From the Daily Pennsylvanian’s sports blog, The Buzz:
Question 1: Who will own the night at the Palestra’s Team Philly vs. Team Melo event a.k.a. “The Battle for I-95”?
Kevin Esteves: I’m going to go with “The Durantula,” but not for the reasons that immediately come to mind. Yes, KD made the summer his personal showcase by dropping 66 at Rucker and 59 against Team Melo. And, yes, he’ll be the best pure scorer on the floor. However, I don’t think that alone makes him such an easy pick. Durant won’t get nearly as many touches as he did when he was the alpha-dog on his DC Power team that played in Harlem or the Goodman team that played against LeBron, Melo, CP3, and Co. This time, he’ll be paired alongside Carmelo — who will want to show out as the de facto captain — LeBron and CP3 (he’ll be throwing lobs all night, but still). Even if this game turns out to be a track meet, I don’t anticipate KD getting enough touches to just hang 66 on Philly. That said, I still think he’ll steal the night because this kind of exhibition fits Durant’s game perfectly — a free-flowing, up-and-down style that will allow KD to operate in space and hoist up countless threes against what I anticipate will not be a world-class defensive effort. He also has the right swagger and attitude to go into any gym and dominate — he reportedly said, “I do this,” after his historic performance in NYC — because he genuinely loves to play and compete. So if Durant can get it going, knock down a few threes in a row (especially if this game is somehow close by the end) he’ll have the crowd on its feet and we’ll all be left buzzing about how easy he makes the game look.
Brian Kotloff: And if the game takes on the free-flowing style you expect, who will shine more than the world’s greatest all-around talent, LeBron James? The league’s best athlete — and maybe the best athlete the sport has ever seen — will be unleashed in a fast-paced, high-flying showcase like this. But that’s not the reason I’m taking LeBron. Above all else, I think LeBron will steal the show because he has to steal the show — it’s his time. Don’t think for a second that seeing Durant own the headlines with his epic summer league tour hasn’t gotten King James’ competitive juices flowing (I know, I know — this thinking didn’t work out so well with his Decision to play sidekick to D-Wade, but here’s a second chance). That’s the beauty of basketball: the stage gets bigger and the game becomes a business, but the playground mentality never leaves. Even if they’re on the same team, you know KD and LBJ will try to one-up each other. And I expect LeBron to re-establish himself as the NBA’s alpha dog by dominating this game with his scoring, passing, rebounding and overall athleticism. People love to hate him, but the man has the swagger to take over the gym, too. I think his charisma (and of course, talent) will help him own the Palestra on Sunday night.
Question 2: Who are you most looking forward to watching?
KE: As much as I might have reservations about the way he handled himself during last year’s free agency period, I can’t help but admire LBJ’s game on the court. Though he certainly has the physical attributes for it, he’s not just a 6-foot-8 wrecking ball that can jump really high and dunk — even if that’s all the casual fan might see on “SportsCenter.” This guy is a once-in-a-generation talent that can handle the rock, pass out of the double-team with ease, and run an offense from start-to-finish. Oh yeah, he can also shut down just about any player 1-through-4 on the defensive end (see: Rose, Derrick). And to think that he’s the best (or at least 2nd best) player in the world all without a consistent jump shot or post-up game … scary. That just speaks to how well he does everything else. In an up-and-down game with plenty of fast-break opportunities, LeBron is going to be unstoppable in transition Sunday night as you said. This guy is a must-watch whenever he takes the court and all eyes should be on him.
BK: Can’t disagree with you here. But it’s not just LeBron’s core basketball skills I’m looking forward to watching — you covered those pretty well. What I can’t wait to witness in person are the little things that we take for granted when watching from afar: his gracefulness for someone 6’8; the impossible passing angles no one but him can see; his incredible speed in the open court. That last ability actually tops my list. I’m not looking forward to the highlight-reel alley-oops as much as seeing him sprint from halfcourt to the rim in five strides to throw down a dunk or block a shot. All eyes should and will be on him, and that will be another thrill: witnessing LeBron, the entertainer. He savors the attention that comes with thousands of fans hanging on his every move — our favorite NBA guru Bill Simmons called his gift “command of the room.” In fact, Simmons dedicated an entire column (pre-Decision, I must add) to describing the phenomenon that is LeBron-In-Person, a column that has stuck with me. Sunday, we will finally get to experience it.
Of course, Durant, Carmelo and CP3 will also be the best undercards ever.
Question 3: Which sleeper player could steal the show from the stars?
KE: With names like LeBron, Durant, Melo, and CP3 out there, just about anyone else will be a sleeper to have a big-time night. But if I have to make a choice, I’m going to say Josh Selby (Team Melo). First of all, he’s not a Philly guy, so he won’t be a known commodity coming in. Second, Selby will likely have supreme confidence on Sunday after the way he played this summer. The Memphis Grizzlies 2011 draft pick turned some heads after going toe-to-toe (and holding his own) in two duels with Brandon Jennings in pro-am play. If he can replicate that kind of scoring and playmaking ability, we are in for an extra treat. Again, the 6’2 guard is definitely going to come in overlooked because of his superstar teammates, but if he gets out in the open court, he’ll have willing passers like CP3 and LeBron assisting him on what could be some of the best highlights of the night. Keep an eye out for him.
BK: I know Hakim Warrick’s name is all over the event, but I’m afraid he’s being recognized as an organizer rather a player. On game day, I think he’ll remind people that he can jump out of the gym. He’s built for a game like this where he can get in the open court and use his athletic ability. As a Philly native and the participant who most appreciates the Palestra, he’ll also have the most motivation to perform. The stars will be stacked on Team Melo, but someone will have to step up and defend home court. I think Warrick can be that guy.
Also, don’t sleep on Tyreke Evans. He may not have reached the level of LeBron and Carmelo in star power yet, but he has the talent to one day join that class.