NBA Rising Stars Challenge 2020: Top Contenders, Predictions for MVP Award

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2020

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) drives ahead of Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Seven of the 10 players chosen in the top five of the last two NBA drafts headline the rosters for the 2020 NBA Rising Stars Challenge. 

The event, which will be held Friday, pits the United States team led by Zion Williamson and Ja Morant versus the World squad headlined by Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton.

The United States roster contains seven lottery selections from the previous two drafts, while the World squad has five players chosen in the upper echelon of the first round. 

While the early draft picks will dominate the buzz going into the exhibition, some of the unheralded stars having impressive seasons could be in the mix for the game's Most Valuable Player award. 


Top Rising Stars MVP Contenders

Ja Morant, PG, Memphis

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Morant is one of the obvious candidates to shine during Friday's showcase event. 

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft has developed into the Rookie of the Year front-runner and also helped turn the Memphis Grizzlies into a playoff contender. 

The Grizzlies enter the All-Star break at 28-24 with a four-game advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. 

Morant produced 20 points in Wednesday's win over the Blazers, and three days before that, he put up 27 points and 10 assists versus the Washington Wizards. 

His ability to distribute puts him at an advantage over other participants in the Rising Stars Challenge because he could create baskets in two different ways. 

Morant could benefit from his chemistry with Memphis teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. and Williamson, who he played AAU ball with. 

The only concern with Morant's MVP candidacy is splitting time with Trae Young at the point, but there is a chance he receives more time on the ball with Young resting up to participate in Sunday's All-Star Game. 


Brandon Clarke, SF, Memphis

Brandon Clarke is one of the other young stars fueling Memphis' success, and he comes into Chicago off a 27-point outing against the Blazers. 

The Canadian forward, who was drafted out of Gonzaga, could achieve success alongside one of his college teammates, Rui Hachimura of the Wizards. 

When the two forwards are on the hardwood, they could open up an advantage for the World squad because of the chemistry they developed while with the Bulldogs. 

Since he can do a bit of everything on offense, Clarke could emerge as a key contributor on a roster that contains three other Canadians.

Clarke is averaging 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 62.3 percent from the field. 

If he banks the momentum from Wednesday's performance, Clarke could be in the MVP discussion Friday. 


Kendrick Nunn, SG, Miami

Kendrick Nunn should fly under the radar ahead of Friday's game due to the star power on both rosters and his recent form. 

The guard out of Oakland University is averaging 15.4 points per game, but he has scored more than 15 points on one occasion since the start of February. 

The 24-year-old shoots 43.9 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three-point range, so he could benefit from the pass masters on the United States roster. 

Between Morant and Young, there should be plenty of assists to go around, and Nunn could provide offensive support off the bench, and he is not too far removed from a string of nine consecutive double-digit performances in January.

Nunn, Devonte' Graham and Eric Paschall might not be the flashiest names on the United States roster, but they could all make an impact and shine among the brightest young players after great starts to the season. 


MVP Prediction

Ja Morant

It is hard to argue against Morant earning MVP honors Friday. 

He has been spectacular for most of his rookie campaign, and the Rising Stars Challenge presents him with another chance to showcase why he is the best first-year player in the NBA. 

With plenty of scorers to distribute to, Morant should easily rack up close to 10 assists while continuing his strong scoring form. 

There are other players who could snag the award, but betting against Morant right now seems like a foolish decision.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com