NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2013: Players Helped Most by Strong Performances

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 15:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Team Shaq smiles in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge 2013 part of the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Toyota Center on February 15, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The 2013 NBA Rising Stars Challenge did not disappoint as fans were treated to fantastic displays of talent from the most promising young players in the league.

Kyrie Irving came very close to repeating his MVP performance of last year. He finished with 32 points, six assists and six rebounds. A stretch in the second half in particular from the second-year star was a thrill to watch. He put Brandon Knight on the floor twice with wicked crossovers.

Stuck with a young team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving hasn't had the chance to really display his talent to a nationwide audience that often. Anybody who didn't realize he's the most promising point guard in the league had to figure it out after Friday night's action.

Along with Irving, the game offered some players their first chance to get national recognition. Here are three other players who really benefited from putting on a very good display.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

One man managed to outplay Irving on the court, and that man was Kenneth Faried. He took home the MVP honors on the strength of a 40-point, 10-rebound performance. On quite a few occasions, it was Faried who was throwing down some ferocious dunks that made the crowd in Houston gasp.

He was strong at both ends of the floor as he was one of the few players who actually chose to exert some effort on defense. It was Faried who continued to challenge some dunks, even though All-Star Games are nothing more than dunking exhibitions.

That's exactly what the Denver Nuggets forward got in the final minutes as the players stood around and gave him an open path to the basket.

Faried was definitely the biggest talking point of what was a fun game of basketball.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

Despite their poor record, there's plenty of reason for optimism in Cleveland. The Cavs had four players in the Rising Stars Challenge—Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. Thompson was selected three picks after Irving in the 2011 draft, helping to set the Cavs up for the future.

Thompson's style doesn't lend itself well to highlight reels. He does a lot of the dirty work under the boards without putting up gaudy numbers. The Rising Stars Challenge was one of the rare occasions where he could manage to score easily.

The forward finished with a double-double, recording 20 points and 10 rebounds. Unlike his teammate, Waiters, who scored 23 points, Thompson wasn't given easy points toward the end of the game. He had to work, or at least whatever the All-Star equivalent is of working, for his shots.

Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings

Isaiah Thomas continues to show himself as one of the bigger steals of the 2011 draft. The Sacramento Kings guard was the very last player selected that year. Being stuck in the purgatory that is the Kings hasn't done much to bolster Thomas' credentials, but he showed up for the Rising Stars Challenge.

Thomas finished with 18 points and 10 assists. His plus-minus rating of plus-30 was the highest in the game, so clearly Team Chuck was at its best when Thomas was on the floor. He also managed to maintain fairly efficient as well, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from behind the three-point line.

If Sacramento can get its problems behind the scenes resolved, it could be one of a playoff team in a few years. Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins give Kings fans hope for the team no matter where it is playing.