Olympics Basketball 2012: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love Move Away from Deferring

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12:  Kevin Love #11 and Kevin Durant #5 of the US Men's Senior National Team jump for a rebound during a pre-Olympic exhibition game against the Dominican Republic at Thomas & Mack Center on July 12, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
David Becker/Getty Images

In these 2012 Olympics, Kevin Durant's teammates have been telling him to do one thing.

"Shoot the d--- ball."

Durant faced the same problem in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. He openly admitted that he "didn't want to step on anybody's toes" in those first couple weeks.

Eventually, KD snapped out of his deferential mindset to lead Team USA to the gold with an average of 22 points per game.

If the Americans plan on repeating their 2008 Olympic success, they'll need both Durant and Kevin Love to embrace their roles on this year's squad and crank up the aggression in the next two weeks.

For young guys like Durant and Love, who grew up watching Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, it's not a total surprise to see them defer to their elders on the team.

They're used to seeing Bryant and James taking 20 shots a game and scoring at will, more often than not.

Realistically, any player on Team USA can go 1-on-1 against an opponent and get off a half-decent shot any time they like. That's the beauty of the Americans' depth, even with the slew of injured superstars back stateside.

The ISO-USA offense won't be the best use of Team USA's talent, though.

For Team USA's offense to truly shine, all five players must embrace what specific talents brought them to the London Olympics.

Durant and Love earned their spots on the team by emerging as two of the NBA's most promising young American-born talents. Love averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds per game this past season, while Durant is the league's reigning three-time scoring champion.

At this point, it's become clear that Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski will be riding Durant into the ground this summer. After playing the most minutes in Team USA's five exhibitions, Durant played 28 minutes (three more than any other teammate) in the opening game against France.

He also led the team with 22 points on 13 shots.

With his length, quick shot release and the closer international three-point line, there isn't a single greater scoring threat on Team USA than Durant.

That's why his teammates have been imploring him to shoot more, evidenced by Bryant's "shoot the d--- ball" plea.

"On a team like this you can kind of shy away because there are so many great players here," James said after the game against France, according to the Charlotte Observer (via DailyThunder). "But KD’s on this team for a reason. He’s one of the best players the world has and he’s a three-time scoring champ. So we don’t want the KD that defers. We want the KD that he is in Oklahoma City."

Just like two years ago, the Americans need Durant to make his impact felt on both ends of the court. He only trailed James in terms of scoring average in exhibition play, but he'll likely need to emerge as Team USA's leading scorer in the medal rounds.

Love, on the other hand, had been making headlines for all the wrong reasons throughout exhibition play. He quickly fell to the 10th spot in Coach K's rotation, causing him to voice frustration to Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com before the final scrimmage against Spain.

In that final scrimmage, Love finally had his breakout game, grabbing 10 rebounds against Spain's vaunted frontcourt. A spin move from Love against Pau Gasol in the fourth quarter caused Coach K to beam on the sideline, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

Coach K thought that move may have given Love the confidence he needed heading into Olympic pool play, according to Stein.

Lo and behold, Love broke out for 14 points in 14 minutes against the French, asserting his will in the second quarter to help Team USA open up a double-digit lead.

"I think he built on the second half with how he played against Spain in our last exhibition game," Coach K said after Sunday's game against France. "I thought he played really well in Barcelona against Spain. He played a lot stronger."

"I needed a game like this under my belt," Love said after the game. "I haven't been playing probably the way I should have."

It's going to be difficult enough for any opponent to topple the athleticism, depth, speed and talent of Team USA this summer.

If the young bucks like Durant and Love embrace their roles and fire away when necessary?

The rest of the world's mission just became that much more impossible.