Experience matters and Kevin Love has it.
As we inch closer to the Olympics, and Team USA’s men’s basketball team prepares for its first exhibition game on Saturday against Nigeria in Las Vegas, fans will get a healthy dose of Kevin Love – and it won’t be just because the team is without Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton who are currently playing in the NBA Finals.
“We’re going to work his ass off the next four to five weeks and demand a lot,” Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich said earlier this week, about the veteran Love who only played 25 games this season. “That’s going to definitely get him back into the rhythm he needs to be in to continue to play. I think that’s one of the big reasons he wanted to do this — so he can get himself back to who he was.”
Along with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, Love completes a trio of the only players on the roster with Olympic experience. The rest of the team includes Bam Adebayo, Bradley Beal, Jerami Grant, Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum – along with Booker, Holiday, and Middleton. And without a true center on the roster, Popovich will look to Adebayo, Green, Durant, and Love to fill in at the 5-position – which is something the Cavaliers’ big man has done very well at in international play.
Back in 2012 at the London Games, Love was one of five players who averaged double figures on a loaded roster that featured names like LeBron, Kobe, Durant, CP3, Harden, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and Carmelo Anthony. Durant led the team in scoring that summer with 19.5 points per game, while Love was the team’s leading rebounder with 7.6 rebounds per contest to go along with 11.6 points. His ability to rebound and be a pick-and-pop big man is a necessity for the way the international game is played.
The 2016 team didn’t have a big man in the mold of Love, as that team featured more traditional centers like DeMarcus Cousins and Deandre Jordan. Durant also led that team in scoring with 19.4 points per game, as it was Green’s uneventful debut as an Olympian. Coming off blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in the Finals, Green’s summer got even rockier before the Olympics, as he was involved in a bar fight and a social media dick pic scandal. Green averaged 1.9 points per game — which was the lowest on the team.
Two summers ago, Team USA had their 78-game win-streak snapped in major international play when Popovich’s squad lost to Australia 98-94 in an exhibition game. That was followed by finishing 6-2 in the 2019 FIBA World Cup that featured a one-point overtime win over Turkey, a five-point loss to Serbia, and a head-scratching 10-point loss to France.
In one year of coaching Team USA, Popovich’s three losses are already two more than Coach K suffered during his tenure from 2006-2016 when he went 75-1. Durant, Green, and Love are going to be invaluable to Gregg Popovich over the next few weeks. And if Team USA wants to reassert their dominance, Kevin Love needs to ball out.
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