2012 Team USA Can Beat the Dream Team and Get Killed by the Dream Team
The hypothetical "2012 vs. Dream Team" debate was raised by a thrashing of Nigeria, then put to bed by a near loss to Lithuania. Adding to the confusion, America beat Nigeria by 83, Nigeria lost to France by six, France beat Lithuania by eight and Lithuania lost to America by five. There is a reason behind this volatility and it speaks to how Team USA plays a different, riskier style. Before we get into that, let us behold how it looks when the treys go down:
At an incredible 33 three-point attempts per game, the 2012 squad can swing wildly in terms of point production. For perspective, the Orlando Magic try a league-best 27 treys per contest, and that's in a 48-minute span. The FIBA game lasts 40 minutes, nearly an NBA quarter less.
There is nothing wrong with a three-heavy strategy over the course of a season or playoff series. The shot is high risk (fewer go in), but high reward (it counts for more points). On the balance, a three by a good shooter is a better attempt than a two.
But there are some pratfalls. While the shot may be better over time, it can open teams up to an unexpected loss against an inferior opponent. If the superior team goes cold from three-point land, the inferior team can luck into a victory. While nailing 80 percent of threes against Nigeria, Team USA looked incredible. While hitting only 30 percent of triple tries versus Lithuania, they appeared crackable.
So when we analyze the hazy hypothetical of Dream Team versus 2012, we should acknowledge that one game could not decide which team is superior (in this impossible scenario). If 2012 got hot from deep, it would be curtains for Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Co. If 2012 went cold from outside, they might look a bit like Croatia against history's most fabled team.
Given that the Dream Team was not exactly defensively fearsome, outside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Ewing-Robinson combo (Magic and Larry were sieves at that stage of their careers, Stockton was hurt), the 2012 squad could get shots off. It's nearly just a matter of luck beyond that point. If the modern team nailed say, 14 out of 33 threes, they're likely sailing smoothly. Anything below that mark, and the equally defensively questionable 2012 team would be in trouble.
Obviously, no such game can ever happen. I just like to highlight that a single game can be a bit deceiving in a three-happy American FIBA era. We do not like to admit that luck has a role in sports outcomes, but this is increasingly becoming so as teams turn to the three ball. One thing is certain, though: The modern team will never beat the former in terms of cool, grainy, rare practice footage.
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