark an Australian fast break. “It really was a pinch-myself moment,” Martin said. Keen for another crack at KD and his crew, Martin believes the Aussie team has the right mindset to upset the gold medal favourites. “We’re hoping that we get to match up against them again,” he said. “There was a sense of frustration and bit of anger in the locker room and that’s the right attitude to have because we’re not here to be close to them, we’re here to beat them.” Martin hasn’t put a foot wrong thus far in Rio and remains a valuable weapon at the end of the Australian bench. Cameron Bairstow (Brisbane Bullets) After three solid outings, Bairstow enjoyed a breakout performance in Australia’s win over China. Playing extended minutes in the absence of Bogut, Bairstow had his developing inside-outside game on display against the Chinese, finishing with a team-high 17 points and an equal game-high 9 rebounds in 19 minutes of playing time. Australian and Brisbane Bullets assistant coach Mick Downer spoke about Bairstow’s ability to step up and deliver to Queensland media. “Today’s game provided opportunities and (Cam) stepped up with a great game at both ends of the floor,” Downer said. Across four games, Bairstow is averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the floor. Head coach Andrej Lemanis, who will also coach Bairstow at Brisbane this season, has great trust in the former Chicago Bull, injecting him as the first big off the bench throughout the tournament. Lemanis shortened his rotation against America. Only eight players reached double-digit minutes against USA and one of those was Bairstow, whose excellent screening, soft touch and physical defence helped the Boomers come oh-so close to pulling off a major upset. After another large set of minutes against Venezuela, look for Bairstow – Brisbane’s prize recruit – to play a vital role during the business end of this Olympic tournament. Kevin Lisch (Sydney Kings) Sydney’s Kevin Lisch is another playing important minutes for Australia in Rio. The two-time NBL MVP is usually the first guard off the bench for the Boomers, holding the fort late in the first and third quarters (and early in the second and fourth) as Dellavedova and Mills grab some much-needed rest. Lisch was used sparingly against the USA, but has played close to 20 minutes in each of Australia’s other games. He was particularly influential in Australia’s opening game against France, where he scored 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field. He then played excellent defence in the win over Serbia and turned distributor against China, dropping 6 dimes. Lisch also nailed this transition triple to ensure that everybody in the green and gold had troubled the scorers. For the most part, Lemanis is running with a nine-man rotation and Lisch, with his ability to contribute at both ends of the floor, has been a key part of that. Chris Goulding (Melbourne United) After playing only one minute across Australia’s opening two wins, Chris Goulding has seen some increased opportunities in the Aussies last two games. The Melbourne shooting guard played 8 important minutes in the narrow loss to USA, where he looked very much at home against the star-studded Americans. Known mainly for his scoring, Goulding played some excellent defence (both on and off the ball) against Team USA and threw a couple of nifty passes on his way to 4 dimes against China. Look for Goulding to knock down a couple of triples in Australia’s final group game against Venezuela. And when push comes to shove in the all-important second week, CG43 will be ready.
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