Power Ranking the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge Players
The Rising Stars Challenge kicks off the NBA's All-Star Weekend with a Friday night tipoff. The game's 20 selected players represent some of the NBA's best young talent, each in either their first or second season in the NBA.
From the pool of 20 players, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley picked their teams to play for either "Team Shaq" or "Team Chuck" (the rosters and the order of picks are included below).
This is a fascinating game for NBA fans because it showcases the future of the league before the NBA's present stars take center stage on Sunday night. It's also interesting because these players are in various stages of their developments.
There is a mix of players that have already established themselves and those who are still trying to figure out where they fit in. These rankings are based on the where the players currently are in their in their NBA careers, though potential and value is also factored into the decision.
Damian Lillard (1)
Kyrie Irving (3)
Klay Thompson (7)
Harrison Barnes (9)
Chandler Parsons (11)
Dion Waiters (13)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (15)
*Andre Drummond was selected fifth but will miss the game with a back injury. Andrew Nicholson will replace him.
Anthony Davis (2)
Kenneth Faried (4)
Kawhi Leonard (6)
Bradley Beal (8)
Ricky Rubio (10)
Tristan Thompson (12)
Nikola Vucevic (14)
Brandon Knight (16)
20. Andrew Nicholson, PF, Orlando Magic
Andrew Nicholson was added to the roster for this game to replace the injured Andre Drummond. As the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic power forward hasn't yet lived up to his selection spot despite occasionally flashing potential.
He's only playing an average of 15.8 minutes per game, but since Feb. 1, that number has increased to 25.5. As he gets more time on the court, Nicholson's averages should go up based on his recent play.
In this game, as a late addition, Nicholson likely won't get a bunch of minutes. His methodical and jumper-heavy post game also doesn't favor the typical fast pace of this game. While that's the case, Nicholson does have a future in the league if he continues to develop.
19. Tyler Zeller, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a league-most four players in the Rising Stars Challenge. While it's certainly nice to have four of the top young talents in the league, the Cavaliers still struggle to get out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The future is bright in Cleveland, but fans are getting impatient.
Tyler Zeller is the first of the Cavaliers on the list. He struggled during the first part of the season, but he has improved his game, becoming more confident with the ball and revving up his motor on the boards.
Still, Zeller has been very inconsistent for the Cavaliers as he's trying to adapt to the physicality and athleticism of the NBA.
So far this season, Zeller is averaging 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. His last two outings show the inconsistency that has been the theme of his season.
On Feb. 11, he scored no points on 0-of-2 shooting and collected eight rebounds. On Feb. 13, he scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting with nine rebounds. Zeller has potential to be a good big man in the league, but it will take him some time.
18. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings
Isaiah Thomas has proven he can compete at the NBA level. Drafted with the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Thomas played well during his rookie year and finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting.
His development has seemingly hit a sophomore slump as the stagnant Sacramento Kings remain in the cellar of the Western Conference.
The pint-sized point guard has been incredibly durable during his first year-and-a-half. He's missed only four of the 120 games the Kings have played over that stretch.
This season, Thomas has improved his point production, but his rebound and assist numbers are down. His current stat line is 12.1 points, 3.3 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game.
He's not a star, just a solid player, and his future, much like that of the Kings, is in question.
With a new ownership group that will surely come in and make changes, it remains to be seen how much value they see in Thomas. If the system is right, Thomas can have success somewhere in the NBA.
17. Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors
Harrison Barnes has come into Oakland and contributed as a starter for the Golden State Warriors. His production hasn't been extremely notable, but he's a great athlete and shooter for their system and continues to learn the game. In addition, he's delivered some monster dunks that have made him a fan favorite.
He's started all 51 games he's played and is averaging 9.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He's a physical small forward, but doesn't always look to score.
Look for Barnes to have some highlights in this game. His ability to run the floor and deliver entertaining dunks make him a player to watch.
16. Alexey Shved, G, Minnesota Timberwolves
Alexey Shved has been an important contributor off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He filled in nicely while Ricky Rubio recovered from knee surgery.
The 24-year-old rookie from Russia has impressed with his smooth transition to the NBA game. He also played very well for Russia at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Shved is averaging 10.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. Shved's size (6'6") allows him to play multiple positions, which makes it easier for the Timberwolves to maximize his minutes. He has had struggles, but that's consistent with what you'd expect from a first-year foreign player.
With so many injuries killing their season, Shved has given Timberwolves fans something to be pleased about.
15. Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio has struggled since coming back from an ACL injury that cost him just under half of last year and the first portion of this season. Despite the drop-off, Rubio has still dished some jaw-dropping assists. He just needs to play more efficiently and develop any semblance of a jumper.
Before the injury last season, Rubio was averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. This year, with fewer minutes, he's averaging 7.8 points, 6.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds. His turnovers have decreased to 2.7 per game, but they are still too frequent.
Rubio should flourish in this type of game. The fast-breaking and open running lanes should give Rubio plenty of opportunity for highlight-reel passes.
With Team Shaq having both Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, Rubio should get plenty of minutes with Brandon Knight and Isaiah Thomas as the other point guards on his team.
14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has had a very inconsistent rookie year so far. He's shown potential to be a great defender in the league, but the game has also looked too big for him at times. He had a nice middle stretch of the first half, but his recent play has been extremely poor.
Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 9.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Those numbers have been decreasing over the last month and will continue to do so unless the offensively-challenged Kidd-Gilchrist can turn his season around. He hasn't scored 10 points or more in his last 13 games. Only once during that stretch did he have more than six rebounds.
The time off and the Rising Stars Challenge may help Kidd-Gilchrist. He needs to attack the rim more and use his athleticism to manufacture some offense. If he can play well in this game against some weaker defense, it could help build some confidence for the young man.
13. Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
The second of four Cleveland Cavaliers in the game, Waiters has impressed this season and given the Cavaliers a second scoring option at guard behind star point guard Kyrie Irving.
Waiters is inefficient, but is averaging 14.2 points, 3.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds for the Cavaliers this season. His best performance of the season came on Jan. 14 against the Sacramento when he dropped 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting, grabbed five boards and dished two assists.
Waiters will get the added benefit of playing on the same team with Cavaliers teammates Irving and Tyler Zeller. The familiarity among those players should help each player individually as well as Team Shaq as a whole.
12. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
The third overall pick in the draft, Bradley Beal has flashed potential during the first half of his rookie season. While he's missed five recent games with a wrist injury, Beal showed he was figuring out the NBA game during a hot stretch in January. He scored more than 20 points five times in the month before cooling off and then injuring the wrist.
Beal has done well for the Wizards and showed the same ability to score that got him drafted so highly.
He can drive and shoot, and is averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He's shooting 39.3 percent from the floor, including 36.5 percent from the three-point line. As Beal gets more comfortable, it would be nice to see that number go up.
The biggest key for the Wizards is figuring out how to blend Beal with the freshly returned John Wall. Some of Beal's better games came with Wall in the lineup, but he also was lost at times with Wall running the show.
11. Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets
In his second year, Chandler Parsons has really come into his own with the new-look Houston Rockets. He's benefited from the additions of James Harden and Jeremy Lin and improved his all-around play. The trio certainly has Houston heading in the right direction.
Though primarily a shooter, Parsons has improved his stat line in almost all categories. He's scoring 14.5 points on 47.1 percent shooting.
In addition to his scoring contributions, Parsons is getting rugged on the boards and increasing his drives, adding 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He's second on the team in scoring and rebounding and third in assists.
In this game, Parsons' ability to come in and score will certainly help his team. He's surely not an MVP favorite, but if he gets a hot hand, he can definitely change the game.
10. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tristan Thompson has given the Cleveland Cavaliers another young player to be excited about. With Anderson Varejao out of action, Thompson has had a chance to develop and get more attention from the Cavaliers. He's developed well throughout the season, especially in post.
The Cavaliers big man is averaging almost a double-double with 11.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In addition to his high production, Thompson has been incredibly consistent for the Cavaliers. He's scored 10 or more points in each of his last 20 games. In eight of those games, he also added 10 or more rebounds.
These types of all-star games usually showcase more of the guards, but Thompson definitely deserves his spot in the game.
9. Brandon Knight, PG, Detroit Pistons
Brandon Knight has shown a ton of potential during his first season-and-a-half in the league. The only problem is that he hasn't shown an ability to consistently put together nice performances.
Knight's numbers through the All-Star break are fairly strong. He's averaging 13.5 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. The biggest concerns for the Pistons are that his numbers haven't improved much from his rookie season and that the inconsistency has continued.
On Jan. 27, Knight delivered one of his best performances of the season with 31 points on 12-of-16 shooting. While he had no problem scoring, he finished with four rebounds and no assists.
There haven't been many games this season where both numbers are high, and it's still unclear which backcourt position Knight belongs in.
8. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson has been a big part of the Golden State Warriors' surprising success this season. The second-year guard has paired wonderfully with Steph Curry to give the Warriors a strong backcourt. Thompson's shooting ability next to Curry's makes it incredibly hard for opposing defenses to defend the two.
Thompson has built off the success of his rookie season and taken full advantage of his increased opportunities. He's scoring 16.4 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.9 percent from the three-point line. In addition to scoring more, he's improved his rebound, assist and steal numbers.
While his shooting percentage is down, Thompson's all-around game is much better and smoother. He's a candidate to surprise a lot of people in this game and could possibly snatch MVP honors. Last year, Kyrie Irving's three-point shooting that stole the show, but if Thompson gets hot, watch out.
7. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard fits the mold of a San Antonio Spurs player perfectly. He's efficient, scrappy and willing to do whatever it takes to help the team, and he steps up in big moments. In his second year, he's gotten better at scoring and has improved his already strong defense.
In his second year in the league, Leonard has started 34 of the 35 games he's played, helping the Spurs to the league's top record. He's averaging 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Because he missed time early on, Leonard isn't on pace to play the required games to be counted among league leaders, but his 1.8 steals per game would be in the top 10.
Leonard isn't the flashiest player, but he's capable of having some highlight moments. If there is any perimeter defense in this game at all, it's likely to come from the Spur.
6. Nik Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
Nik Vucevic hasn't gotten much attention this season in large part because he plays for the lowly Orlando Magic. Despite their troubles, Vucevic is having a great season. While he's not Dwight Howard, he's given the Magic something in return to be pleased about.
During his rookie year, Vucevic averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in 51 games, including 15 starts. This season, he's started 52 games and upped his averages to 12.4, 11.5 and 1.1, respectively.
Vucevic is a rebounding machine for the Magic. In 10 games this season, Vucevic has collected 15 or more rebounds. He grabbed a franchise-record 29 rebounds in a game against the Miami Heat on New Year's Eve.
He doesn't have the flashiness some of the other players in this game have, but Vucevic is a very solid contributor.
5. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats
Kemba Walker took over starting duties for the Charlotte Bobcats as D.J. Augustin bolted to the Indiana Pacers in the offseason.
Walker hasn't looked back and is starting to look like the player who had tremendous success at the University of Connecticut. He's playing extremely aggressive basketball, despite the Bobcats' NBA-worst 12-40 record.
Walker has helped the Bobcats improve—yes, improve—their record from last year. They won only seven games in the lockout-shortened season, good for a winning percentage of .106. Through the All-Star break, the Bobcats have a .231 winning percentage and already five more wins. Progress.
Part of Walker's success this season is that his scoring has improved dramatically from last season. He's up to 17.2 points per game from last year's 12.1. His shooting percentage has risen from 36.6 percent last year to 42.5 this season.
4. Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Hornets
Anthony Davis has played well this season, despite his Hornets having one of the worst records in the Western Conference at 19-34. The first overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft is still developing his game to fit the NBA level. There are flashes of greatness, but it's still a work in progress.
Davis has put together a decent stat line, averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He's imposing in the post, can drive and shoot, but his frame is still too-slight and injury prone.
The production isn't as high as some other guys on the list, but Davis' potential and bright future are enough to keep him high on the power rankings. Big men usually take longer to adapt to the NBA game, and Davis is figuring that out.
3. Kenneth Faried, SF, Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried just keeps getting better and better for the Denver Nuggets. The power forward came on strong around this time last year with his first significant playing time. Since then, he's become a budding star and has his Nuggets firmly in the playoff race.
Faried is averaging 12.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. His scoring, rebounding, assist and steal numbers are up from last year. He's not shooting as well as last season, but his near-56 percent from the field is very good.
In addition to his nightly boards production, Faried has been extremely consistent while starting every game for the Nuggets. His presence down low has given the Nuggets a well-rounded team that still also fits the fast-paced style they try to play.
2. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
The first pick overall in the Rising Stars Challenge draft, Damian Lillard has burst onto the scene during his rookie year in Portland. The sixth pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Lillard has justified his selection spot and made teams that picked head of the Blazers jealous with his smooth play on the court.
So far this season, Lillard is averaging a heady 18.3 points, 6.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while playing a remarkable 38.4 minutes per game. He's had his struggles this season, but he's shown up in big games.
His two highest-scoring games of the season came on the road against the as-of-now playoff-bound Golden State Warriors (37 points) and the Miami Heat (33 points).
Lillard has pushed the Blazers to a 25-28 record and the ninth seed in the Western Conference. While that doesn't seem all that impressive, this was considered a rebuilding year for the Blazers. Lillard has changed that attitude and has Rip City thinking playoffs with its emerging superstar.
1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving dominated the event last year as a rookie and earned MVP honors, finishing with 34 points and shooting a perfect 8-of-8 from three-point land. He's surely the best player in the game once again this year, as he's only gotten better and more confident during his sophomore season.
Irving's game is much more smooth than it was a year ago, and he's handled more playing time very well. His minutes are up to 35.3 per game from 30.5 minutes a season ago. He's scoring 23.5 points per game this season, up from 18.5 last year. His assists and rebounds have stayed very similar at 5.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Irving is primed to become the next superstar in the NBA. On a nightly basis, it's easy to forget Irving is only in his second season and that he's only 20 years old. Irving's future in the league is incredibly bright going forward.