With the USA women's basketball team currently shooting 24% from beyond the 3-point arc, Bleacher Report columnist Chris Stephens' suggestion that they should, "...just lob it inside every time and shoot an occasional three-pointer" doesn't exactly seem unreasonable.
And while Stephens is absolutely right that it's a minor point, the matter of 3-point shooting hasn't escaped Geno Auriemma either based on his comments after USA's 88-61 win over the Czech Republic yesterday.
The offense is going to go up and down depending on the day maybe but I know we are going to go on a couple of runs in the course of the game. We certainly need Diana to play the way she played today because when she does she is able to stretch the team’s defense like nobody else.
Key player: Diana Taurasi's 50% 3-point shooting on an Olympic-record for attempts
Taurasi shot an Olympic-record 8 3-point attempts against the Czech Republic and made four as part of her team-high 18 points on a team-high 64.84% true shooting percentage.
And as Auriemma commented, they needed that: outside of Taurasi, the rest of the team shot 3-for-14 from beyond the arc. In other words, if the Olympics were a 3-point shooting contest, the U.S. would hardly qualify for medal rounds.
The consistently poor 3-point shooting is part of what motivated the insertion of Maya Moore into the starting lineup because, according to Auriemma, "...it’s really difficult for team to figure out which three-point shot they are going to take away."
Sager also asked Taurasi is she is going to keep shooting, which is like asking the sun if it's going to continue to put off heat.— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) August 3, 2012
However, in addition to the fact that the Olympics isn't actually a 3-point shootout, the depth of the U.S. and their ability to stifle opposing defenses have ultimately been so overwhelming that they have won their games by an average of more than 33 points. And yesterday's game provided further evidence why the 3-point shooting woes are a weakness, but by no means a fatal flaw: as described in USA Basketball's recap, while, "The USA struggled to find its shooting eye...its rebounders cleaned up the misses to tally 24 second-chance points."
Key statistic: USA wins offensive rebounding battle 27-10
The major storyline for this game has been the USA's team-record 62 rebounds, but the most significant sign of their dominance given sub-40% shooting from the field (38.9%) was their offensive rebounding.
If you're going to miss 55 shots from the field, it really helps to try to recover some of those and the U.S. managed to get almost half of their shots back by way of their outstanding rebounding - their 27 offensive rebounds represented a dominant 48.21% offensive rebounding percentage. It's worth noting that they had a similarly impressive offensive rebounding percentage against Croatia (46.51%), but they not only did even more this time but also needed it even more given their poor shooting.
It's hard to put offensive rebounding like that in perspective for people not familiar with offensive rebounding percentages*, but recording a number like that is about more than just playing an inferior opponent - you have to not only have an athletic/physical advantage but have multiple players relentlessly attacking the boards as a team to make something like that happen. And for the second consecutive game, the rebounding of the guards really stood out as impressive.
Angel McCoughtry and Lindsay Whalen both had offensive rebounding performances that we would normally attribute to post players, with the second- (6) and third-highest (4) offensive rebounding tallies in the game. The reality is that when guards can establish that kind of advantage over their opponents - McCoughtry is generally more athletic than the person defending her and Whalen simply bulkier - the entire team becomes extremely difficult to keep off the boards.
And then there's Tina Charles in the paint.
USA statistical MVP: Tina Charles grabs a team-high 15 rebounds
While Charles had a team-high 8 offensive rebounds, the flip-side of the team's rebounding dominance was that they kept the Czech Republic to an extremely low offensive rebounding percentage of 22.22%. Forget the gaping differential for a moment - but holding a team to 35.7% shooting from the field and preventing them from getting second chance opportunities is impressive even without taking turnovers into consideration.
With Charles dominating around the basket and Maya Moore chipping in with a team-high 8 defensive rebounds, the U.S. used an impressive team effort on the boards to dominate yet another opponent.
One way to look at this game given the numbers is that the combination of Charles, McCoughtry, and Whalen off the bench was just too much for the Czechs to overcome, even after they ended the first quarter ahead 26-24 on the strength of 6-for-11 3-point shooting. But another way to look at it is that when you dominate the boards in the way the U.S. did and defend as well as they did, they're really difficult to beat - in addition to their rebounding dominance and depth, they didn't give up a 3-pointer after giving up 6 in the first quarter.
Doug Feinberg of the AP reported that Czech player Eva Viteckova said after the game, "They can be beaten, if the other team has a very good day and they (the U.S.) has a very bad day."
The problem is that if they rebound with the intensity they did yesterday, it's not hard to imagine them overcoming any bad day against this field.
Although this was only one game, they've shown glimpses in their preliminary round games that when everyone commits to rebounding as a team they can dominate the boards from every position. When you consider that they're not shooting that well, the sort of aggressive rebounding identity that Auriemma implored them to adopt might be an ideal one.
* Here's one way that might help WNBA fans put that the USA's rebounding in perspective: the 1999 and 2000 Sacramento Monarchs teams that were led by 1999 WNBA MVP Yolanda Griffith are second (38.3%) and third (38.1%) in offensive rebounding percentage all-time, respectively. Griffith is still the best offensive rebounder in the history of the WNBA by career percentage (14.57%) and fellow starter Latasha Byears is third all-time (14.08%). The best all-time offensive rebounding team was, not surprisingly, the 2007 Monarchs (38.6%), who had Griffith, Rebekkah Brunson (13.72% in her career, sixth all-time) and DeMya Walker (10.51%, 17th all-time). Putting up a 48.21% offensive rebounding percentage in a single game doesn't compare to what those teams did over the course of a season, but the point is that to get to that level requires multiple elite rebounders to pull off.