BEIJING -- A thought occurred during the first half of Team USA's 92-69 defeat of Greece on Thursday, as Kobe Bryant missed his first two three-pointers of the game. Those bricks left him 1-for-17 for the Olympics from beyond the international arc -- a three-point line that's actually shorter than the NBA's.
Here's the thought: Outside shots generally come to basketball players in three different ways. A superb talent can juke and jab-step his way to enough space to get a good look -- think Michael Jordan or, with his signature fadeaway, Bryant. Mere mortals welcome the help of a screen; from John Havlicek to Joe Dumars to Michael Redd, it's the standard way NBA teams get their best shooters open, with rubs and curls.
Kobe's struggles at these Olympics have to do with the third category: the spot-up jumper. While not unknown in the NBA -- John Paxson and Steve Kerr helped win titles for their teams by knocking down spot-ups -- it's generally a shot for the third or fourth option in an offense, and certainly not in the ordinary repertoire of any Redeem Teamer.
Yet because defenses have so much respect for each of the U.S. players, any one of them might find himself with an open shot that begs taking, without any preliminary dribble or familiar rhythm, after a kick-out or swing pass.
International rules come into play here, too. With no illegal defense in FIBA play, big men can pack the lane with impunity. That means an offense gets more perimeter looks -- and from a very tempting distance at that.
All of which seems to have played with Kobe's head during his Beijing sojourn.
"Our guys just don't get that shot in the NBA, but here they're playing with guys you can't double-team," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They're almost antsy when they get looks like that. It took Kobe all last summer [during FIBA Americas qualifying] just to get accustomed to that shot."
Three games in, he may finally be getting re-accustomed. He knocked down his second three of the Olympics late in the second quarter, then bottomed out his third in the third -- although that shot, from the right corner, involved his space-creating individual mambo and wasn't a pure spot-up.
It won't take turning Kobe Bryant into John Paxson for the United States to win Olympic gold. But at least there's a plausible explanation for why the man who's widely considered the greatest basketball player in the world is having a hard time knocking down wide-open jump shots.
U.S. forward Carmelo Anthonyon his blog, about fellow Charm City native Michael Phelps: "He's going to bring some golds back to Baltimore and I'm going to bring a gold back. They can have our parade together."
That brings to at least three -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now Anthony -- the number of male U.S. Olympians who have either guaranteed or come close to guaranteeing an Olympic crown.