London Olympics 2012: Are Basketball Struggles Due to Nerves or Conditions?

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London Olympics 2012: Are Basketball Struggles Due to Nerves or Conditions?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There were some slow starts in the first day of men’s Olympic basketball, and while some people are blaming the conditions of the Olympic experience, it’s more likely that there was just some bad basketball taking place.

Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times wrote today that the unorthodox layout of the arena was the reason for some players’ poor shooting:

A few feet separate fans from players in the NBA, but it's closer to 20 feet at the new Olympic Park basketball arena.

Team USA certainly had trouble Sunday without a close courtside backdrop.

The U.S. led France by one puny point in its Olympic opener and made only seven of 24 shots (29%) in the first quarter. The U.S. also missed its first seven three-point attempts.

Granted, a deep backdrop in any gym or arena can offer up a little chicanery to any player’s depth perception. If you’re used to seeing a backdrop closer to your vision than objects in the backboard may appear, you may think the basket is off in some alternate universe.

However, is it truly the reason Team USA shot so poorly to begin their contest with France? Personally, I think the shot selection going on with Team USA was more likely the problem than any kind of optical illusion these guys might have faced.

When the American players were attacking the basket and getting out in transition, they were finding fairly easy ways to score. When they were settling for jumpers against a French team that shouldn’t be able to keep them out of the paint, that’s when they were misfiring.

Of the seven misfired 3-pointers the American players attempted to start the game, one was taken by Kobe Bryant (career 33.7% 3-point shooter), one was taken by Chris Paul (career 36.1% 3FG), one was taken by Kevin Durant (career 36.4% 3FG), one was taken by Carmelo Anthony (career 32.2% 3FG), one was taken by LeBron James (career 33.1% 3FG) and two were taken by Deron Williams (career 35.1% 3FG).

While there are some decent 3-point shooters in that shot chart, it’s not like Ray Allen was spotting up uncontested in the corner for all of them. In fact, other than the first three deep shots they attempted, those missed 3-pointers were well contested by France.

The rest of the game, they shot 8-for-18 from 3-point range and seemed to be getting much better looks. It’s possible it was the backdrop tricking their depth perception, but it’s also possible they had mediocre-to-average shooters taking tougher shots to begin the game. It’s also possible there were nerves for the first Olympic experience in four years.

When you see the excuse of seats too far away from the basket ruining the shooting performances of the best players in the world or Nicolas Batum saying the opening ceremony worked his body over to cause a poor start, I begin to wonder if these are legitimate reasons or if they’re just letting pride get in the way of explaining what went wrong.

I’m not saying these excuses aren’t valid; I’m just not going to blindly buy them as a reason for slow starts.

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