Before the All-Stars suit up for the weekend finale, the best rookies and second-year players will have it out in the the Rookie-Sophomore game.
Unlike the All-Star starters, these rosters are not affected by sentimental fans (who would most certainly vote in Blake Griffin despite his season-ending surgery).
Here are the players I'd like to see take the court in this battle of youth supremacy.
(If the star-shave hair style didn't give it away, the photo here is of Daniel Gibson (CLE) who won the game's MVP award in 2008 for the victorious sophomores. The second-year teams are 8-2 all-time against the Rookies.)
Rookies: PG Tyreke Evans (SAC)
20.4 PPG / 5.0 APG / 5.0 RPG / 45.3 FG% / 37.3 MPG
For the second season in a row, a Memphis alumnus point guard is making a case to take Rookie of the Year honors. Evans leads all rookies in minutes and points and ranks in the top five in assists and rebounds.
His efficiency from the field is impressive when you consider he has been asked to carry much of the scoring load during Kevin Martin's absence.
Brandon Jennings (MIL)
Rookies: SG James Harden (OKC)
9.8 PPG / 3.2 RPG / 2.2 APG / 79.8 FT% / 22.8 MPG
Last year's PAC-10 Player of the Year isn't having the impactful rookie campaign Thunder execs were looking for. He is showing signs though, with three games of 24+ points and a 14.3 PPG average in games where he plays 25+ minutes.
DeMar DeRozan (TOR)
Rookies: SF Omri Casspi (SAC)
12.5 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 47.3% FG / 42.6% 3FG
The first ever Israeli player in the league is having a nice season despite being overshadowed by Evans. Casspi is shooting well from the field (his 64.3% FT on the other hand...) and has recorded four double-doubles. He also put together a streak of four games with 21+ points earlier this month.
Chase Budinger (HOU)
Rookies: PF Taj Gibson (CHI)
8.5 PPG / 6.1 RPG / 0.9 BPG / 49.6% FG
Picked late in the first round, Gibson has been an effective role player for the struggling Bulls. In addition to averaging about a block per game, he has tallied 8+ points and 8+ rebounds on 11 occasions.
Tyler Hansbrough (IND)
Rookies: C DeJuan Blair (SAS)
7.1 PPG / 6.4 RPG / 55.7% FG / 17.9 MPG
I don't care that Blair is 6'7" or that he is listed as a forward in the media guide, he plays center better than most, well centers (yeah Thabeet, I'm talking to you!).
Keep his minutes in mind when you look at his stats, and remember he is on a veteran Spurs team. If he played, say, 36 minutes a game, and averaged near his current production, he would have credentials that look something like this:
14 PPG / 12 RPG / 4.5 ORPG / 1.2 BPG
Blair has recorded five double-doubles this season and when Duncan was injured, Blair started with three guards and Richard Jefferson and managed to score 28 while pulling in 21 rebounds, 10 of them offensive. Ridiculous. If you haven't seen this guy play yet, check him out, you'll be impressed.
Hasheem Thabeet (MEM)
Sophomores: PG Derrick Rose (CHI)
19.1 PPG / 6.0 APG / 3.8 RPG / 46.3% FG
Derrick Rose took home Rookie of the Year honors with ease last season, en route to a playoff run that ended in the first round, but not before Rose and Co. gave the defending champion Celtics all they could handle in seven games.
While his alma mater is still haunted by the ghost of SATs past, Rose continues to move forward, looking more and more like an elite point guard every game. Now is a great time to be a fan of talented point guards, as the league is flush with them.
Russel Westbrook (OKC)
Sophomores: SG O.J. Mayo (MEM)
18.4 PPG / 3.2 APG / 46.5% FG / 38.2 MPG
Mayo's averages this season are nearly identical in every major statistical category to his numbers last season, with three exceptions: his field goal percentage is up, and his turnovers and personal fouls are down.
Mayo is maturing as a player and keeping his foot on the gas. A few more points and assists per game are well within reach, so don't be surprised if Mayo's "junior" year includes an All-Star appearance.
Anthony Morrow (GSW)
Sophomores: SF Chris Douglas-Roberts (NJN)
14.3 PPG / 4.1 RPG / 84.2% FT / 34.8 MPG
CDR has nearly tripled his minutes as a full-time starter for the pitiful Nets. While the team is certainly on their way back to the lottery, perhaps in record-breaking fashion, Douglas-Roberts has shown that when given the minutes, he can produce.
It's likely he won't start this game though, as the assistant coaches won't be sticklers for true positions like I am (meaning Love and Beasley will start together).
Luc Mbah a Moute (MIL)
Sophomores: PF Kevin Love (MIN)
15.2 PPG / 12.2 RPG / 81.0% FT / 31.2 MPG
Despite missing the first five weeks of the season, Love has more than earned the distinction as the best second year power forward.
He is a double-double machine (17 in 19 starts), has pulled down 15+ rebounds on five occasions, and has improved his per 48 minute averages while taking on more minutes and regular starting duties.
He also improved his FT% and has developed a seldom used, but fairly effective three point shot (38.9%, averaging about 1.5 attempts per game).
Michael Beasley (MIA)
Sophomores: C Brook Lopez (NJN)
19.0 PPG / 9.6 RPG / 2.0 BPG / 84.3% FT
The more talented Lopez has shown he has the tools to make it as a center in this league. In his second season, he is ranked in the top 15 among centers in scoring (fourth), blocks (eighth), and rebounding (15th).
Marc Gasol (MEM)
"Rose, Sophomores outlast Rookies in OT"
That's right! OT, baby! Elton Brand and the Rookies beat the Sophomores in 2000, the only time this exhibition has entered an extra frame (the 1995 game went to OT, but both teams were composed entirely of Rookies).
This time around, Rose will win the MVP award and lead the sophomores to an eighth straight victory in a tight game despite a monster effort from the loaded Rookie back court.
What was his stat line, you ask? Something like 17 points and 12 assists in 30 minutes.