With the NBA All-Star Weekend just over two weeks away, rosters have been unveiled for the Rising Stars Challenge, which pits stars with less than two full years of experience against each other in a Team USA vs. Team World exhibition.
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today provided the rosters, which are headlined by defending NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis on the World side and this year's top two draft picks, Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, for the United States.
Rosters for Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend in Toronto: pic.twitter.com/UWj1m6feZM— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) January 27, 2016
This is the second year in which the NBA has gone with a USA vs. World format for the Rising Stars Challenge. It used to be a rookies vs. sophomores game, and Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald felt the change may have hurt some players hoping to get involved:
Heat shut out of Rising Stars challenge. Winslow & Tyler Johnson both hoped to go. Hurt by switch to U.S./World, instead of rookies/sophs.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 27, 2016
Even with the absence of marquee rookies like Justise Winslow, it's hard to argue with the talent pool headed to Toronto for the Feb. 12 showcase.
Towns' stellar debut season has gotten lost in the shuffle because Minnesota has been so bad, but he's nearly averaging a double-double with 16.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. The former Kentucky star ranks 20th among all players this season in player efficiency rating, so he deserves a big stage.
Porzingis has cooled down over the last two months since his hot start, but there's still enough potential for the 20-year-old to build on that his spot is easily warranted. The Philadelphia 76ers big men are well-represented, with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor both on the U.S. roster.
Since the NBA has become a huge global sport, the transition to a U.S. vs. World format for the Rising Stars Challenge gives more room to a diverse group of players. These aren't the sport's biggest stars yet, but they are going to play a huge role in the future of basketball.
Putting them on a pedestal 48 hours before the All-Star Game is an excellent marketing showcase where future stars will be made.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.