NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2013: Underrated Youngsters Who Will Shine on Friday
On Friday, the NBA All-Star festivities give fans a glimpse into the future of the game with the Rising Stars Challenge. First- and second-year players will compete in a hotly contested matchup, with the respective teams being led by former superstars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal.
Some of these youngsters stand out as underrated players, though, and will have a chance to showcase their abilities on a bigger stage, surrounded by better talent than they typically play with.
Here is a breakdown of two players from each conference that will shine in what should be a highly entertaining exhibition.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
There isn't much to look forward to playing for the Bobcats, but Walker has shown that he can produce despite a lackluster supporting cast. Charlotte ranks last in the NBA in assists, but Walker leads the way with 5.4 per contest while only turning it over 2.2 times on average.
That's exceptional considering how much ball-handling he does as the team's leading scorer and catalyst at the point guard position.
Walker barely got into this game as the second to last draft pick, which should only add some fuel to the fire. He was a national champion at the University of Connecticut, and has now been somewhat forgotten toiling away for the 12-40 Bobcats.
Isaiah Thomas and Ricky Rubio will be the only ones standing in his way on the perimeter, so Walker should easily take both those players off the dribble.
Combine that with the drive to prove he belongs in this showcase for the second year in a row, and it should lead to Walker being in attack mode
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Not many expected the Warriors to be a factor in the Western Conference, but Mark Jackson's squad is among the biggest surprises of the season so far despite a recent five-game slide.
A lot of that can be attributed to the consistent production Golden State has gotten out of its top scorers, and Thompson is a dead-eye three-point shooter who averages 16.4 points per game.
It's a lot of pressure for a second-year player to be that strong of a contributor after seldom starting as a rookie on a bad team. But Thompson, despite a bit of a dip in shooting percentage, has risen to the occasion.
The first couple months were a struggle. However, since then, Thompson has been very impressive, capping off January with a 45.4 shooting percentage. Also to consider is that he takes nearly seven three-pointers per game, so the fact that he makes nearly 39 percent for the year is incredible.
Thompson can shoot over just about anyone at his position since he is 6'7" and has wonderful technique, and he has all the makings of a star 2-guard for years to come.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
The center has emerged as a double-double machine in a highly impressive 2012-13 campaign, and the only real resistance that Team Shaq will provide comes in the form of Andre Drummond and Tyler Zeller.
Who will win the Rising Stars Challenge MVP?
In other words, Vucevic should have a field day in the post. With a surprisingly versatile arsenal of moves, he has been lighting it up this season to the tune of 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per night.
The seven-footer began his career with the Philadelphia 76ers but didn't quite stick. He was acquired by the Magic in the blockbuster trade with Dwight Howard as the centerpiece.
As it turns out, GM Rob Hennigan got a steal in Vucevic. The stunning improvement the former first-round pick out of USC has made in his second year shows why he was chosen No. 16 overall in the 2011 draft.
Not many are buzzing about Orlando anymore now that Howard is gone, but Vucevic will likely surprise casual observers with a strong showing on Friday for Team Chuck.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
It's a little difficult to be labeled "underrated" as the third overall pick in the most recent draft. However, that is the case with Beal.
The fact that the Wizards are struggling is no secret, but what might be unknown to those who have tuned out one of the NBA's worst teams is how rapidly Beal has been improving. After a nightmarish start to his maiden pro season, the former University of Florida star shot 45 percent in January, including nearly 51 percent from beyond the arc.
That is the type of shooting that garnered comparisons to Ray Allen leading up to the draft, and it mirrors what happened to him in his only year with the Gators.
Beal has definitely benefited from having John Wall return to the fold, and the tandem form one of the most exciting young backcourts in the league. Recently, Beal came off the bench to score a career-high 28 points against the Detroit Pistons, and has seen his rookie stock rise as much as anyone over the past month and a half.
He has been bothered by a wrist injury lately, but that shouldn't stop Beal from standing out, as he seems to have found his stride leading up to the All-Star break. It will be exciting to see him and Thompson go at it on opposite sides and see who can drain the most threes.
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