The NBA announced Thursday that New Orleans Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli will serve as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton's replacement in the 2020 Rising Stars Game on Friday night (h/t ESPN's Andrew Lopez).
Melli, a 29-year-old Italian, will play for Team World.
Ayton has been playing through his ankle injury and impressed last Saturday in a 117-108 loss to Denver. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick was matched up against two-time All-Star Nikola Jokic:
Duane Rankin @DuaneRankin
“He’s a monster down there. He’s a big guy, he knows how to use his body. He just needs a little bit more experience and he’s going to be great, he’s going to be a really, really great player.” Nikola Jokic on Deandre Ayton, who finished with 28 and 19 (7 offensive boards) #Suns https://t.co/YD0vPixvxK
Ayton's 2019-20 campaign got off to a rough start, though. The 21-year-old played the Suns' regular-season opener against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 23 but did not play again until Dec. 17 while serving a 25-game suspension for violating the league's Anti-Drug Program. He tested positive for a diuretic.
Overall in his sophomore season, Ayton is averaging 18.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks in 33.0 minutes across 23 games (18 starts) for the 22-33 Suns.
Melli, meanwhile, has been a valuable reserve for the Pelicans. He's averaging 6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 15.6 minutes across 42 games (six starts) for 23-31 New Orleans. This is Melli's rookie campaign in the NBA after the Pels signed him to a two-year contract from EuroLeague, where he played for Turkish club Fenerbahce since 2017.
Miami Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro (ankle) was also replaced for the Rising Stars Game by Cleveland Cavaliers 2018 first-round pick Collin Sexton, who will play for Team USA.
Team USA's and Team World's full rosters can be viewed here.
The Rising Stars Game will tip off at 9 p.m. ET Friday from Chicago's United Center. It will serve as an appetizer for the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest Saturday night as well as the 69th NBA All-Star Game Sunday night.