LAS VEGAS -- Visitors witnessed a strange sight at the U.S. national team practice Wednesday: NBA superstars trying to learn how to be open. There was
In each case, they were practicing what is an unfamiliar role: the second or third option spotting up on the wing, in this instance to shoot an unfamiliar shot, the shorter 20-foot, 6-inch international three-pointer.
"Think about it," U.S. assistant coach
So all this week, coach
"That's what Coach wants us to do, shoot it when you're open no matter who gets it out there," explained
Actually, Wade should know why. It's the legacy of the U.S. team's underwhelming shooting performances in recent international competition. It didn't take opponents long to realize that the best way to defend the Americans was to lay back in a zone and dare them to hoist away from the three-point line. This took away the inherent U.S. advantage in athleticism (and cutting-and-slashing) while masking the defensive weaknesses of many foreign teams. The fact that the U.S. players often couldn't draw iron on their threes didn't hurt either.
What's flummoxing is that, theoretically, the shorter line should be a boon to the U.S. team. Take a bunch of NBA players who are accustomed to firing from 24 feet and tell them they can now shoot from 21 feet and one would expect a giant game of Pop-A-Shot to break out, right?
In the beginning, at least, it did. In the first three NBA-attended Olympics -- 1992, 1996 and 2000 -- the U.S. team had at least one pure shooter on each roster. First it was
Then, in 2004, the Americans fielded a squad of lanky forwards and slashing guards, with nary a shooting specialist among the bunch. Bad idea. The U.S. team shot 31.4 percent as a team on threes (to 44.1 percent for its opponents), with the trio of
It didn't get much better in 2006. At the World Championships in Tokyo, Team USA shot 36.9 percent as a team from beyond the arc, with Wade (5-for-18) and
There is hope this year, though. Not just because the U.S. team added
It's a shot some of the U.S. players have been specifically practicing for months. Wade says he began working on the shorter threes in May, using the more slippery Olympic ball, which has given U.S. players trouble in the past. He had to change his form a bit, as he tends to fade away on his jump shot to create space in the NBA. Now, with the shot uncontested, at Coach K's urging he's focusing on going straight up and down. He says he now hits at worst five of eight shots from each spot around the arc in practice.
Redd also began going to the gym a few months ago and shooting with an Olympic ball, though not just international threes (which he says are "more of a touch shot" than a "legs shot"). The key for him, he says, is to not even be aware of the line.
"Today I hit a couple jumpers where I had no idea they were threes," he said after practice Wednesday. "The referee [during the scrimmage] raised his hands and I was like, really? Other times, I end up shooting from the NBA distance. I try to think of it as just shooting, no matter where I am."
Most of the other U.S. players claim to not be bothered by the distance (though, then again, so did Iverson and Marbury four years ago).
Then again, it's always easier to hit threes in practice, when nobody's guarding you. Now the U.S. players will have to prove they can hit threes in the Olympics, especially when nobody's guarding them.