NBA Rising Stars Challenge: Ranking Team Shaq and Team Chuck
I can't help it - it's the suit.
We're nearly on the eve of the All-Star Break, and NBA fans are all atwitter. In an effort to shake things up, the traditional format of the Rookie-Sophomore game has been scrapped. Instead, Shaq and Charles Barkley are pitted against one another in a battle of young talent and ridiculous one-liners.
I'll go ahead and say it; the Rising Stars Challenge is going to be awesome. As dreams of Rubio-to-Griffin alley-oops dance in my head, I've compiled a list of the best players on each squad.
This list is, admittedly, far from definitive. One of the best aspects of watching a young player in the NBA is their maturation process and often volatile inconsistency, a factor that also makes them very difficult to "rate."
After too much meditation, here are my observations.
Team Shaq: #1 Blake Griffin
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I mean, come on.
Tangibles: Griffin boasts 21.6 ppg with 11.4 boards. He's a consistent, formidable presence on the court.
Intangibles: He is an absolute blast to watch. At various points, Chris Paul, Caron Butler, Mo Williams and company have combined in ways that can only be described as poetic. The Clippers are one of "those" teams; a Bobcats fan living in Duluth will purchase extra NBA channels just to watch them play.
I attended this season's Clippers game with the now-legendary Kendrick Perkins dunk. Thirty seconds before it happened, I left to get a hot dog. I haven't been able to speak of it dry-eyed since.
Team Chuck: #1 Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving continues to prove he's the real deal. Cleveland is loving it.
Tangibles: Irving is averaging 18.3 ppg with 4.8 assists. He's also shooting a commendable 85% from the charity stripe. He has to get the turnovers (average of 3/game) under control, but he's steadily improved that statistic over the past month or so.
Intangibles: Irving is breathing new life into a perpetually heartbroken franchise and city. He's a humble, pleasant surprise who has managed to help Cleveland fans watch games with hope rather than dread.
Team Shaq: #2 Jeremy Lin
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I know, I know - predictable. But Jeremy Lin reminds us why sports are great.
Tangibles: To quote David After Dentist, "Is this real life?" Over the past two weeks, Lin has averaged 25 ppg on 51 percent shooting and a very respectable 9.5 assists. Sure, the guy has turnover issues, but with statistics like these, who really cares?
Intangibles: Too many to mention. Passed over by Stanford and Cal, cut by the Rockets and the Warriors, Lin is the ultimate feel-good triumph story. He's Rudy, but more consistent. He's Billy Bob, but less sweaty. He brings fans together, regardless of loyalties.
He's smart, he's humble, and he seems to be the only one not preoccupied with his own ethnicity. He's a consummate athlete; all he does is win.
Team Chuck: #2 John Wall
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I'll admit it; I'm excited to watch John Wall surrounded by young talent.
Tangibles: Wall was last years' MVP of the Rookie/Sophomore challenge and notched a jaw-dropping 22 assists. This season, he averages 16.9 points and 7.5 assists per game on an underwhelming team. Notably, his stats have steadily risen over the past month.
Intangibles: Wall's got something to prove. He was selected 12th overall in the "draft," despite last year's performance. I predict Wall will show up with a chip on his shoulder and notch MVP worthy numbers again.
Team Shaq: #3 Ricky Rubio
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I don't know whether to draft him or ask him to prom.
Tangibles: Rubio has a season average of 8.5 assists/game with a penchant for making the highlight reel. He's also a formidable free-throw shooter at 84 percent.
Intangibles: Much like Kyrie Irving, Rubio has given fans a reason to watch. He's quirky and likable, especially considering the skepticism he faced before his much-anticipated NBA debut.
Look for him to spice things up by utilizing teammates like Griffin and Greg Monroe. Rubio is another reason Team Shaq will likely be a highlight machine.
Team Chuck: #3 Demarcus Cousins
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A double-double threat every night, Cousins will look to make another big impression this year.
Tangibles: Cousins boasts more than respectable season averages of 16.7 points and 11.6 boards per game. He's also cleared up some of the rough edges around his game; his turnovers are down and his free throw percentage is up from his rookie season.
Intangibles: Cousins comes with his share of baggage (suspensions, rumored hot temper) but talent like his tends to smooth out the bumps.
Surrounded by other young talent, Cousins should be fun to watch.
Team Shaq: #4 Greg Monroe
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Uh oh. The Pistons are sneakily getting fun again.
Tangibles: Monroe is putting up season averages of 16.7 points and 9.7 boards per game. Flanked by a suddenly-hot Rodney Stuckey and a young talent in Brandon Knight, Monroe has led the Pistons to three consecutive wins, including a road victory against the Celtics.
Intangibles: Monroe has shown a great deal of maturity in defeat. The Pistons have had a rough season, and Monroe has taken responsibility when he feels he hasn't played up to his potential.
That type of team-first attitude can help losses seem more like lessons and make victories that much sweeter. Look for Monroe to quietly rack up the stats for Team Shaq.
Team Chuck: #4 Paul George
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During an exciting Pacers season, George continues to produce.
Tangibles: George has put up season averages of 11.9 points and 5.6 boards per game. His shooting could be more consistent (43.2 percent) but he makes up for it with 1.5 steals and .7 blocks/game.
Intangibles: One of the Pacers' more feel-good victories came against the Bobcats on Sunday. The game wasn't a statement, necessarily (it's the Bobcats) but more an exercise in teamwork. Six Pacers put up double-digit points with no one scoring over 18.
George had an off-night, shooting three-for-ten from the field, but contributed seven rebounds, one steal and two blocks in the most decisive win since 2003. In the rout, George showed his ability to adapt his game.
Team Shaq: #5 Tristan Thompson
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Go easy on me; this is my one "bold" pick.
Tangibles: Thompson notched his first double-double (15 points, 12 boards) in Sunday's win over the Kings. Although he's been plagued by a lack of confidence and a nagging injury, Thompson should see more time now that Cleveland's token big man, Anderson Varejao, is out at least 4-6 weeks.
Intangibles: I have a gut feeling. Blame it on the fact that I'm a deluded Cavaliers fan or attribute it to pure instinct, but I really believe in this kid. He's another piece of a talented young squad, and I think he'll take this opportunity to show what he can do.
If not, I will gladly stand still while the B/R community collectively throws rotten tomatoes at me.
Team Chuck: #5 MarShon Brooks
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After sitting out with a broken pinky toe, Brooks is finally starting to hit his rhythm again.
Tangibles: Brooks is averaging a commendable 14 ppg on underwhelming 42.6 percent shooting. He's doing what he can for the struggling Nets, though, and should only get better with the decreased offensive pressure signaled by the return of Brook Lopez.
Intangibles: I like the guy. He's never been very heavily recruited and was even told that he couldn't play at Tulane. He's motivated to make a name for himself, and should do just that this weekend.
Team Shaq: #6-#10
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#6: Kemba Walker
Walker is an insanely talented player on an abysmal team. The only reason I'm dropping him to the bottom five is that I'm truly not sure what to expect.
#7: Brandon Knight
I owe a personal debt to Knight, as he has almost single-handedly increased the value of Rodney Stuckey to my fantasy team. He's a great team player, his positive attitude helped lift the Pistons to their three-game win streak.
#8: Markieff Morris
According to NBA.com, Morris is the first Suns rookie selected to the Challenge since Stoudemire in 2003. He has to improve his free throw shooting, but Morris shows a lot of potential on a Suns team perpetually starved for youth.
#9: Landry Fields
Fields is most recently famous for his couch; Jeremy Lin was sleeping there on the eve of Linsanity. In addition to their friendship and ritualistic handshake, Fields has supported the Knicks with 10.1 ppg in 32 minutes of play.
#10: Norris Cole
Cole is only at the bottom of the list because someone had to be. His stats (8.6 ppg and 2.4 assists) aren't bad considering his limited minutes. Even better, Cole has been a shot of energy coming off the bench for the star-studded Heat this season.
Team Chuck: #6-#10
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#6: Derrick Williams
Williams' production has been hindered mainly by his limited minutes (18 min/game) this season. The #2 draft pick has enormous potential, and he should take the chance this weekend to show it off.
#7: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is a defensive beast. With an elongated wingspan and huge hands, Leonard is most effective when he's forcing scorers like Chris Paul to take awkward, off-balance shots. His offensive game needs a lot of work, but Leonard should play a major role on Team Chuck's defense.
#8: Gordon Hayward
I'm still not convinced. Hayward was a blast to watch at Butler, but his inconsistency is a bit unnerving to me. He doesn't have a ton of competition on the wing, which might contribute to his solid 9.6 ppg production.
#9: Evan Turner
Oh Evan, I hate to do this. You're a former Buckeye, and I love you for it. But for heaven's sake man, pull yourself together!
Turner's doing what he can in a talented 76ers offense, but he's still not living up to his potential.
#10: Tiago Splitter
I like Splitter, and the recent calf injury is the only reason why he's rounding out the list. Get well soon, Tiago; the Spurs need you.