NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2013: Players to Watch in All-Star Weekend Showcase
Before LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant take the floor for the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night, the league's rookies and sophomores will get a chance to showcase their skills. The game will feature a strong group of young stars.
The teams, which were selected by Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley, have a clear divide. Team Shaq is relying on guards and scoring wings. Meanwhile, Team Chuck is loaded with frontcourt players, led by top overall pick Anthony Davis.
Last season, Team Chuck picked up the 146-133 victory. Shaq will be looking for some payback. Let's examine some players to watch on Friday night as the NBA's next wave of stars attempt to steal the spotlight. To view the full rosters, visit the league's official site.
Damian Lillard (Team Shaq, Portland Trail Blazers)
Lillard isn't getting nearly the amount of attention a rookie normally would for the type of numbers he's putting up. The Blazers point guard checks in at 18 points, seven assists and three rebounds per game after being taken with the sixth pick.
Whether it's due to an East-Coast bias or the fact Portland is currently on the outside of the playoff picture, the Weber State product hasn't received much hype. That should change after he gets a chance to play in front of a national audience.
Lillard was a prospect that had shown the ability to score, but it was unclear how he'd run an offense at the next level. He's exceeded expectations in that area, showing good decision-making skills and turning the ball over just three times per game in over 38 minutes.
Which of these players will have the best showing?
Anthony Davis (Team Chuck, New Orleans Hornets)
How fans view Davis' rookie season so far is based purely on their preseason expectations. He hasn't taken the league by storm like Kyrie Irving, but he's been a solid contributor for the Hornets. With that being said, he's hit a little rough patch in February.
For the season, the NCAA tournament hero is averaging 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. While those aren't eye-popping stats, they are good for a player who's still a little rough around the edges due to a lack of experience.
As expected, he's been a bigger force on the defensive end, where his size and athleticism allow him to protect the paint. Fans should see that on full display on Friday. It would be a surprise if he doesn't make a few highlight-reel blocks.
Kawhi Leonard (Team Chuck, San Antonio Spurs)
It's no surprise that Leonard doesn't get anywhere near top billing on a squad that also features Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. That said, he's played a key role in helping the Spurs to the league's top record.
Leonard is developing into the prototypical glue guy. He doesn't do any one thing particularly well, but he's able to contribute in just about every area. If the Spurs need him to defend a wing scorer, he can do it. If they need a big three, he can knock it down.
Those are the type of players every team needs to win a championship. San Antonio is hoping he will carry his current form over to the playoffs. Team Chuck needs him to take on more of a leading role if it's going to defend last year's title.
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