Can Team USA be better than 2008 champs?

793834.jpg

Can Team USA be better than 2008 champs?

From Comcast SportsNet
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- They lost Dwyane Wade but gained Kevin Durant. Dwight Howard's size has given way to Russell Westbrook's speed. The Americans know their men's Olympic basketball team will look much different than the one that captured gold four years ago in Beijing. Three of the most important players from that team were unable to return, but the carryovers keep talking about being better now than they were then. "I think it has the potential to be that if we learn to use our versatility. It's a more versatile team than 2008. Now does that translate into being better?" coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday. "Although we don't have the center, that team didn't have Durant or Westbrook. So it's a different team and we'll see if it becomes better, but it can be. It could be." In some ways, that's difficult to envision. Wade was the team's leading scorer, averaging 16 points in just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Howard started at center and averaged 10.9 points while shooting 74.5 percent from the field. Chris Bosh, also out this summer, backed him up and shot even better, knocking down 24 of 31 shots (77.4 percent) and leading the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. How can any team make up for all that? "Well, we have some guys that can pick that up," LeBron James said. "I mean, D-Wade was our leading scorer, but we didn't have Kevin Durant on our team. We didn't have the activity of Tyson Chandler on our team as well and the athleticism at the point guard position." Westbrook is an offensive upgrade over Jason Kidd, the point guard not back from 08, and is seen by teammates as the player who could most easily fill Wade's role as the game-changer off the bench. As James sees it, Andre Iguodala is more athletic than Tayshaun Prince, and James Harden can do more things offensively than Michael Redd. Prince and Redd, along with Carlos Boozer, were reserves on the 2008 team but were not retained. Kidd retired from international competition after winning two gold medals. "If you match us up, we have so many great pieces that guys can just play to their strengths, and I think we can be better," James said. Having Durant is a start. The NBA's three-time scoring champion had the best tournament ever by an American player at the world basketball championship two years ago, scoring 22.8 points per game. But the biggest difference could be James, who was already a great player in 2008 but has grown into the best in the world by now. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, the other young players from that team, have made similar leaps toward superstardom, and Kobe Bryant has held steady where he was. "First of all, you have to look at the guys who are with us from the 08 team. They were 21, 22 years old back in Beijing. They're now in the prime of their careers, so they're a lot bigger, stronger, better basketball players today," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "Those players by themselves are much better and I look at the players we've added. We have much more depth, much more talent than we had in 08 when I look at this roster versus that roster, and I'm not looking to make comparisons, but when asked the question, I'll put this team up against anyone." Center remains the biggest question mark. Chandler was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year and has become more of a weapon offensively in recent years, but he's still not quite Howard. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin will have to show they can handle the move to center as well as Bosh did. The Americans averaged 106.2 points in 2008 and smashed their opponents by nearly 30 per game. Nobody was close to them until the gold-medal game, when Spain was within four points with 2 minutes left before the U.S. pulled away to a 118-107 victory. Playing at that level again won't be easy. So no matter what the expectations are now, none of them matter until the games start in three weeks. "We didn't do nothing yet," Anthony said. "So until we go out there and we win the gold medal, then people are going to talk, going to speculate, but we'll see after we win the gold medal if we determine if we're a better team than 08."

Down on the Farm: Q&A with San Jose Giants 1B/3B Jonah Arenado

arenado-jonah-sjgiants.jpg
San Jose Giants/Tim Cattera

Down on the Farm: Q&A with San Jose Giants 1B/3B Jonah Arenado

The Giants know Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado all too well. In 76 games, Arenado has a .308 batting average against the Giants with 20 home runs, his most off any team in all of the majors. 

Playing in Advanced Single-A, the Giants have their own Arenado. Brother Jonah Arenado plays first and third base for the San Jose Giants and hit 19 home runs in 2016. 

Before the younger brother went 2-for-4 against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on Thursday night, NBC Sports Bay Area spoke over the phone with Arenado. Below is the full transcript where we talk his hitting approach, frustrations with the Lakers, trash talk with Nolan in ping pong and much more. 

Dalton Johnson: “You guys are now three weeks in, but I want to actually go back to Opening Day real quick. I know you guys ultimately lost, but it was a 16-inning game. Was that the longest game you’ve ever played in?” 

Jonah Arenado: “No, the longest game I ever played in was 17 innings.” 

DJ: “Really?! Wow! When was that?” 

JA: “I played 17 innings in Lakewood. I was playing for Augusta at the time. We were playing in New Jersey. So we went 17 innings, but we didn’t even get to finish the game. The fog got so extreme that we had to just cancel the game.” 

DJ: “The fog? That’s just crazy. So you were out in Augusta for the GreenJackets?” 

JA: “Yeah.”

DJ: “I was actually out in Savannah for college ball. I’m not sure if you guys ever played against the Sand Gnats.”

JA: “Yeah we were there the last year they had that stadium.” 

DJ: “Grayson Stadium. That was a really fun park. But a 16 or 17-inning game, I’m going to guess that the dugout has to get a little weird at some point, right?” 

JA: “Yeah you're just getting like... it gets kind of monotonous you know. It’s kind of like okay, when are we gonna score or when are they gonna score. And obviously you don’t want to lose the game, but you just want something to happen.” 

DJ: “What are you guys bringing out the rally caps or doing anything different?” 

JA: “No, no rally caps, but there’s times where a couple innings go by and someone will come into the dugout and try get jacked up or excite everyone. When it doesn’t work, it’s like alright here we go again.” 

DJ: “Off the field, I think you’re a Southern California guy and this is your second year out in Northern California in San Jose. Obviously you guys are always busy, but do you ever get to go out and check the Bay Area scenery at all?”

JA: “I’ve been to Santa Cruz and the beach over there. I’ve been to San Francisco. I went to San Francisco on an off day last year to watch the Giants-Rockies game. But besides that, no I rarely ever get to go out to San Francisco or anything like that.” 

DJ: “Off day, or you a golf guy or more of a relax guy? What are you trying to do on an off day?” 

JA: “I’m just trying to relax. Maybe hang out by the pool, just relax and hang out. Go to the beach. And if you do get to relax, I’m not trying to do anything that’s like a workout.” 

DJ: “Are there any places in San Jose where if someone’s coming from out town, you say, ‘Hey, this is where you need to go.’ San Jose, where would you go for one day?”

JA: “Oh, San Jose...” 

DJ: “Just go to a game? Tell them to go to a San Jose Giants game?” 

JA: “Yeah, yeah go to a San Jose Giants game and if not, Santa Cruz is 30 minutes down the road. I’d go to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is nice.” 

DJ: “And then on the field, you’re someone who hits for power. You hit 19 bombs last year. With the way different people are starting to look at the swing now, are you someone that’s actually trying to swing for the fences a little bit? Are you trying to hit a home run? What’s your approach?”

JA: “No, I feel like the more I try to hit a home run, the more I don’t. When I go in thinking line drive to the middle or stay through the middle, I feel a lot better. I know last year I didn’t start off well, and I’m not starting off well this year either, but I know if I think like I have to drive this ball or I have to hit a home run then that never happens. Try to stay simple, try to stay short is usually when things start working out.” 

DJ: “Well there’s all these different advanced analytics and you can track everything now. Are you someone that actually looks into something like launch angle or exit velocity? Or is it more see ball, hit ball?” 

JA: “I don’t like thinking about those 40-degree angles. Hitting is hard enough. To think about all that stuff is too much. But I know that a lot of people, that’s the new thing. Launch angle and try to lift the ball, and that’s all great. It’s whatever works for that person. I know Donaldson preaches it and he loves talking about it, but that’s him. That’s what works for him. I know for me, trying to lift the ball doesn’t work. When I try to lift the ball, I usually pop up. So when I’m trying to hit a hard line drive, that’s when I usually can drive that ball.” 

DJ: “Yeah it seems like when you’re practicing, you’re on the tee or getting front toss or whatever, that’s when you can kind of work on those things. But I couldn’t really imagine taking that over to the game. Once it’s game time, it’s get a pitch, be aggressive, hit it hard. Are you just trying to make things, like you said, as simple as possible once it’s go time?” 

JA: “Yeah, when I’m in the game I’m just trying to be as ready as I can for that fastball. Just see it and hit it. There’s nothing more to it, honestly. Obviously, when you’re struggling you start trying to fix things. When I’m going well, it’s never thinking about what this guy is gonna throw or make sure your foot is doing this. No, I never think about that. I think about see the ball and hit it as hard as I can.” 

DJ: “In the minor leagues, are these tracking systems as prominent or is that more available the higher you go?” 

JA: “I think it’s more available for the big leaguers. It’s hard to watch our swings on video because sometimes our games aren’t taped. We watch our home games because they are streamed, but besides that it’s hard to get all that stuff done.” 

DJ: “Can that almost be an advantage at the same time though? When you’re younger I think if you look too far into then you might press or try to do too much. If you’re just figuring things out on your own, that might even be a little better. Am I right or wrong there?” 

JA: “I think you’re both wrong and right. There’s times when you think too much and sometimes you think it’s your swing and it’s really not your swing, it’s your approach. I think that’s when it can hurt you. When you’re looking at it on video, but that was never really the problem, so then you’re changing a swing that was actually working, but your approach was what’s messed up so now you’re changing your swing and your approach. So that can hurt you. But it can also help you because if there is something mechanically wrong, you can fix it. If you can’t watch it, then how are you gonna know? When you’re in the box, you feel completely different. You never feel like that’s your swing. When you’re in the box, everything is different. When you see it on film, you see I’m dropping my hands, but in the box I’m telling myself to stay on top of the ball so you don’t think you’re dropping your hands, but you’re still dropping your hands, you know what I mean?” 

DJ: “It’s almost like a best of two evils.” 

JA: “Yeah, yeah.” 

DJ: “Back on the field, clearly you’re obviously from a very athletic family. For you, was it just baseball all the time?” 

JA: “My older brother played soccer, my oldest brother played basketball too and Nolan just played baseball. He played soccer for a little, but then went with just baseball. For me, I played basketball also. Basketball is my favorite sport.” 

DJ: “Oh, really?” 

JA: “Yeah, it was. Basketball is just so much fun. You go out and shoot down the street by your house and technically that’s practicing, you know what I mean?” 

DJ: “Oh yeah. Baseball obviously you can go hit off the tee, but basketball, I mean I shot for 20 minutes at the gym today and you feel great.” 

JA: “Yeah, you can work on so many different things. If you’re hitting like crap that day, then it’s really hard to fix it that day. Basketball, if you’re shooting and keep shooting, eventually it’s going to go in.” 

DJ: “So, who’s your team?” 

JA: “Oh, the Lakers. Unfortunately, yeah.” 

DJ: “Are you feeling good about the rebuild or how are you feeling about all that?” 

JA: “I don’t, man. Magic Johnson’s in there, so I hope he’s the answer. But they need to get a superstar. The Lakers are my team, they have always been my team, but the players on the team are bothering me lately.” 

DJ: “I’m sure you and your brother Nolan and all of your brothers competed against each other all the time growing up. Whether it be shooting hoops or playing video games or anything else, what was the one thing, especially with Nolan, where you knew you could beat him no matter what?” 

JA: “Oh man, that’s tough. It’s really hard to beat him. Him losing to me is like death, but he’ll do anything he can to not lose to me because he knows if I win I’ll talk. I’ll just keep talking about it. It’s hard to say. There’s days in ping pong, I’m not gonna say I’m a better ping pong player, but we’re both pretty competitive. If I beat him in ping pong, I mean, it’s over. He’s distraught and then he’ll just want to rematch me until he can beat me.” 

DJ: “If you beat him, you said you’re a talker. What’s your go-to angle when it comes to trash talk?” 

JA: “I just never let him forget it. If I beat him in ping pong that series or that day, you better believe all day I’m gonna wear it out.” 

DJ: “Were you guys video game guys at all or more outside?” 

JA: “We played video games here and there. Mostly it was outdoors. Wiffle ball was always big with me and my family. We still play to this day. We still play wiffle ball all the time.” 

DJ: “Wiffle ball, you’re in the backyard 1-on-1. Who wins between you and Nolan and if you have one pitch, what are you throwing him?” 

JA: “Throwing him? I’m throwing fastball at his face.”

DJ: “Fastball at his face?!?” 

JA: “I’m just kidding, just kidding.” 

DJ: “That might be the only way the Giants can slow him down.” 

JA: “I’ll throw some chin music and then try to throw a little changeup away.” 

DJ: “I got you there, I got you. One last question. Video game wise, if EA Sports could bring back college baseball or college football, what are you picking?” 

JA: “Baseball.” 

DJ: “That was the go-to right there.” 

JA: “I forgot, but there was a college baseball game. I forgot which one it was that we played all the time, but it was one of the best games we ever played.” 

DJ: “I remember they had Texas on the cover or something like that—”

JA: “Exactly! That’s exactly the one.” 

DJ: “They have to bring it back.” 

JA: “That game is the best.” 

Klay must have one thing before every game or 'chalk it up as a loss for me'

Klay must have one thing before every game or 'chalk it up as a loss for me'

Klay Thompson is really good at basketball.

He's been an All-Star three straight years and was named Third-Team All-NBA the last two seasons.

What's the secret to his success? He recently talked about his preparation with CBS Sports:

"My approach to the game is a lot more caluculated now -- as far as getting my rest, recovery after a big workout. Balancing your life is essential; on the court, off the court -- it's huge.

"As a high school player and as a collegiate, I would just kind of show up and play. As a professional, I have a certain routine that is very regimented. If I don't have a gameday nap you might as well chalk it up as a loss for me. I have to have my gameday nap just to get my mind right, get a little rest, maximize your energy for the game.

"Whether it's the arena or the practice gym, we're always there. Don't get to see the light of day sometimes so it's very important for me to get outside -- get some sun, get some fresh air.

"You have to get your mind off the game. I'm really a simple man -- it could be just sitting outside reading a book or playing pool, playing chess, video games. I love to take my dog, Rocco, to the park -- just stuff to keep your mind active, or your body active and get away from baskteball.

"You need that balance in your life. You can't just get totally consumed by basketball and then it kind of wears on your happiness. You gotta have a certain balance so you are eager to go to the game every day, and your hungry to get in the arena and put on a show."