What The US Needs Now… Is Love, Gritty Love

Zach Harper —  August 27, 2010 — Leave a comment

It’s no secret that Team USA is starving for big men.

The fact that JaVale McGee was even being considered for the national team or that Tyson Chandler is the only center on the final roster shows just how dire of a situation the patriotic interior is for our boys in red, white and blue. The American big man is either a dying breed (not a lot of good young big men out there from the states) or too injured to be allowed to participate (Greg Oden, Andrew Bynum, Blake Griffin) or just not interested in being on the team if it isn’t the Olympics (Dwight Howard) or actually Australian (Andrew Bogut).

You would think that being one of just a couple big men on the final Team USA roster for the FIBA World Championships would afford Kevin Love a great opportunity to prove his mettle inside while representing his country. Instead, he’s been riding the pine for most of the tune-up games for his country. After seeing almost nothing but garbage time against France and smacking his head hard into the ground against Lithuania, Love sat out the exhibition against Spain as a precaution since the game didn’t mean anything.

But when given a chance in another throw-away game against Greece days before the FIBAs begin, Kevin Love saw some extended refuse minutes in a game that got out of hand in the second half. And all Kevin Love did during this short run was grab 12 rebounds (six offensive) in 12 minutes against men bigger and harrier than him. That’s the troubling thing about the way Love’s minutes have been yanked around by different respective teams (his own and now his country’s) over the past six months: Kevin Love can do stuff like that without really thinking about it.

Kevin Love is the best rebounder in the world. I’m not talking about just this tournament either. I mean he’s the best rebounder in the game of basketball. He’s better than Marcus Camby. He’s better than David Lee. He’s better than even Dwight Howard. That’s not to say he’s a better player than any of those guys because he’s not. But when it comes to rebounding a missed shot, there is no one better at this craft than Kevin Love.

According to HoopData, of all players who played more than 25 minutes per game for 40 or more games this past season, Love was fourth in total rebounding percentage with a 21.4%. He was also first in offensive rebounding percentage with a phenomenal 14.5%. Kevin was tied for seventh in the entire NBA in rebounding with 11 per game when he only played 28 minutes per game because the Wolves were trying to showcase Al Jefferson for trade purposes or getting Darko Milicic minutes for some type of draft bust work release program or giving Ryan Hollins some burn because they wanted to engulf themselves in the flames of buyer’s remorse.

While it’s fun to see if our Team USA comprised of guards and small forwards can out-athleticize the rest of the world with perimeter defense and transition bedazzling, the simple presence of a world-class rebounder seems like the smartest thing Coach K and his staff could concoct. There are several teams the US needs to worry about because of their great interior presence (Rafael Uehara wrote up a nice piece on post presences in this tournament):

– Brazil is a member of USA’s Group B and while their loss of Nene (you remember him from such teams as the Denver Nuggets) hurts their frontcourt depth, they still have three very capable big men that can be effective inside with their size and rebounding. Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Guilherme Giovannoni will man the interior for Brazil.

– Don’t let what we saw from Greece on Wednesday fool you; they have a lot of size to throw around on the boards. This Greek team wasn’t giving a full effort in a game that meant nothing and they even ended up sitting their two best post players in Ioannis Bourousis and Sofo Schortsanitis. Bourousis is a fantastically skilled big man and Sofo is the bulldozer-shaped gentleman, who likes to throw his weight around whenever the opportunity presents itself. Kostas Tsartsaris also proved to be a tough draw inside for the US interior throughout their exhibition.

– Spain is missing Pau Gasol and still have enough inside to control the glass against just about anybody. Marc Gasol is probably the best big man in this tournament. Fran Vazquez and Jorge Garbajosa also provide a lot of active work on the boards and in the paint. It’s the best frontcourt the US team will see during this entire tournament.

– Russia (Sasha Kaun and Timofey Mozgov) and Turkey (Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova) both possess young, active frontcourts that can really hit the glass.

– And Serbia has all kinds of power and grit inside, assuming Nenad Krstic stops acting like he just found out his best friend’s cousin is cheating on him with his cousin’s best friend/stepfather on Jerry Springer.

There is a lot of rebounding ability in the teams the US will be facing and while I love tall, lanky rebounding and defensive presences who don’t rebound or defend all that well (I’m looking at you, Tyson Chandler), there has to be more room for someone of Kevin Love’s rebounding prowess.

Yes, we all know Kevin Love is an atrocious defender and the most talented retail merchandisers couldn’t dress that fact up to look any more palatable. But the US team already is relying on stopping people from getting into the interior, rebounding missed shots and firing them back up the court to start a fastbreak. And nobody on the team is more qualified to do those last two things than Kevin Love.

Ideally, you’d like the US to find a way to play Love and Lamar Odom together. Both can find their way around the offensive glass quite well and both are excellent outlet passers to get this team running down the rest of the world’s collective gullets. The perfect, Better Basketball DVD-esque rebounding technique of Kevin Love can be as invaluable as the explosive nature of Derrick Rose’s first step. Love ends opponents’ possessions with his rebounding on the defensive end of the court and keeps his team’s possessions alive on the offensive end of the court with his tireless work ethic on the glass.

Even though Team USA won’t need his services in the group they face outside of Brazil, it would behoove Coach K to find Kevin some minutes throughout the group stage in order to keep him active with the team and right in the thick of the international competition chemistry lesson our guys are trying to learn. That way, when Team USA gets to the elimination rounds and attempts to advance to the gold medal game, they have their very own industrial strength Windex man in the perfect playing rhythm with his teammates.

It’s not like Love would be taking someone’s minutes on the inside that is more deserving of playing time than him. He’d just be feeding an anorexic position for this US squad.

After all, the US has the best scorer in this tournament and is not shy about using Kevin Durant’s ability to score points at any given point. So why should they fail to utilize the best rebounder in the tournament at the same time?

Zach Harper

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