NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2014: Top Rookies to Watch on Both Teams

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

Michael Carter-Williams leads a strong group of rookies on both sides in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Michael Carter-Williams leads a strong group of rookies on both sides in the Rising Stars Challenge.Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Rising Stars Challenge is a freshmen and sophomores game that features several second-year studs in Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. Retired players and TNT analysts Grant Hill and Chris Webber are the general managers, and they chose up sides. The sophomores have had time in the league to make an impression already, but these are the top-four rookies to watch as Team Hill battles Team Webber. 


When: Friday, Feb. 14, 9 p.m.

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

Watch: TNT

Rising Stars Rosters
Team HillWebber
Damian Lillard (Portland, Soph.) Anthony Davis (New Orleans, Soph.)
Bradley Beal (Washington, Soph.) Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia, Rookie)
Andre Drummond (Detroit, Soph.) Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York, Rookie)
Harrison Barnes (Golden State, Soph.) Trey Burke (Utah, Rookie)
Terrence Jones (Houston, Soph.) Jared Sullinger (Boston, Soph.)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee, Rookie) Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn, Rookie)
Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto, Soph.) Victor Oladipo (Orlando, Rookie)
Dion Waiters (Cleveland, Soph.) Steven Adams (OKC, Rookie)
Miles Plumlee (Phoenix, Soph.)*Kelly Olynyk (Boston, Rookie)
*Replaces injured Pero Antic, Atlanta



Michael Carter-Williams, No. 11 Overall (Syracuse), Philadelphia 76ers, Team Webber


Michael Carter-Williams burst into the NBA with an incredible performance in his first game. MCW nearly put up a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds in the 114-110 win over the Miami Heat on Oct. 30.

It's been mostly downhill for the Sixers since then, but Carter-Williams is getting plenty of playing time on the bright side. Through 42 games, he's posting 17.1 points, 6.5 assist, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals. His shooting has been underwhelming at 39.6 percent from the field and 29.1 percent on three-pointers, but all rookies necessitate a strategic trade-off.

He's a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year, and this will be his chance to shine on a national stage amid the league's best youngsters.



Steven Adams, No. 12 Overall (Pittsburgh), Oklahoma City Thunder, Team Webber


Steven Adams' primary talent will largely be neutralized during the All-Star festivities. In an exhibition game, there is little use for his rugby-inspired skills as an irritant. He has forced four ejections from opposing players and clearly possesses an innate sense for how to get under his opponents' skin. 

Adams was raised in New Zealand as the youngest of 18 children, and he comes from a huge family, literally. His sister Valerie Adams is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the shot put, hence the scrappy play from the new toughest guy in OKC. 

Adams is averaging 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, but he's only getting 14.6 minutes minutes a night off the bench. That should increase with his competition being Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. He's a ton of fun to watch, and he just might bring his hard-nosed play into the Smoothie King Center on Friday night. 



Giannis Antetokounmpo, No. 15 Overall (Greece), Milwaukee Bucks, Team Hill


Giannis Antetokounmpo is still struggling with his consistency, but the 6’9” swingman has flashed a range of skills with a nose for getting to the rim and a knack for cleaning the glass. He’s posting 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24 minutes per game.

The highlight of the rookie's season came on Feb. 3 as the Bucks hosted the New York Knicks. More importantly, Antetokounmpo hosted his family at the game as his Nigerian parents and two brothers watched him play in a live NBA game for the first time after flying in from Greece. He was obviously energized to have his family in the stands and turned in numerous highlight-worthy plays in the 101-98 win.

Feb 3, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA;  Milwaukee Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives past New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith (8) in the 4th quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, when you hear the 19-year-old speak, it's hard not to be charmed by the humble young man. As he told ESPN's Scoop Jackson about adjusting to the NBA: "Yeah, I'm just, you know, cool guy. Just like to live with what I have. I'm in the NBA, and it's not like the NBA is a bad place, it's very nice, but I live how I live last year. Simple, you know? Cool."



Tim Hardaway Jr., No. 24 overall (Michigan), New York Knicks, Team Webber


Chris Webber chose most of the awesome rookies, and Tim Hardaway is one of them. He's averaging 9.2 points per game and put together a string of five double-digit scoring performances through Feb. 1. He's been especially efficient for a rookie by shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 38.5 percent behind the arc. 

As happens with most rookies, his output has been consistently inconsistent, but then again, so have the Knicks. For a franchise with a poor track record in recent drafts, they appear to have struck upon a top talent in Hardaway late in the first round. 

The wheat will be separated from the chaff on Friday night as the league's underclassmen battle it out, and the eventual Rookie of the Year may well prove his dominance.