The United States men's basketball team is in search of its first gold medal since 2000, and to be honest, American fans aren't quite sure what to expect. Yes, the world has caught up. Yes, this team was formed differently. Yes, Kobe Bryant is playing. Yes, there are no seven-footers. Yes, this team seems to get along well and have a unique focus on "national redemption".
But what does that all mean when they actually play the games? Well, now that game one is out of the way, here's three things we learned about the United States basketball team in its first real game (I'm sorry, but exhibitions against Canada...without Steve Nash...in Las Vegas...they just don't count.)
#1 Free throw shooting is critical. Besides the obvious reason (getting extra points), Team USA relies on its free throw attempts to help set up its defensive scheme. The red, white, and blue is blessed with great perimeter defenders (Paul, Wade, and Bryant especially), and Coach K has them picking up opponents 90 feet away. When the USA attacks the rim and goes to the free throw line (which they did 25 times against host China), they have a golden opportunity (pun intended) to set up their full-court defense.
As long as they make free throws (Dwight Howard, LeBron James, this means you).
The Americans finished game one 18-25 from the line. 72% will do, but free throw shooting will remain a key in these Olympic Games, especially in a closer contest.
#2 Three-point accuracy AND CONSISTENCY will be a huge struggle. When you get some of the best NBA basketball players all on the same team and then move the three-point line in a few feet, you'd think long-distance shooting would be simple target practice.
Not exactly. The starters finished a miserable 2-12 from behind the arc. As a team, the USA squad shot 7-24. Michael Redd led the way with three triples, and here's one thing you can mark down with absolute certainty: Redd will have to hit outside shots for Team USA to bring home gold.
#3 Fear the power of the whistle. The referee's whistle, that is. Play-by-play man Mike Breen referred to Olympic officiating as "horrendous", and this is just the first game. With clueless referees, no frontcourt depth, and less margin for error than normal (five fouls (personal or technical) will disqualify a player, while six personals or two technicals are needed in the NBA), Team USA needs to keep its cool, and rise above the way the game might (will) be called.