The 5 Best Potential Matchups In The NBA’s Rookie-Sophomore Game

By: 01.23.12  •  10 Comments
Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio (photo. Nicky Woo)

You may not have heard, but there are reports the NBA is going to tweak the format for the Rookie-Sophomore Game at All-Star Weekend. For the previous few seasons, it was always the rookie class vs. the sophomores and while that seems great in theory, sometimes it didn’t work. Last season, the sophomores had one guy – DeJuan Blair – who put in work inside (and he’s undersized). The rookies had DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, and even Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe off the bench. So in order to make it a more interesting game, the NBA is reportedly doing something a little different this year.

HOOPSWORLD writes that there are reports the NBA will nix the whole rookie/sophomore idea and instead go with two teams made up of a combination of first and second-year players. The squads will reportedly be chosen and coached by two TNT personalities: Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Getting past the initial comedy element (Chuck and Shaq could probably only name you five rookies in the whole league), this could turn out to be a great idea. No, they’ll be no imaginary pride factor with each class playing with something to prove. But hopefully, at least in theory, the game should turn out to be more entertaining.

If this does go down, I think it’ll make the weekend’s jayvee game more interesting. Here are five matchups I would love to see.

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Ricky Rubio vs. John Wall
This one’s easy. We already set off the debate here after Rubio went into Washington and put on an Beethoven-esque offensive clinic against Wall, sparking the question about just how good Wall really is. The 2010 No. 1 pick answered the bell, and is once again looking like a future All-Star. In his last five games, Wall is arguably playing better than any guard in the world. That’s not hyperbole either. He’s dropping 24.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks a night while shooting nearly 89 percent from the free-throw line (and that was against Boston, OKC, Philly, Houston and Denver). Think about the matchup like this: Wall had 22 assists in this game last year. Rubio could probably top out at 30.

Blake Griffin vs. Derrick Williams
We aren’t the first to call Williams a mini-Blake Griffin. The explosiveness, the athleticism, the body, the skill set, there are some similarities everywhere. But where they haven’t run parallel is on the court. We know what Griffin did last year. But in his first season, Williams is putting up all of 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Yes, he’s combined with Rubio for one beautiful backdoor lob a night, but expectations were greater coming in. Griffin might slap Williams around for 30 minutes in this setting, but in reality, I just want to see some more of the real Derrick Williams. 19 minutes a night in Minnesota isn’t enough for me.

Iman Shumpert vs. MarShon Brooks
Who’s the better rookie? Take away some of the amazing things we’ve seen from Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving, and you’re looking at possibly the two next-best freshmen (that is if you don’t count Shumpert’s minutes as a point guard, which should’ve never happened as it is). When they matched up in the preseason, I had to watch. Part of it was the hype New York threw Shumpert’s way. But you could tell almost immediately both were players. Shumpert’s already built like a veteran, and Brooks is a slinky. Shumpert isn’t shooting very well (38 percent), but he’s one of the few guys contributing across the board in the Garden. And imagine where the Nets might be without Brooks (15.4 points a night)? He’s the only one standing in the way of a Deron Williams blow up. If Jordan Crawford got picked to play, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll lead the game in long pull-up twos off the bounce.

Kyrie Irving vs. Kemba Walker
As we wrote in Irving’s cover feature in the new issue, there were more than a handful of basketball fans who wanted Walker over Irving in the draft. He was proven. He was a leader. And he could score in any way possible. Now a month into their NBA careers, Irving is having one of the better rookie seasons from a point guard in the last 10 years (just imagine what his numbers would look like if he was getting more than 28 minutes a night). Walker is struggling with his shot (38 percent) and pitching in only 11.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game. But in a setting like this? I think Walker could more than hold his own.

DeMarcus Cousins vs. Greg Monroe
Is Greg Monroe really the best big man from the 2010 Draft class? I’ll be honest, I missed out on Monroe, didn’t think he’d be all that good. Instead, he’s the lone bright spot (15.4 points, 9.4 rebounds) in a Pistons’ organization that has another season on life support. Meanwhile, Cousins is the better rebounder, the bigger body and probably the more talented player. He’s also shooting 44 percent (which actually increased his career numbers), turning the ball over more often and was reportedly one of the primary reasons Paul Westphal was kicked to the curb. As Chuck said recently, “DeMarcus Cousins isn’t good enough to get a coach fired.” Maybe it’s not a question of who’s the better player. Perhaps it’s only about who you would rather have for the next 10 years…

What matchups would you most want to see and why?

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