When Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love was named as a member of Team USA several weeks ago, the immediate analysis said that he would be a great success. As a good passer with great shooting ability for a big man and historically great rebounding skills, Love seemed like a natural fit for the international game at this point in his career. Plus, after helping Team USA win the World Championships in limited minutes two years ago, he figured to take on a major role on a roster in need of help inside.
However, over the course of four tune-up exhibition games, Love has not seen much playing time. While Tyson Chandler remains a mainstay in the rotation as a defender of the paint, Love has stayed on the bench as head coach Mike Krzyzewski has opted for small-ball alternate lineups. According to Love, the situation is getting frustrating. From Chris Sheridan for SheridanHoops.com (via SLAM):
"Obviously I'd like to go out there and be playing with these guys, I really feel like I can help. I know my abilities and know what I'm capable of," Love said Monday. "You know, Coach K and I have talked about it — this isn't 2010. I obviously played more in 2010, but I'm a completely different player now and a far better player. So we'll wait and see what happens. I worked into my playing time in 2010, and hopefully that'll happen here. I just need to find a way to get into a rhythm in limited minutes, which is tough."
Love logged only 5 minutes of burn in the American' 11-point victory over Brazil a week ago, played garbage time minutes in Manchester, England, against Great Britain after picking up three quick fouls without accumulating any other statistics in the first three quarters of that 40-point victory, then logged only seven minutes against Argentina with two rebounds and an assist, and no points. He is being asked to play out of position at center, but pretty much everyone outside of Deron Williams and Chris Paul is playing outside of the normal positions they play in the NBA. [...]
"I just need to get into a rhythm, and there's no real chances out here to do that. I was playing more minutes in Turkey than I am now, and they can say I'm not playing great. But I didn't touch the ball yesterday, and there's nothing I can really do in that regard. As far as rebounding the ball, I'm always going to do that. But if they don't think I'm playing great, then fine. But hopefully I can prove that I am once I get a chance to get out there. Guys like LeBron and Kevin and Carmelo are playing a lot of 4. I've been playing mostly 5, playing out of position, so who knows?"
This interview took place a day before Team USA's final exhibition against chief rival Spain, which the Americans beat 100-78. Logically, Love would have seen a good deal of playing time against a team with the interior strength of Spain, which boasts Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol (currently hobbled, though he's expected back for the Olympics), Serge Ibaka, and several other veteran big men from the Spanish ACB, the best non-NBA league in the world. However, he played only 13 minutes, grabbing an impressive nine rebounds but shooting only 1 of 3 from the field for two points.
There are going to be games in this tournament where Team USA needs Love to provide valuable minutes, particularly if they match up against Spain in an elimination-round contest. Yet for all his abilities and apparent fit for the international style, it looks as if Love isn't an ideal big man for what Coach K is trying to do in this competition. With LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony sharing most of the time at both forward spots, Team USA has decided to take advantage of its considerable quickness and athleticism advantages and challenge teams to beat them inside. Love is not unathletic by any means, but he's also not an elite leaper or sprinter on the order of his teammates. Based on this chosen style of play, it makes sense that Love wouldn't always have a spot in the lineup.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Love is a bad fit for the international game — it just means that he's not an ideal member of this particular incarnation of Team USA. (If he had been born in France instead, we'd probably be waxing rhapsodically right now about the great abilities of Kevin Amour.) The issue here for Love is that he has a special set of skills that don't necessarily work with those of his teammates. This is often a problem in basketball at any level, not only in international play. Love's not getting much playing time, but that doesn't mean he's not still an elite talent. It's a product of these unique circumstances.