ISTANBUL -- One of the big mysteries surrounding Team USA at the FIBA World Championship is why Kevin Love's playing time has been so limited.
He has been, by far, the most productive and aggressive player for the Americans when it comes to producing points and rebounds off the bench, but he is playing behind Andre Iguodala at the 4 spot and behind Lamar Odom (and sometimes Tyson Chandler) at center.
In yesterday's victory over Iran, which I dissected in my postgame column with a critical eye regarding the Americans' offense, Love led the team in scoring with 13 points despite playing the fewest minutes (just under 11) of anyone on the roster.
"I just go out there and try to be productive. Coach said today everybody's in their roles," Love told ESPN.com. "I think for me, I know Lamar is going to be the starting center, and he's going to play a lot of minutes. So when I get the chance to come in, whether I'm playing 5 minutes or 25 minutes, I have to get the job done. And I feel I've done a good job contributing thus far."
Love played only 5:20 in Team USA's 2-point victory over Brazil, 13:24 in the 22-point victory over Slovenia and 13:14 in Team's USA's tournament-opening 28-point victory over Croatia.
That's a total of just 42 minutes in five games, yet Love leads Team USA in total rebounds with 28 (Kevin Durant is second with 27, and Odom has 26) and in offensive rebounds with 10 (Iguodala is second with 6). He also has shot 50 percent from 3-point range and 61 percent overall, and he is the team's fifth leading scorer (8.3 ppg) behind Durant (18.8), Chauncey Billups (10.0), Derrick Rose (9.5) and Rudy Gay (9.0).
The folks who are consistently commenting in my columns are taking particular issue with coach Mike Krzyzewski's heavy use of Iguodala, but I should point out that Coach K sees Iguodala as the team's best on-the-ball defender, and he used Iguodala as the primary defender on both Leandro Barbosa and sharpshooter Marcelo Machado in Monday night's 70-68 edging of Brazil.
So I don't see Coach K changing up his strategy in that regard as Team USA moves into the Round of 16 when they will play the loser of today's Angola-Australia game. But one thing he may look at changing is the starting backcourt, where Billups has struggled playing off the ball, shooting just 3-of-16 on 3-pointers. The problem is: Who would replace Billups? Eric Gordon has regressed since scoring a team-high 16 points in the opener against Croatia, missing his first seven shots against Slovenia, going 0-for-2 against Brazil and 3-for-7 (including 2-for-5 on 3s) against Iran. Stephen Curry has been sloppy with the ball, no more so than when he threw an atrocious behind-the-back bounce pass to nobody yesterday on a 2-on-1 break against Iran. Russell Westbrook could be the answer, as Coach K recognizes that he has experience playing off the ball at shooting guard when he was at UCLA. Westbrook has shot 11-for-20 from the field over the first four games but has not yet attempted a 3-pointer, so it bears watching how he performs today against Tunisia -- a game in which the Americans have been installed as a 45.5-point favorite.
A few other mysteries to consider on the final day of the preliminary round:
-- I have been asked several times by foreign journalists why there are so few American writers here. (There are only five of us from the mainstream media: Brian Mahoney of AP, Pete Thamel of the New York Times, John Schuhmann of NBA.com, Chris Tomasson of Fanhouse, and myself. But I would be remiss if I did not mention the presence of industrious Syracuse senior Nick Gibson, who is blowing off his first two weeks of school to build his brand.) My stock response is that there are more of us here than there were four years ago in Japan, when ESPN.com, the AP, the Akron Beacon-Journal and the Houston Chronicle were the only U.S. news outlets to cover the entire tournament -- although Commissioner Ryan parachuted in f0r the medal round.
-- Why are we seeing so much less of the Eastern European dance teams that perform during timeouts and between quarters? Thamel has some answers in today's NY Times.
-- Is anybody going to tank today? The Greece-Russia game offers the most promise, because the loser will finish third in Group C and will go into the easier side of the medal round bracket. Schuhmann delved into some of the higher math involved in the tiebreaking procedures in his blog post today.