All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge is still comprised of basketball’s 20 brightest rookies and sophomores. Instead of the separate classes facing off or TNT analysts drafting the squads as in years past, though, the event is formatted differently this time around – a team of Americans versus one of international imports. The USA and World Team rosters were announced today, and the foreign-born group is mighty impressive compared to its domestic counterpart.
Below are the rosters courtesy of NBA.com’s John Schumann:
Remember how Team USA absolutely crushed all comers at the FIBA World Cup a few months back? Let’s just say we’re not expecting a similar result on February 13 at Barclays Center.
Andrew Wiggins of Canada and Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece are the game’s biggest names and most promising players. France’s Rudy Gobert and Australia’s Dante Exum – both of the Utah Jazz, of course – are arguably more promising than any member of the American side, and the same could even be said for Germany’s Dennis Schröder and Montenegro’s Nikola Mirotic. The World Team, basically, is stacked.
Victor Oladipo and reigning Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams highlight Team USA, while presence of the Brooklyn Nets’ and Slam Dunk Contest participant Mason Plumlee should excite borough locals. Elfrid Payton is a personal favorite of ours, and the athleticism of Nerlens Noel is certainly well-suited for a ragtag game of this nature.
On the other hand, perhaps the updated stakes might make the youngsters take this game more seriously than their predecessors? Players have national pride, right? Surely, but that doesn’t mean this matchup will be taken seriously. It’s an exhibition, after all, and these guys should be taking advantage by having fun and giving their bodies some relative rest from the regular season grind.
Some rookies and sophomores have no choice but to do exactly that – they weren’t included on the Rising Challenge rosters despite very credible cases.
We’d have selected Marcus Smart over the recently demoted Trey Burke on the US Team, for instance. The Boston Celtics point guard has come on like gangbusters since returning from injury, playing the bulldog defense for which he’s known while knocking down three-pointers with surprising ease. Ben McLemore seems a better choice to us than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, too. The aerial acrobatics of K.J. McDaniels also seem an absolutely ideal fit for this setting, and he’s certainly had a more impressive debut than fellow high-flier Zach LaVine.
For the World Team, either Alex Len or Jusuf Nurkic would have been a better choice than Bojan Bogdanovic based on merit alone. But the Croatian wing plays for the Nets, and the league always tries to reward the host city with participants in the weekend’s events.
But that’s nitpicking. Selection for this event is hardly some accolade we consider for historical relevance once a player’s career is over. Again, this thing is for fun.
And due to the presence of Wiggins, Antetokounmpo, and several of their international teammates, the Rising Stars Challenge is primed to provide plenty of it.
What do you think?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.