The Rising Stars Challenge has some special appeal this year. The annual exhibition of the top NBA rookies and second-year players will feature two bonafide stars in the Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard and the New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis.
The occasion is special for the latter because the Pelicans are the host for All-Star Weekend. Both Davis and Lillard will be competing in the real All-Star game as well, but Lillard is taking things even further.
He'll be taking part in all five of the All-Star Weekend events (Rising Stars Game, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, Slam-Dunk contest and the All-Star game). This is the first time any player will compete in every event in the same year.
Lillard's agent Aaron Goodwin isn't worried about Lillard exhausting himself doing all five events. Then again, he won't be the one dunking or shooting at least 25 three-point shots.
When asked by Jason Quick of The Oregonian if Lillard would be "worn out," Goodwin said:
Worn out how? What is he doing? Shooting jumpers? Running a line that takes 30 seconds? Makes a couple dunks? I’m sure he would be doing more if he wasn’t an All-Star. My thing was if he feels like he can do it, do it. I’m surprised more super athletes like LeBron haven’t tried it before.
Catching just one leg of Lillard's quintuple feat is worth watching the event alone. Back when the Rising Stars game was first introduced, the top rookies always battled the second-year players.
However, for the last two seasons, former NBA stars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal have drafted teams from a pool of players.
Shaq's squads haven't had much luck. Barkley's teams have won the last two Rising Stars games. This year, Barkley and Shaq are being replaced by Chris Webber and Grant Hill.
Lillard and Davis were their captains top selections. Hill took Lillard and Webber chose Davis.
Here's how the rest of the rosters shook out.
|Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans||Sophomore|
|Michael Carter-Williams||Philadelphia 76ers||Rookie|
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||New York Knicks||Rookie|
|Trey Burke||Utah Jazz||Rookie|
|Jared Sullinger||Boston Celtics||Sophomore|
|Mason Plumlee||Brooklyn Nets||Rookie|
|Victor Oladipo||Orlando Magic||Rookie|
|Steven Adams||Oklahoma City Thunder||Rookie|
|Kelly Olynyk||Boston Celtics||Rookie|
|Damian Lillard||Portland Trail Blazers||Sophomore|
|Bradley Beal||Washington Wizards||Sophomore|
|Andre Drummond||Detroit Pisons||Sophomore|
|Harrison Barnes||Golden State Warriors||Sophomore|
|Terrence Jones||Houston Rockets||Sophomore|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||Milwaukee Bucks||Rookie|
|Jonas Valanciunas||Toronto Raptors||Sophomore|
|Dion Waiters||Cleveland Cavaliers||Sophomore|
|Miles Plumlee||Phoenix Suns||Sophomore|
The Atlanta Hawks Pero Antic was originally selected to play on Team Hill, but an injury forced him out of the game. Per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Suns Miles Plumlee replaced him. He will now be battling his younger brother Mason who is on Team Webber.
#Suns center Miles Plumlee will be in the All-Star weekend's Rising Stars Challenge as a replacement for Atlanta's Pero Antic, who is hurt.— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) February 7, 2014
Per the Phoenix Suns Twitter account, Miles said he and his brother hadn't yet discussed the game, but you can bet the trash talk is coming.
Most of the eligible players having solid seasons that didn't get the call are perimeter players. For that, they can blame the wealth of talent at the guard and small forward positions entering the NBA. It was inevitable, some good players were going to be left out.
A few of the bigs like Olynyk and Mason and Miles Plumlee probably wouldn't have qualified if the crop were tougher for frontcourt positions.
Be that as it may, here are five players who can consider themselves snubbed.
Khris Middleton, SG/SF - Milwaukee Bucks
Watching his teammate Antetokounmpo get the call might have been a little hard for Middleton. The second-year swingman is averaging more points (11.1), almost as many rebounds (4.5 to 4.1) and more assists.
Middleton is having a breakout second season, but he won't be in New Orleans as a participant in any event.
Kendall Marshall, PG - Los Angeles Lakers
It took a season before Marshall found his groove—and system—but now that he's landed in Los Angeles, he's been extremely productive. In 24 games, Marshall is almost averaging a double-double.
His 10.2 points and nine assists per game have been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise glum season for the Lake Show.
Tony Wroten, SG - Philadelphia 76ers
The energetic and effective Sixers reserve is putting up 13 points per game. He's athletic and exciting to watch, but he got no love for his second season in the NBA.
Check him out flushing one in the grill of another second-year player, the Charlotte Bobcats Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Terrence Ross, SG - Toronto Raptors
By far, the biggest snub was Ross.
He's started 32 games for the Raptors, and he's averaging 10.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and knocking down 40 percent of his threes. He even went for 51 points in a game this season against the Los Angeles Clippers in January.
Quite honestly, he deserves to be there more than Waiters.
Though both teams have talented players, the edge has to go to Team Hill. The roster is more balanced with shooters and big men.
It's easy to see Team Webber struggling to make shots from the perimeter. Hardaway Jr. is the only strong three-point shooter on Webber's team.
Team Hill will win this one 140-130.
Who Wins the MVP?
Lillard may not win MVP of the All-Star Game, the Skills Challenge, the dunk contest or the three-point competition, but he should shine on the court with first and second-year players.
He's the smart pick for MVP as he obviously wants to make this weekend his own.
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