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Can Team USA be better than 2008 champs?

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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."

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Wizards pick up Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s contract option with bright future ahead

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Wizards pick up Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s contract option with bright future ahead

The play of Kelly Oubre, Jr. over the past calendar year had made the Wizards picking up his contract option an increasingly easy decision. On Saturday, they opted to keep him for the fourth year of his rookie contract, the 2018-19 season, and did so with a week to spare before the deadline.

Oubre, 21, has emerged as a key contributor for a Wizards team with expectations of a deep playoff run. He is still finding his trule role in the NBA, but with his youth and potential, and the fact he's still on a rookie deal, Oubre has a unique place on their roster.

John Wall and Bradley Beal have already emerged as stars. Otto Porter still has room to get much better, but has already arrived and earned a max contract. Oubre, though already established in their rotation, has plenty of room to grow.

Oubre, the 15th overall pick in 2015, doubled his minutes last season to 20.3 per game under head coach Scott Brooks with averages of 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. He earned Brooks' trust mainly on the defensive end with his versatility and high motor.

Consistency is where Oubre needs to improve, but through two games this season he appears to have taken another step. Oubre added two inches to his vertical leap over the summer despite rehabbing from platelet-rich plasma treatment on his right knee. He also gained some muscle, allowing him to make strides as a rebounder. Oubre has 15 rebounds through two games and said it's specific focus of his.

[RELATED: WALL TALKS LONZO AND LAVAR BALL]

The Wizards are a good enough offensive team currently to where Oubre can focus on defense and rebounding. But his growing confidence on offense has been evident so far this year and especially in the preseason. He has worked on dribbling with his right hand and the result is more aggression attacking the rim. Though still not a polished product, Oubre is taking small steps to emerge as a more dangerous scoring threat.

The Wizards will have another decision to make on Oubre this time next year. One day before the 2018-19 regular season begins, they will have to choose whether to hand Oubre a rookie scale contract extension. They weren't able to beat that deadline with Porter and the next summer he received a $106.5 million max deal after hitting the market as a restricted free agent. 

Oubre at this very moment wouldn't command that type of money in free agency, but the same was said about Porter at this point in his career. Porter was able to improve significantly in his fourth season.

Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis said this summer that he would love to have Oubre force the issue with his performance on the court.

"He's going to come back and work really, really hard and challenge us to pay him a lot of money, too, which I'm glad to do," Leonsis said. 

It's early in the season, but Oubre may be on his way towards making the Wizards ponder his long-term future.

The Washington Post first reported Oubre's contract option getting picked up.

[RELATED: WALL EXPLAINS WOLF SEASON]

 

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John Wall doesn't hold LaVar Ball's talking against Lonzo, but knows 'he'll be targeted'

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John Wall doesn't hold LaVar Ball's talking against Lonzo, but knows 'he'll be targeted'

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley made a point to embarrass Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball in the latter's NBA debut. After dominating him on the court, Beverley said he had to "set the tone." 

On Wednesday, Wizards point guard John Wall will get a crack at Ball when Washington plays the Lakers at the Staples Center. Wall knows why Beverley went after Ball like that, but says he doesn't blame Ball himself.

"I think his dad put him in a situation where guys are going to target him," Wall said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, referencing LaVar Ball. "Lonzo is one of those kids that is very talented. He's been a good player for years, he just don't say much. I think his dad does all the talking for him."

Ball, 19, was the second overall pick in this June's NBA Draft. He had just three points on 1-of-6 shooting against the Clippers on Wednesday, but bounced back for 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists against the Suns on Friday. 

Wall thinks Ball will be fine as long as he can keep up his production on the court to back up his dad's trash-talking.

"He's a great kid from what I've seen on the outside looking in," Wall said. "A lot of people in this league are going to take it personally. It's not the son's fault. He went back and had a better game [vs. the Suns]. That's all he's gotta do is go out there and play. He's not gonna do any talking anyways. If he gets killed or don't get killed or kills somebody, he's not going to be the guy talking."

Wall is as competitive as they come and will give Ball a tough challenge on Wednesday night, but it doesn't sound like he plans to pull a Beverley and overtly embarrass him.

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

[RELATED: WALL SAYS HE'S THE BEST SHOT-BLOCKING PG EVER]