NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2014: Unheralded Guys Who Will Shine in Showcase Game

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IIFebruary 12, 2014

Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to make the most of his Rising Stars invite.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to make the most of his Rising Stars invite.Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard headline the 2014 NBA Rising Stars Challenge teams, but some lesser-known youngsters are poised to earn some national exposure.

This game is tailor-made for exciting neophytes to dazzle a broader base of fans. Between the expanded audience and the laissez-faire approach to defensive fundamentals, rookies and sophomores normally used as role players will be unleashed to maximize their abilities.

Not all the breakout players will be the offense-first guys you'd expect, though.

Last year, Kenneth Faried exploded for 40 points due to his relentless approach to the game, constantly attacking the basket with abandon. In a game where the spirit of competition is an afterthought, putting forth effort can put a guy in position to engender himself to an outsize audience.

Team Webber Selection Order
1Anthony DavisNew Orleans Pelicans
2Michael Carter-WilliamsPhiladelphia 76ers
3Tim Hardaway Jr.New York Knicks
4Trey BurkeUtah Jazz
5Jared SullingerBoston Celtics
6Mason PlumleeBrooklyn Nets
7Victor OladipoOrlando Magic
DrawSteven AdamsOklahoma City Thunder
DrawKelly OlynykBoston Celtics
TNT Broadcast
Team Hill Selection Order
1Damian LillardPortland Trail Blazers
2Bradley BealWashington Wizards
3Andre DrummondDetroit Pisons
4Harrison BarnesGolden State Warriors
5Terrence JonesHouston Rockets
6Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks
7Jonas ValanciunasToronto Raptors
DrawDion WaitersCleveland Cavaliers
DrawPero AnticAtlanta Hawks
TNT Broadcast

Bradley Beal

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 28: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards while facing the Golden State Warriors on January 28, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using t
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Though he's known as the second fiddle to John Wall on the Washington Wizards, no one can say just how much Bradley Beal is capable of accomplishing under these playing conditions.

He's getting his 17.0 points per game on just 41.6 percent shooting from the field, but that's in part because of pesky things like rim protectors and on-ball defense limiting his off-the-bounce production. Beal is hitting 43.1 percent of his threes, taking advantage of better space and balance on more spot-up attempts, which are bolstering his scoring.

But make no mistake: The dude loves to shoot, and a silly concept like inefficiency won't dissuade him when he gets the opportunity to try for more points.

Beal is averaging 16 field-goal attempts under regular basketball conditions, so just imagine how many shots he's going to put up when All-Star weekend dials the defensive attentiveness down to zero.

In New Orleans, he's going to have the green light to go up as often as he'd like—neither his coach nor his opposition will stop him. Kevin Durant's record 46 points in a Rising Stars Challenge could be under assault just due to Beal's penchant for shooting in volume.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Feb 7, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (5) dunks against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks won the game 117-90. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sport
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to come as a shock, but Tim Hardaway Jr., a rookie developing as a member of the New York Knicks, does not have the greatest basketball IQ at this point in time.

In terms of the basic decision-making that would allow a talented basketball player to execute cleanly, Hardaway Jr. is wanting. He'll frequently get lost on the defensive side of the ball and he's overzealous with his shot selection to the point of being detrimental.

But the young man makes up for his mental shortcomings with one of the most graceful games in the NBA today.

The beauty of Tim Hardaway Jr. on the court is deceptive; he's not a great athlete, but put him in space and he'll glide toward the basket and rise up for a dunk as though he's not even exerting himself. He sees every opportunity to make a spectacular play you wouldn't expect he'd be capable of making, and he proves you wrong time and time again.

In New Orleans, he'll have nothing but space to work with. So shot selection be damned, Hardaway Jr. is going to put on a show.

Victor Oladipo

Feb 9, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic shooting guard Victor Oladipo (5) reacts after he shoots a three pointer against the Indiana Pacers during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Indiana Pacers 93-92. Mandatory Credit: Kim
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The best example of how little on-ball defense is considered in the Rising Stars Challenge: Victor Oladipo went in the seventh round of Grant Hill and Chris Webber's draft.

Sure, he's still learning how to operate as a distributor and doesn't excel at shot-making the way a Beal or a Hardaway Jr. might, but Oladipo is still a dynamic player with the ball in his hands. At the very least, Oladipo can make plays if no one is checking his penetration.

Perhaps his defensive reputation overshadowed Oladipo's offensive ability, but he certainly is a stopper first. In fact, he's good enough on the defensive end that he'll still be able to make an impact on that end and electrifying the crowd at the same time.

Oladipo is going to feast on lazy passes, generating fast break after fast break whenever a Team Hill player lazes in initiating the offense. Whether he caps those plays off with alley-oop passes or flushes of his own, Oladipo is going to remind everyone why defense can be fun, too.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 8:  Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts with Nate Wolters,right, as they visit veterans as part of the NBA Cares Hoops for Troops program on  November 8, 2013 at Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee,
Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images

In case you don't know anything more about Giannis Antetokounmpo than that he's a freakish athlete with a wingspan as long as his surname, let's let the 19-year-old speak for himself:

It's pretty safe to say he's the most joyful player in the Association, and he's got enough energy to make the moribund Milwaukee Bucks interesting when he's on the floor. He'll use his physical gifts to guard three different positions, make hustle plays and slash toward the rim.

Just don't tell him this game doesn't matter; Giannis is too bright-eyed to represent his team on the floor and give anything less than his all.

He's going to provide an unexpected spark to the Rising Stars Challenge just by trying and delighting in the game. For the Smoothie King Center crowd and fans everywhere, he'll be a blessing. 


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