After the Sprint Celebrity Game kicks off All-Star weekend tonight, the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will tip off at 9 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
This year will be the first year of a new format for the challenge. The past few years, the game has pitted teams mixed of rookies and sophomores facing off against each other, but this year will feature a Team USA vs. Team World format.
Team USA is compiled of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Pistons), Trey Burke (Jazz), Mason Plumlee (Nets), Cody Zeller (Hornets), Robert Covington & Nerlens Noel (76ers), Zach LaVine & Shabazz Muhammad (Timberwolves) and Victor Oladipo & Elfrid Payton (Magic).
Team World is compiled of Giannis Anteokounmpo (Bucks), Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets), Matthew Dellavedova (Cavs), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets), Dennis Schroder (Hawks), Gorgui Dieng & Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves) and Dante Exum & Rudy Gobert (Jazz).
What to Watch For:
For Team USA, three names to watch are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Zach LaVine and Victor Oladipo. The Rising Stars was made for players like these: gunners and high-flyers. Caldwell-Pope, while a competent defender, has been known for high-volume three-point shooting this year. In a game where defense is the least of people’s worry and it’s all about buckets, don’t be shocked if Caldwell-Pope chucks up 15+ threes. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s an All-Star game so it’s completely reasonable.
LaVine and Oladipo, on the other hand, aren’t exactly known for their shooting, but they are known for their crazy athleticism. LaVine is the heavy favorite in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest that will take place Saturday night, while Oladipo is established as a darkhorse..
Both have put up crazy in-game dunks this year as Oladipo is most remembered for his 360 degree dunk against the Rockets, and LaVine is most remembered for his crazy display of athleticism at the Seattle Pro Am over this past summer.
In a game where defense is essentially nonexistent, expect big games and eye-opening highlights from these three Team USA teammates.
For Team World, all eyes will be on “The Greek Freak” and Andrew Wiggins. Giannis Antetokounmpo is in his second year with the Bucks and is already one of the most exciting players in the league. At only 20 years old, and having grown 2-inches since entering in the league, the sky seems to be the limit for for Antetokounmpo. Also a Sprite Slam Dunk Contest participant, Giannis will flourish in a game where he can display his athleticism with no worry about winning the game. And who knows, if were lucky, maybe we’ll see another windmill like the one he had earlier this year against the Blazers.
Wiggins was the number one pick of the Cavs before being traded to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love. As with most of these young guys, Wiggins is an absolute athletic freak and is currently the heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year. While he isn’t participating in the Dunk Contest, it wouldn’t shock anybody if Wiggins threw down a few rim shattering dunks during the Rising Stars Challenge.
The bottom line, though, is that this game is all about highlights. Two years ago we had an incredibly entertaining back and forth between Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight. Last year, we had Tim Hardaway Jr. going head-to-head with Dion Waiters. Who knows what will happen this year. With the amount of athleticism on display it’s hard to imagine a scenario where there aren’t a handful of must-see plays from this game come Saturday morning.