When 17 young basketball players and Pero Antic arrive in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star festivities, they'll be drafted onto two teams and asked to play in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge.
The actual general managers who will be doing the drafting for the Feb. 14 contest have yet to be announced, though the field of eligible players is set. B/R's Dan Favale and I presumably won't be selected as the real GMs for the Rising Stars game, but that's not going to stop us from drafting our own nine-man teams.
Starting with Dan's No. 1 pick, we're tasked with building the most competitive squads from the pool of 18 first- and second-year players. The point isn't to produce the most highlights, entertain the fans as much as possible or give everyone opportunities to shine.
Dan and I want to beat each other, preferably by such a large margin that we're able to knock the other GM down and then step on his throat as the clock winds down toward the final buzzer.
Metaphorically, of course—except for the clock part, since that actually does happen during basketball games.
Take a look at how the selection process unfolded, then let us know who you think comes out on top. There's a comment section for a reason, after all.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Jan. 31.
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 3.3 blocks, 26.8 PER
Assembling a Rising Stars team is like building a franchise from the bottom up.
Of all NBA players, who would you build your organization around first and foremost? LeBron James, obviously. Then Kevin Durant, maybe. Anthony Davis would be my third—possibly second—choice, so of course I snagged him with the No. 1 pick here.
You might not realize it, but he and Harrison Barnes are going to assume makeshift identities. Unlike New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams, I'm going to encourage him to do everything he does now with an extra caveat: shoot more threes, darn it.
Spacing the floor is an underrated strength of The Brow's. Setting up beyond the arc or merely from the free-throw line extended will allow Barnes (and Giannis Antetokounmpo) to attack the paint and post up without clogging lanes and turning the offense into one predictable stagnant clump.
Otherwise, Davis headlines this team for every imaginable reason—shot-blocking, perimeter and interior defense, athleticism, scoring acumen and ability to pull off the one-eyebrow look.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.8 PER
After getting over the initial frustration that Anthony Davis was already gone, Damian Lillard was the extraordinarily easy choice to build my Rising Stars team around.
Here, let's play a quick game.
Which player in the field is the only one to make the actual All-Star squad?
If you answered Mason Plumlee, you seriously need to start paying a little more attention. And if you're just in the wrong place and looking for NASCAR articles, let me help point you in the right direction.
Damian Lillard is the correct answer, and for good reason. Though The Brow certainly should've been selected in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers floor general is a legitimate selection and an incredible source of offensive firepower.
He might not distribute the ball around as effectively as other point guards, but boy can he shoot the ball. Whether spotting up or dropping the rock through the bottom of the net off a pull-up jumper, Lillard is going to light up the scoreboard.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 11.6 PER
There comes a time when every distinguished hypothetical draft participant must admit he didn't select a true shooting guard by mistake—or because of some elaborate and evil plan put into motion by one Adam "Formally Known As Formal" Fromal—and I've arrived there now.
Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't drafted to be my 2-guard, but alas, that's where he's going to end up standing for the opening tip.
At 6'9", with a ridiculous 7'3" wingspan that allows him to hug buildings and rescue kittens stranded in red oaks without using a ladder or passenger-friendly aircraft of some kind, Antetokounmpo isn't your typical shooting guard. But I don't care.
Superior lateral quickness and solid handles allow him to play the 2. He'll also be the only guard in this game blocking shots. His distance shooting is not what I would like it to be—especially alongside Michael Carter-Williams—but good luck defending this backcourt duo.
Transition alley-oops all day—and night. Surrounded by some floor-spacing forwards, they'll be just fine.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.4 PER
Pick-and-roll finishes all day. Show-stopping dunks in transition. Quick hands and feet on defense. Immense rebounding skills.
Andre Drummond has everything that you could ask for in a center, with the not-so-small exception of offensive skills that allow him to create looks for himself. Of course, that's not too necessary on this team, since Drummond will be allowed to focus on his strengths while surrounded by shooters.
If he doesn't finish with at least double digits in the rebounding column, this team is going to lose.
But fear not, because that's almost a sure thing. Hell, we're going to be lofting up so many shots from the perimeter that he might hit 10 on the offensive end of the court alone.
Dan Feldman of PistonPowered.com wrote that he considered Drummond an All-Star snub, as he would've taken the Detroit Pistons center over Paul Millsap, DeMar DeRozan and Joe Johnson. Well, it's time for him to prove it on the big stage.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 17.2 PER
With Damian Lillard off the board, I had no choice, and I was perfectly fine with that.
Michael Carter-Williams cannot shoot well for a point guard, but this team doesn't need him to. With the way he's been passing, rebounding and forcing turnovers, his limited range is hardly a detriment.
The size advantage he has for a point man is pretty incredible, too. It's made him a tough cover for both 1- and 2-guards and even some small forwards. Playing him pays off through the mismatches he creates alone.
Also, putting the offensive keys in the hands of the NBA's most impressive rookie—when that rookie is a floor general by craft—is never a bad decision.
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 14.7 PER
Jonas Valanciunas really hasn't broken out during his sophomore year like so many expected, but that doesn't make him less valuable in a game featuring only first- and second-year players.
The Toronto Raptors big man already does quite a few things remarkably well.
He's a great help defender with burgeoning skills stopping post moves. He's a solid rebounder (which is a big improvement from when he entered the NBA), and his back-to-the-basket scoring has taken serious strides throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
Not only does Valanciunas get everyone north of the border rooting for our Rising Stars team, but he's also going to be a consistent contributor on offense. Running the pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard, as well as setting double screens on the perimeter with Andre Drummond, J.V. will leave Dan's team in a constant state of confusion.
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 9.9 PER
How about we all just tacitly agree this Rising Stars team is going to light it up in transition?
Harrison Barnes is having a so-so season, but he's still a valuable scorer as someone who can get out on the break, post up wing defenders, attack off the dribble and drill spot-up threes.
Usually, I'm more inclined to see him play power forward, but in a shallow guard pool, I decided to roll the dice. Next to Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo, I envision him being the beneficiary of unrelenting drive-and-kicks.
Naturally, this is something to get genuinely excited about.
Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.4 PER
It's time to stock up on some shooting.
Bradley Beal is only 20 years old, but he's already established himself as one of the better snipers in the business.
After knocking down 38.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc during his rookie season, Beal has gotten even better during his second go-round with the Washington Wizards. The rest of his development has stagnated, but he's making 42.2 percent of his three-point tries and lofting up 4.8 downtown attempts per game.
According to Basketball-Reference, only six times has a player 20 years old or younger attempted four triples per game and made them at a 38 percent clip or better:
- Mike Miller, 2000-01
- Eric Gordon, 2008-09
- Brandon Knight, 2011-12
- Kyrie Irving, 2012-13
- Bradley Beal, 2012-13
- Bradley Beal, 2013-14
Yep, I'll take the only guy who's done it twice—especially when, of the six eligible seasons, he has the most attempts per game and the highest percentage during this current season.
Team: Boston Celtics
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.5 PER
Far be it from me to pass on the Kevin Love of the Eastern Conference, even if he's going to be coming off the bench in favor of a monstrously large starting lineup.
Jared Sullinger isn't your ideal stretch 4 yet, but he's getting there. His three-point shot is a work in progress, but he can still score from anywhere.
Slowly, surely, he's also shedding that "doesn't play above the rim" label he entered the league with. The back seems fine, and while you won't find him throwing down windmills, he's been waging more rim assaults than usual.
Toss in his ability to corral rebounds and secure those 50-50 balls, and he'll be fun to watch on a team like this.
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.4 PER
Are we done adding shooting yet?
Of course not.
When you have a frontcourt comprised of Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond, it makes sense to fill the rest of your starting five with players who are perfectly comfortable taking and making triples. Maybe it's just J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and the rest of the New York Knicks providing a weird reference point, but Tim Hardaway Jr. has sure seemed like a stellar shooter during his rookie season.
To the numbers!
41.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc? 3.6 attempts per game?
I'm convinced. Welcome to the team, Tim!
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 12.8 PER
Steven Adams remains one of the most underrated prospects in the NBA. I personally love 7-footers with a scoring touch, and that's just what Adams is.
Early on, he reminds me of Andrea Bargnani—except he can rebound...and block shots in volume...and defend in general. So, really, he doesn't remind me of Bargs.
There's isn't another center better suited to complement Anthony Davis. They can play a nice little inside-out game, and I'm not totally opposed to implementing the incredibly entertaining, always-rare power forward and center pick-and-roll combo.
Hear that? It's what a winning starting lineup sounds like.
Team: Utah Jazz
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.1 PER
We're bringing something new to the Rising Stars game.
Forget about those show-stopping dunks, flashy dribbling moves and fancy passes. It's going to be all about the pull-up bank shot when Trey Burke enters the game to replace Damian Lillard. After all, it's one of his signature moves, as he told The Salt Lake Tribune's Steve Luhm:
It's been one of my sweet-spot shots since I was young. Every time I get to the elbow—coming off a screen or in transition—that's kind of my guide to making that basket. Hitting the ball off the backboard is something I've always practiced.
Whatever works, right?
Burke might only be a rookie, but he already has the Utah Jazz winning games. With the first-year 1-guard in the lineup, the Jazz have gone 15-18. Without him, Utah has been a putrid 1-11.
Hey, if he can help the Western Conference bottom feeders win games at a much higher rate, he'll certainly be an asset for our squad.
Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks, 13.2 PER
Victor Oladipo gives this team options.
If, for some reason, the starting lineup isn't meshing together, you replace Steven Adams with him and run small. As a combo guard who can lock down both backcourt positions, reserve guards won't get much better, especially during their rookie year.
Shooting remains a concern of mine, but again, he's not incapable of knocking down threes. His incisive dribble-drives should also create plenty of opportunities for trailers and anyone in the vicinity of the basket.
Did I mention seeing him play alongside Michael Carter-Williams for long spurts is also something I not-so-secretly dream about? No? Well I do, because it has the potential to be awesome.
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.5 PER
Dion Waiters has been on the board for long enough.
Unlike Mike Brown, who seems blissfully ignorant to the fact that the 22-year-old shooting guard has been a negative offensive contributor, I'm actually going to exert my authority and bench Waiters if he starts missing shots with reckless abandon.
The Syracuse product really is a dynamic offensive talent. He plays with unabashed confidence and does a tremendous job attacking the rim, especially when he's playing in transition.
Now we're going to make him a valuable asset off the bench simply by limiting him to his strengths. One hint of the wrong style, and his experience in the Rising Stars game is over.
I firmly believe Waiters can still make good on his upside, but only if he plays the right type of basketball. He will here, work in Cleveland be damned.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.4 blocks, 18.5 PER
To answer your question, yes, I wanted all the lanky forwards.
Terrence Jones has been sensational for the Houston Rockets this year, and I didn't think twice about bringing him in.
Though not the best shooter, he does space the floor. More importantly, he's shown he can create his own offense with ease and has been a semi-bright defensive spot on a dark-and-dreary defensive team.
Be careful not to let him into the open, either. If you do, you're liable to get burned.
In fact, I'm counting on our opponents getting burned.
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 12.4 PER
Pero Antic has absolutely shocked the world during his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks.
Well, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but he's at least been better than expected. The 31-year-old Macedonian big man has even started a few games and stretched the court out with his jumper and three-point stroke.
In a lot of ways, he plays like a poor man's Carlos Boozer.
Last I checked, Boozer was more eligible for the Declining Stars team than the Rising Stars version, so Antic will have to do.
Be prepared for lots of well-rounded antics from the power forward whenever he comes off the bench. He's averaged 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during January while shooting 49.2 percent from the field, and our team certainly wouldn't mind that type of contribution.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 16.1 PER
Because every team needs a Plumlee, am I right?
Somewhat quietly, Mason Plumlee has been solid for the Brooklyn Nets. I mean, his per-36-minute totals are sexy.
Ideally, I wouldn't have someone so raw rounding out the roster, but hey, he's shown he can play off the ball, which is what this team needs.
Don't expect him to be anything more than a defensive enforcer and alley-oop recipient. Think of a poorer-than-poor man's Tyson Chandler, and we'll all be on the same page.
Team: Boston Celtics
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 12.2 PER
There are two reasons I selected Kelly Olynyk with the final pick of the draft.
First, it was all about those flowing locks.
Since Dan had hair power stemming from Anthony Davis' unibrow, I decided to cancel it out with the Boston Celtics big man's luscious golden mane. Between that and the impressive beards of Andre Drummond and Pero Antic, I think I've taken the lead in the follicular category.
But that's not the only reason for the Olynyk selection.
He's the only player left, so I kind of had to take him. Much as I would've loved to draft John Henson, Terrence Ross, Miles Plumlee, Mike Scott or one of the other players who were inexplicably omitted from the selection pool, Olynyk is all mine.
The 22-year-old rookie's offensive talent hasn't translated seamlessly to the NBA, but it sure would be nice for him to have his breakout performance against Dan's squad.
Point Guard: Damian Lillard, Trey Burke
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters
Small Forward: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Power Forward: Jonas Valanciunas, Pero Antic, Kelly Olynyk
Center: Andre Drummond
Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams
Shooting Guard: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes
Power Forward: Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones
Center: Steven Adams, Mason Plumlee
Make sure to let us know whose team would come up victorious in this Rising Stars battle!