NBA All-Star BBVA Rising Stars Game: 5 Most Anticipated Matchups
So are you with #TeamShaq or #TeamChuck? Regardless of who you're pulling for, Friday night's 2012 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is going to be an excellent game of matchups that will shape the NBA for years to come.
With veterans like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce nearing the twilight of their stellar careers, it's time to look toward this young crop of first- and second-year players for the next 15 years of great basketball.
Here are the top five matchups to watch for when the teams of rookies and sophomores battle it out.
(For the record, I think #TeamShaq is going to dominate.)
Paul George vs. Landry Fields
These two oversized shooting guards are likely to be matched up against each other for a large portion of the Rising Stars Game.
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers has shown flashes of pure brilliance this season, including a 30-point, nine-rebound, five-assist and five-steal explosion at the defending champion Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Landry Fields' solid sophomore campaign has been (rightfully) overshadowed by fellow New York Knick Jeremy Lin. But Fields is averaging double-digit points on nearly 50 percent shooting since February began and remains the primary 2-guard on a highly exciting Knicks squad.
George will test Fields' versatility and lateral quickness as George himself is one of the most agile players in the game today.
Greg Monroe vs. DeMarcus Cousins
While there are more hyped matchups in the Rising Stars Game, this is the one that I'm most excited to see.
Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe has been one of the best at his position this season despite his sophomore status. The Pistons—whose record stands at a paltry 11-24 as of February 22nd—owe no fewer than seven of their wins to Monroe.
Monroe is averaging 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals this year. Those statistics rank among the top five centers in the NBA.
DeMarcus Cousins has had his usually tumultuous season, but after the firing of Sacramento Kings coach Paul Westphal, he has found his rhythm. He is averaging a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds per game and also adds 1.2 blocks.
The two rarely guard one another in the regular season, but Cousins will have to play center on an undersized #TeamChuck.
Blake Griffin vs. Derrick Williams
While I think Greg Monroe would do well defensively against Blake Griffin, it's likely going to be up to the Minnesota Timberwolves' rookie forward Derrick Williams to stop the most powerful dunker in the NBA.
There's not much that needs to be said about Griffin. The media loves him, and his vicious dunks are all over SportsCenter's Top 10. (By the looks of that video, it's Randy Foye, not Chris Paul, that is building Lob City with Griffin.)
Griffin averages over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game this season.
Williams, on the other hand, is averaging fewer minutes than Griffin's points at 18 per game. The second overall pick from last year's draft will have to step up to a huge challenge in containing Griffin.
While Griffin's outside shooting has improved since last year, it's still sub-par. Williams' ability to keep Griffin out of the paint and off the rim is essential for #TeamChuck.
P.S. The picture doesn't really indicate how I feel about this matchup.
Ricky Rubio vs. Kyrie Irving
The NBA's best two rookie point guards this year have, without a doubt, been Ricky Rubio from Minnesota and Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We'll see them match up again in the Rising Stars Game on Friday.
Rubio has shown a passing ability that has drawn similarities to the master Steve Nash. It's well deserved, too. His 8.4 assists per game have him in the top five of that category in the entire league alongside Nash, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
Rubio's 37.5 shooting percentage is atrocious, which limits his effectiveness in close games. It will be interesting to see if he can get past that against a fellow rookie.
After missing much of his one season at Duke, Irving has quickly become the best player on the Cavs. He is putting up an impressive 18 points, five assists and three rebounds per game on 47.6 percent shooting. He'll need to get better at stealing (only 0.6 per game), though, if he wants to become a complete point guard.
Rubio and Irving have added more wins for their respective teams than any other rookies this season. These two are going to be compared to one another their entire careers.
Jeremy Lin vs. John Wall
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Just one year ago, the craze was John and his 30-second "Dougie" to begin his NBA career (classy, as always). Now, the league has a "Linsatiable" appetite for the "Linsane" Jeremy Lin.
Okay, I got it out of my system.
The fact of the matter is, the ridiculous plays on Lin's name take away from what's really going on: We've added an elite point guard to the league.
Don't believe me? How about asking NBA analyst John Hollinger, inventor of the well-known Player Efficiency Rating (PER)?
Lin's PER ranks behind only Chris Paul and Derrick Rose for tops among point guards. His rating as of February 22nd is 24.07, which, according to Hollinger, makes him a "Weak MVP Candidate." Unbelievable.
Since being inserted as the starter three weeks ago, Lin is averaging 24 points, nine assists, four rebounds and 2.5 steals on 50 percent shooting. New York is 9-2 over that stretch.
Then there's Wall's Washington Wizards, who I picked to be a dark horse starting five this season. The chemistry on that team is terrible, but Wall's explosive speed and ball-handling ability hasn't changed at all.
With a team that supports him, I'm interested to see how Wall handles Lin.