Everybody’s delirious over Team USA’s record-breaking performance against Nigeria. Scoring 156 points, winning by 83, and shooting 29-of-46 from (63 percent) from beyond the arc.
Even my editor said, “WOW!”
Yes, the numbers are certainly impressive. But they’re also mostly meaningless. Here’s why:
Nigeria isn’t a very good team. The only player on the squad who’s a semi-reliable scorer is Ike Diogu, an NBA veteran. In America, his teammates would be, at best, at the level of mediocre Division II competition. Aside from Diogu, the Nigerians had no inside presence, plus their passwork, rebounding, and screen-setting were seriously flawed. Against the super-quick American defense, the Nigerians were simply unable to establish even the suggestion of an offense. But, hey, the Nigerians are to be congratulated because qualifying for the Olympic basketball tournament is truly a significant accomplishment for them.
The relevant point being that the U.S. could safely poach passing lanes, double-team ball handlers, and get their running game in gear with relative ease. Hence their dunk-parade, their humongous point total and margin of victory.
However, the worst part of Nigeria’s game was their defense. Given that the U.S. has been able to penetrate every defense they’ve seen thus far, and that drive-and-kick sequences are their favorite half-court offensive ploys, it’s no surprise that three-point shots were largely uncontested versus Nigeria. Indeed, the Nigerians were so determined to try and protect the basket that they put little pressure on the Americans’ perimeter shooters. Which, by the way, is normally a totally rational strategy.
So, shooting one-on-none from the short international bonus-line isn’t quite worth the hullabaloo that the media is raising. After all, what kind of percentages do NBA sharpshooters achieve in the three-point contests during the All-Star extravaganzas? Numbers that easily exceed 63 percent.
Okay, so no other Olympic team has recorded such numbers. But so what? How many times during every high school season does a total mismatch result in 80-plus margins of victory? If their chops were up, how many points would the Miami Heat beat Nigeria by? Or the OKC Thunder? Even the Charlotte Bobcats?
50? 60? 70? 83?
And, yes, this current edition of Team USA is incredibly quick and athletic, but they have yet to face an opponent that has a snowball’s chance in hell of beating them.
Against France and Tunisia, the Americans showed a disinclination to hustle in transition defense, to play effective interior defense, and to seal their defensive glass. Moreover, their perimeter defense has been too steal-conscious. And their only tactic in defense of high pick-and-rolls is to switch every cross – a game plan that was costly in several previous international competitions.
Even so, it’s clear that only a handful of teams can prevent the U.S. from copping the gold. Russia, Argentina and Brazil are long-shots. Spain has a semi-legitimate chance against the Americans, but only if they play a perfect game.
But the numbers! The numbers!
The trouble is that, on and off the court, numbers are universally deemed to be the ultimate measure and goal of virtually every human endeavor.
Who’s Number One? What the APR on your mortgage? Who pays what tax percentage on their income? What’s the latest S & P score? What’s your kid’s GPA? What’s the point spread? The odds? The latest presidential poll? How many angels can fit on the head of a pin? And on and on and on.
However, numbers are useful only when put into the proper context.
Indeed, there’s only relevant number in this discussion – the final score in the gold medal game.
So enjoy the competition – or the lack thereof – as it transpires, and leave the after-the-fact factoids to those who are unduly excited by incidentals.