By Brian Jackson and Ben Standig
The NBA Rising Stars Challenge previously known as Rookies vs. Sophomores underwent more than a name change. While the All-Star weekend game still includes first- and second-year players, NBA legends Charles Barkley and Shaquille ONeal on Thursday will select players for each team.
Not waiting for (or trusting?) the evaluation skills of Sir Charles and the Shaq Diesel, our own Brian Jackson and Ben Standig put on their general manager hats and drafted all 18 players scheduled to participate in the Feb. 24 game. So, with the No. 1 pick, Brian selects
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers (Team Jackson): Granted he may not play that many minutes since hell be playing with the big boys on Sunday, but how could you not take Griffin No. 1?
John Wall, PG, Wizards (Team Standig): Would I have gone for the Clippers stone-faced dunker with the first pick? Yes, though Im not exactly bitter picking second. I seem to recall last year Wall thriving in this relentlessly fast-breaking, no-bad-shot format, passing his way to the MVP award. Just remember, John, what happens stylistically in the Rising Stars Challenge game stays in the Rising Stars Challenge game.
Bold prediction: The high-riser is on the receiving end of not one, but two alley-oop dunks
Ricky Rubio, PG, Timberwolves (Jackson): With Wall off the board, I have to go with a point guard. Rubio is a better passer than Wall and if he can make the TWolves look good imagine what hell do in this game.
Bold prediction: Will break Walls RookieSoph record of 22 assists
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers (Standig): Though I sort of, kind of prefer the Cavs dynamic rookie over the T'Wolves playmaking Spaniard, I probably should have Rubio on my team if Im channeling David Kahn by taking one point guard after another. With this pairing, Wall might actually receive a return pass.
Derrick Williams, PF, Raptors (Jackson): All-Star games are all about dunks and three-pointers. Williams is easily the best shooter in the draft.
Greg Monroe, PF, Pistons (Standig): Clearly D.C. will love my team now that I added the former Hoyas star along with Wall. Even with two point guards, Monroe might be the best passer on my squad.
Paul George, SF, Pacers (Jackson): Playing in Indiana, George has flown under the radar. I think this game will be his coming-out party.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings (Standig): The combustible big man probably has widest variance between potential performance outcomes. However this turns out, should make for entertaining viewing.
Bold prediction: In this game, Cousins' effort or lack thereof will not get his coach fired.
MarShon Brooks, SG, Nets (Jackson): I sat courtside last winter as Brooks hung 43 points on Georgetown. Ive been a fan every since.
Evan Turner, SF, Sixers (Standig): My Swiss army knife player. Just hoping there are no chemistry issues between Turner and the only player selected ahead of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Wall.
Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats (Jackson): Walker is the perfect sixth man for a game like this. Walker could easily lead all scorers in this game although hes coming off the bench in this scenario.
Bold prediction: Walker will make someone fall with his crossover dribble.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, Spurs (Standig): Sure, hes more defense than offense, but Leonard flushed more than a few open-court dunks during his San Diego State days.
Tristan Thompson, SF, Raptors (Jackson): Thompson is 6 feet 9 with a 38.5-inch vertical leap. That equals a lot of alley-oops from RubioWalker.
Landry Fields, SG, Knicks (Standig): I drafted the owner of the worlds most famous couch:
A) Figuring (hoping) some of the Linsanity vibe rubbed off on him
B) Because the NBA finagles Jeremy Lin into this game. Since the pool of players came out before the Harvard grad took over the NBA, the league gets a pass on not including the Google phenomenon. For NBA commissioner David Stern, it is Winston Wolf time. Solve the problem.
The plan: We all agree that somehow, someway, somebody is going down with an injury, necessitating the need for a sub, which would obviously be Lin. I assume a sophomore must become injured, but this level of distinction seems hardly relevant for such a nationally important matter. Now, Fields is a sophomore. The NBA office is in New York. Fields plays in New York. See where Im going. By hook or by crook, swap out Fields for his fellow Knick and my team becomes LINstantly better.
Markieff Morris, PF, Rockets (Jackson): Since Griffin likely wont play that many minutes, this team will need someone to match up with Cousins. At 6-10, 245 pounds, Morris fits the bill.
Gordon Hayward, SG, Jazz (Standig): With all the passers on his team, Hayward might be the happiest guy in this game, especially if his shot starts resembling his rookie season form.
Brandon Knight, PG, Pistons (Jackson): Knight broke his nose last week and has been playing with a protective mask. Is there any way that this injury prevents him from playing and his replacement is some guy named Jeremy Lin? Maybe thats just wishful thinking on my part.
Tiago Splitter, C, Spurs (Standig): Hardly ideal having two power centers in an All-Star game, but Splitter has dual value; insurance in case Cousins goes off the reservation.