The players selected to participate in the 2013 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge finally learned whether they were #TeamShaq or #TeamChuck on Thursday.
In a special edition of TNT's NBA Tip-Off program, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley divvied up the 20-player pool that will participate in the showcase of NBA All-Star Weekend's Friday night festivities.
TNT's Kenny Smith announced the addition of Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas to a roster which originally consisted of 18 players.
Once known as the Rookie-Sophomore Game, the NBA decided to spice the contest up last season by eliminating the player separation and having O'Neal and Barkley draft the teams fantasy-style. The event experiment was a rousing success, with fans and the TNT crew both enjoying their analysts' stint as "general managers."
This season, the NBA took the experiment a step further and will now integrate the fans. For the first time, the starters for Team Shaq and Team Chuck will be determined by a fan vote, which will consist of two backcourt and three frontcourt players.
Perhaps the NBA is hoping that the fans can help out Team Shaq. Barkley's team handily defeated O'Neal's last year, 146-133, behind a brilliant performance from Kyrie Irving. The Cleveland Cavaliers guard scored 34 points, including a perfect 8-of-8 performance from beyond the arc.
Irving will return for this season's contest, but will be switching sides and joining Team Shaq.
How did the rest of the draft play out? Here is a complete breakdown of the rosters.
2013 NBA Rising Stars Challenge Draft Results
|Team Shaq||Pick (Overall)||Team Chuck||Pick (Overall)|
|Damian Lillard (PG, Portland Trail Blazers)||1 (1)||Anthony Davis (PF, New Orleans Hornets)||1 (2)|
|Kyrie Irving (PG, Cleveland Cavaliers)||2 (3)||Kenneth Faried (PF, Denver Nuggets)||2 (4)|
|Andre Drummond (C, Detroit Pistons)||3 (5)||Kawhi Leonard (SF, San Antonio Spurs)||3 (6)|
Klay Thompson (SG, Golden State Warriors)
|4 (7)||Bradley Beal (SG, Washington Wizards)||4 (8)|
Harrison Barnes (SF, Golden State Warriors)
|5 (9)||Ricky Rubio (PG, Minnesota Timberwolves)||5 (10)|
Chandler Parsons (SF, Houston Rockets)
|6 (11)||Tristan Thompson (PF, Cleveland Cavaliers)||6 (12)|
Dion Waiters (SG, Cleveland Cavaliers)
|7 (13)||Nikola Vucevic (C, Orlando Magic)||7 (14)|
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF, Charlotte Bobcats)
|8 (15)||Brandon Knight (PG, Detroit Pistons)||8 (16)|
Tyler Zeller (C, Cleveland Cavaliers)
|9 (17)||Isaiah Thomas (PG, Sacramento Kings)||9 (18)|
|Kemba Walker (PG, Charlotte Bobcats)||10 (19)||Alexey Shved (SG, Minnesota Timberwolves)||10 (20)|
Biggest Draft Surprise: Kemba Walker Goes "Undrafted"
While every player ultimately found a spot on Team Shaq or Team Chuck on Thursday, the final two rounds were decided by Kenny Smith. First, he picked two players that he thought fit best with both sides, and then the final round was a blind draw of the remaining names.
Though there were many surprises for both sides, Kemba Walker lasting until the "blind" round is by far the biggest. The Charlotte Bobcats point guard has been one of a select few bright spots for his team this season, improving in every single statistical category from his rookie campaign. Walker is averaging 17.5 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, while also providing one of Charlotte's few sparks defensively.
But the real reason Walker's slide was so shocking was Team Chuck's utter lack of point guard depth. Barkley passed on Kyrie Irving in the first round, who was scooped up by Shaq in the second, and wound up with a three-headed combo at the spot that's questionable at best.
Based on their play this season, Walker would have been the best point guard on Team Chuck by far. As it stands, though, Walker dropping will prove to be another gift for Team Shaq, which arguably has the three best point guards in the game.
Game Prediction: Team Shaq Wins in a Blowout
From the moment O'Neal was able to scoop up the deadly Lillard-Irving backcourt, it looked as if Barkley was scrambling to counteract the "Black Brian Colangelo." He went with active big men in Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried with his first two selections, and Kawhi Leonard is an athletic wing who fits well.
If the Rising Stars Challenge was your typical basketball game, Barkley's team could probably win. Team Chuck has far more elite size and defensive tenacity than Team Shaq, and a Ricky Rubio-Bradley Beal backcourt is certainly interesting.
Unfortunately for Barkley, Shaq out-drafted him in just about every round for the purposes of an exhibition contest. The Irving-Lillard backcourt was a stroke of shot-creating genius, and Warriors fans know just how dynamic Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are when they are on the floor together.
Team Shaq is made for exhibition play, while Team Chuck looks like it would rather be playing with Indiana Pacers-like pace. For that reason, expect Team Shaq to bring the overall series to a 1-1 draw with a huge win on Friday night.
Score Prediction: Team Shaq 156, Team Chuck 135
MVP Prediction: Damian Lillard (PG, Portland Trail Blazers)
While Irving is unquestionably the best player participating in Friday night's festivities, he also has an appearance in the actual All-Star Game to worry about. It's possible that Irving winds up taking over the entire weekend and Houston's All-Star experience is forever viewed as his coronation. However, it's likelier that Team Shaq tries to limit his minutes out of respect for the Cavaliers.
So that rules Irving out. With guards always playing an integral role in the Rising Stars Challenge, that leaves Lillard as far and away the favorite for an ascendant offensive performance.
Lillard's ability to create shots for himself and his teammates is what has made him the Rookie of the Year favorite. The Blazers' offense is a full 12 points worse per 100 possessions when Lillard is on the bench, per NBA.com, and shoots over 10 percent worse from beyond the three-point arc. That's evidence of both Lillard's ability to score with the ball, and find open shots for Portland's outside options.
In other words, Lillard is the exact type of player who thrives in these exhibition settings. He's a ball-dominant player who can stroke from anywhere on the floor, drive to the cup and knows how to find open men. That's exactly the same recipe Irving followed last season to the MVP. And while it's impossible to expect Lillard to rain threes in the same fashion, a double-double with points and assists seems like a foregone conclusion.
With Team Shaq looking like a heavy favorite, Lillard should be the reason for that dominance.