Thursday, August 02, 2012

Team USA Achieves Offensive Basketball Perfection


"Shooting 33% on 3s is the same as shooting 50% on 2s."

It's not a complex idea. Hell, it's basic algebra (⅓y=½x). But I still remember about five years ago, when an NBA coach was breaking it down for me, during a rant against the long-two.

He went on to explain that good NBA three-point shooters shoot about 40% from 3, which is the equivalent of 60% on 2. Since the only place on the court at which you can regularly expect to shoot 60% or better is at the rim, a perfect offense -- in terms of efficient production -- would be one that only attempted dunks and 3s.

It seems so simple in theory, but near-impossible in execution.

The key part of that sentence being "near". Because on Thursday in London, Team USA achieved as close as you'll ever see to offensive basketball perfection.

The raw numbers don't quite do it justice, but here they are anyway: 156 points on 59-of-83 (71.1%) shooting overall, 29-of-46 (63.0%) from three-point range. 41 assists on 59 made baskets. A total of seven (SEVEN!) missed shots inside the arc. Oh, and for good measure, nine offensive rebounds on 24 missed shots overall.

When you get into advanced stats like true shooting percentage (87.4%), offensive rating (181 pts per 100 possessions) and the like, the numbers reach a level of absurdity that goes beyond "video game numbers."

It really had to be seen to be understood. Every time Team USA came down the court -- against an admittedly inferior and overmatched opponent -- it seemed like a basket was a foregone conclusion. And it was almost entirely on threes and dunks, the ideal offense. From a competitive standpoint, it was a total beatdown, and not particularly fun to watch. But from a basketball appreciation standpoint, it was like watching a masterpiece being painted.

There will be plenty of analysis of what this means: did Team USA go overboard, are the slow starts finally behind them, does breaking the Dream Team's scoring record mean this team COULD beat the Dream Team, and on and on ad infinitum. But watching the game, I cared little for that.

When a team of this caliber gets put together, even after all the injuries that have made it less than what it could have been, you can't help but wonder about what it would look like if it maximized its potential. What could be accomplished if everyone was working together in perfect basketball harmony toward a simple goal. Not to win gold, or even to win a single game, but just to play the sport at the highest possible level. To play the PERFECT game of basketball. What would that look like?

Would it look like one player scoring 37 points in 14 minutes, while another puts up a completely under-the-radar 13 points and 11 assists in 18 minutes. Would it have 11 different players shooting at least 50% from the field... with "at least" being a huge understatement? Would it have players throwing 70-foot outlet passes, corner inbounds saves that turn into alley-oops and no-look behind-the-back set-up for wide opener corner 3s?

The way I see it, if you took Nigeria off the court, I'm not sure Team USA could have played much better.

Was it basketball perfection? I don't know if that's even truly possible, but what I saw today came damn close.

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