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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?

Photo by dreamglow pumpkincat210

Some disquieting news out of the Team USA training camp. It appears that our own Kevin Love has discovered the green grass and deep blue skies of competent teammates and meaningful competition. John Schuhmann of reports on Love’s epiphanic summer:

Love was asked Tuesday if he felt more appreciated with the U.S. Team than with the Timberwolves. “Yes,” he responded. “Just a solid yes.” But he was quick to clarify. “I don’t want to come off sounding like a prima donna or sound like I’m complaining or anything,” Love said. “I just feel like, since I’ve been here, it’s really been a great team atmosphere. We feel like we have a chance to win this whole thing. I think everybody is just coming in with a great attitude and appreciating everybody as a whole, and really becoming a family.”

“Just a solid yes.” That’s tough. First of all, I’m intrigued by the way that Kevin seems to have ditched the typical pro athlete non-speak. Want to know whether Rashad McCants is actually a terrible teammate? K-Love will let you know (he is).  How about whether its more fun to get love for your national team than pull reserve minutes for your 15-win employer? Kevin will set you straight.

In his piece, Shuhmann helpfully point out that last season Love “averaged fewer minutes than Ryan Gomes and started fewer games than Ryan Hollins. This was a below average rebounding team, and they couldn’t find more than 29 minutes for the best per-minute rebounder in the league.” True on all counts. Without a doubt, it was painful to watch Love sit out entire quarters while Darko and Hollins wandered in the wilderness.

But lets also remember a few things. First, on last year’s Wolves, the playing time was relatively evenly distributed; only Al Jefferson (32.4) and Corey Brewer (30.3) averaged more than 30 minutes per game. So Love’s court time (28.6 mpg), while certainly a little low for a rebounder of his stature, was roughly comparable to that of the team’s other starters.

Second thing: Kahn and Rambis have been widely ridiculed for the belief that Love and Jefferson could not coexist. But the fact is that the Wolves got murdered on defense when the two not-so-big boys played together. You could argue that a) Rambis was wrong to favor Jefferson over Love in crunch time, or that b) Love’s and Al’s rebounding and offensive production were more important than any defensive gains brought by Darko and Hollins (I’m probably more in this camp), but there’s no arguing that, last season, Rambis faced a lot of terrible options in his frontcourt.

Third thing: this may have been lost among all of the other bummers and depressives of the 09-10 season, but let’s remember that for much of the second half of the year, Love was not his normal ferocious, energetic self. He seemed lost, distracted and lethargic. His numbers started to slip. Even reliable Wolves cheerleader Jim Peterson commented on the air that Love “looks to me like he’s checked out.” For sure, much of this was frustration at his uncertainty within the offense, with his “promotion” to the second unit and with the team’s awful fortunes. But consider that players like Damian Wilkins, Corey Brewer and even Jonny Flynn and Big Al mostly managed to carry on with their customary intensity even as things got bleak. As Rambis himself offered, “if he’s not playing hard, then things aren’t gonna work out for him.”

The Wolves’ frontcourt situation is no less muddled this year than last. Love, Darko, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pecovic and Anthony Tolliver will all be competing for the two big man spots. But, as this national team experience has plainly shown, now that Al Jefferson has moved on (and maybe even before that) Kevin Love is clearly the Wolves’ best player. Lineup experiments and lessons in professionalism aside, its time for the kid to see some sunshine.