The Rising Stars challenge is the liveliest event on All-Star weekend. Yes, the All-Star game has the biggest names in the world, the 3-point shootout has the league’s best snipers from distance, and the dunk contest always has the potential to be the most electrifying event of the weekend. Yet, when it comes to the Rising Stars challenge, no other event can put all the best parts of the weekend in one game.
The one-on-one shootouts and the audacious dunk attempts have slowly disappeared from Sunday night have migrated to Friday night. You could make the case that the main event can still bring on the excitement, but players are older, more cautious, and more importantly, have been there and done that. For many of the participants on Friday night, this may be the only time they get to showcase their talent on a larger scale while getting a hint of what it could be in the future if they do get selected as an all-star.
Trae Young and Luka Doncic are the all-stars in the event, but surely like everyone else, I can’t wait to see Zion Williamson. Despite his late debut this season, Williamson has already caught the eye of many with his highly efficient and eye-popping numbers. After scoring a career high 32 points last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Zion joined Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson as the only number one picks in the last 30 years to put up 200 points in their first 10 games. Pretty impressive company if you ask me.
Zion Williamson is now over 200 points (and counting) through 10 career games...— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2020
Over the last 30 seasons, the only former No. 1 picks to score 200 points within their first 10 career games are Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal (238 in 1992-93) and Allen Iverson (224 in 1996-97). pic.twitter.com/kDPrJec0nu
There were some snubs (Terence Davis, Matisse Tybulle) and perceived snubs (Jaxson Hayes), but overall both squads showcase the great amount of young talent in this league. I’m excited to see Team World’s Canadians in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, and Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke. I’m also very excited to see Ja Morant throw lobs to his old AAU teammate Zion Williamson. Either way, we’re in for a treat. Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet, 9:00 PM EST
Team World – Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke
Team USA – Trae Young, Ja Morant, Miles Bridges, Zion Williamson, Jaren Jackson Jr.
Team World – Deandre Ayton (ankle – OUT)
Team USA – Tyler Herro (ankle – OUT), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle – OUT)
Keeping up with the Canadians
This year’s Rising Stars challenge has 4 Canadians participating, the most on Team World. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is having an excellent season for the Thunder and could’ve easily been the representative for Oklahoma City in the All-Star game. He is part of the three-headed monster in the backcourt with future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year in Dennis Schroder that’s leading the Thunder to six seed at the unofficial midway of the season.
Memphis’ Brandon Clarke has been the steal of the draft. After being selected with the 21st pick in last summer’s draft and picking up Summer League MVP honors, he continued with his great play and has been an integral part in the Grizzlies surprising season. Nickeil Alexander-Walker started off great but has teetered off as the season progressed. However, Barrett is having a tough season. While I do blame much of it to the environment in what is the dumpster fire of the league, Barrett has shown that despite his greatness at lower levels, he still has much growing to do. Much of his struggles are amplified because of the spectacular season Morant is having but Barrett is still putting up some respectable numbers for a 19-year old.
We Want Zion!
There hasn’t been another prospect with this much hype since the 18-year kid from Akron, Ohio. Ever since we saw his spectacular highlights from high school, we’ve been waiting for Zion Williamson to make his NBA debut. His first game was supposed to be against the reigning champs Toronto Raptors, but he was sidelined until a January game against the San Antoinio Spurs.
Williamson has only played 10 games so far, but he’s averaging 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in just 27 minutes per contest. It’s a longshot for him to win Rookie of the Year thanks to Ja Morant’s terrific year but watching him effortlessly push the likes of Steven Adams off balance near the rim and finish his own misses has been a joy. If he can stay healthy, we might be looking at the next face of the league.
Both All-Star starters, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are still just in their second season. Both have taken the league by storm, with Trae Young averaging 29.7 points and 9.2 assist per game, good for third and second in each category. Luka Doncic has been even more spectacular, averaging 28.9 points and 8.7 assist while leading his team into a playoff position in the loaded western conference.
These two will be forever linked thanks to a draft day trade. But until Atlanta can start winning consistently (I do like some of the moves they’ve made, especially the trade for Clint Capela) the higher praise will go to Doncic. In a league where winning trumps all, its important we don’t forget to appreciate the players who may not be in winning situations. Despite being last in the east, I’m here to say that Icy Trae is an all-star and will be for a long time.