Olympic Basketball: Team USA's 2nd Unit Is Their Not-so-Secret Gold-Medal Weapon

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of United States reacts after a play against France during their Men's Basketball Game on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Basketball Arena on July 29, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As Team USA looks to continue its undefeated run through these Summer Games, it's become clear that depth is the key to the United States capturing its fifth gold medal in the past six Olympiads.

Unlike in 1992's Barcelona games, when the rest of the world quaked in their Air Jordans at the sight of the Dream Team, the international squads in London are not afraid of the United States.

Where opening-game jitters used to befall the intimidated and overmatched Olympic competition, fiery, competitive teams with an abundance of talent now come out of the gate hungry to take down the mighty Team USA.

And through the United States' six contests so far in London, we've seen the opening-game firing squad take its toll on the favored Americans.

Only once has the U.S. led by more than 10 points after the first quarter, and that was in Team USA's record-setting evisceration of Nigeria.

Discounting the Nigeria game, the United States has led by an average of just 4.8 points per game following the first quarter.

That differential doesn't get any greater in the second period, either.

But by the third quarter, Team USA 2012 could wipe the floor with the 1992's Dream Team. The Yanks' 87-point third-quarter differential is greater than any other team in the tournament's total differential and usually leads to an all-smiles bench for Team USA in the fourth quarter.

So why does Team USA struggle so mightily in the first half, only to come out guns blazing to start the second?

When looking for a reason, look no further than Team USA's second unit.

Led by forwards Carmelo Anthony (17.5 PPG) and Kevin Love (12.5 PPG). the team's second- and third-leading scorers, the United States' bench has been nothing short of spectacular in London.

With star reserves, Team USA is able to substitute freely without worrying about a steep drop-off in talent or philosophy change. Deron Williams continues running the point at Chris Paul's break-neck pace while Anthony and Love help fill the scoring void left by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Rest, though, is the most important benefit of Team USA's deep bench. While the American starters are resting, the second unit either continues wearing down the opposing starters or takes advantage of weaker international backups.

In other words, Team USA's opponents are exhausted by the second half, while the Yanks are just getting started.

As the U.S. begins relying on its starters more in the semifinals and the medal round, those fresh legs could be vital. No Team USA player is currently averaging 25 minutes per game, but multiple players on Spain and Russia are over the 25-minute mark.

Where trust is abundant for the United States' bench, it's absent for either of its possible gold-medal game opponents.

So while the starters for Russia and Spain may be able to keep up with the United States in the first half, a patented third-quarter run could be all that stands between Team USA and Olympic glory.

And if that's the case, the U.S. will have its second unit to thank.