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NBA All-Star Weekend: Rising Stars Challenge Preview
By Mike Jasko

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend kicks off Friday night, when some of the game’s brightest young stars come together for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. There is a new format for this year’s version, with the NBA adopting a “USA vs. The World” concept. 10 of the best first and second year players from the United States will take on 10 first and second year players with international origins. It is a testament to the increasingly globalized sport that basketball has become, and should be a competitive (as far as exhibitions go) contest. Here is a look at the rosters for both teams and which players I’ll have my eye on to make a name for themselves on a national stage.

Team USA

Trey Burke (Jazz)

The second-year Michigan product has started 41 of 51 games for Utah this season, averaging 12.5 PPG and 4.7 APG.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Pistons)

A second-year shooting guard out of Georgia, Caldwell-Pope has established himself as the starter in Detroit, starting all 53 games thus far. He’s averaging 11.8 PPG and shooting 35% from behind the arc.

Michael Carter-Williams (Sixers)

Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Carter-Williams is averaging 15 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 6.2 RPG for the Sixers this season

Zach LaVine (Timberwolves)

A rookie out of UCLA, LaVine is averaging 7.8 PPG in 21.8 minutes per game

Shabazz Muhammad (Timberwolves)

Muhammad has improved greatly in his second season, averaging 13.9 PPG for Minnesota, up from just 3.9 PPG in his rookie campaign.

Nerlens Noel (Sixers)

Chosen #6 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Noel missed all of last season due to injury, making this his official rookie year. He’s averaging 8.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.6 steals per game, and 1.7 blocks per game this season.

Victor Oladipo (Magic)

The second-year player out of Indiana, Oladipo is averaging 16.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.8 APG for the Magic this season.

Elfrid Payton (Magic)

Oladipo’s new backcourt partner is the rookie Elfrid Payton, who’s averaging 7.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, and 1.4 Steals per game in his first season in Orlando.

Mason Plumlee (Nets)

The second-year player out of Duke is averaging 10.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG for the Nets this season and has become their starter, often over center Brook Lopez.

Cody Zeller (Hornets)

The second-year center out of Indiana is averaging 7.5 PPG for Charlotte this season.

Who to watch for

Oladipo, Plumlee, and LaVine are all slated to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest the day after this game, so I’ll be looking for each of them to give the fans a preview of what’s to come. Oladipo and Carter-Williams are both guys that could take this game over and come away with the MVP. I’ll also be watching for what kind of performance Nerlens Noel will have;  he should also add an array of athletic dunks to offer.

Team World

Steven Adams (Thunder)

Adams is injured and will not play in the game, but he has become the Thunder’s starting center in his second year out of New Zealand and the University of Pittsburgh. He gives the Thunder over a block per game in addition to his 7.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Giannis Antetokoumpo (Bucks)

“The Greek Freak” as he’s known,  just turned 20 in December and is already looking like a formidable force for years to come in the NBA. He’s a 6’11” small forward, having grown 2 inches since his rookie season last year, and is still growing. He’s averaging 12 PPG this season, his second with the Bucks.

Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets)

The 25 year old rookie from Bosnia and Herzegovina has spent much of his rookie season adjusting to the NBA game. He’s averaging 7.6 PPG for the Nets, where he began the season in the starting line-up, but has been coming off the bench more recently.

Gorgui Dieng (Timberwolves)

The former Louisville standout had some fantastic games for Senegal in this past summer’s World Cup, and has built on that with a solid second NBA season thus far. The 6’11’’ center is averaging 9.6 PPG and 8.5 RPG shooting nearly 50% for the T-Wolves this season.

Dante Exum (Jazz)

Utah rookie and Australian International Dante Exum had a underwhelming performance and the World Cup and hasn’t made a major impact for the Jazz yet, only scoring in double-figures 8 times so far this year. He’s averaging 4.8 PPG this season for Utah.

Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

The French International has improved his play in his second season, putting up 7.0 PPG and 7.3 RPG. He’s becoming a prominent stopper inside, and his currently ranked fourth in the NBA with 2.1 Blocks per game.

Nikola Mirotic (Bulls)

The 24-year-old Montenegrin came over to the NBA to join the Bulls after playing for last season’s Euroleague finalist, Real Madrid. He’s averaging 7.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG for the Bulls this season.

Jusuf Nurkic (Nuggets)

Nurkic was named to the World squad after Steven Adam’s injury. He’s taken over for Timofey Mozgov in Denver, now starting and averaging 7.0 PPG and 6.3 RPG for the Nuggets.

Dennis Shroder (Hawks)

The second-year point guard out of Germany is one cog in the Hawks’ machine, but certainly has the makings of an NBA starting point guard. In limited minutes for the East’s best team, he’s averaging 8.5 PPG and 3.5 APG.

Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)

The #1 Pick in last summer’s draft, Andrew Wiggins is shaping up like the likely rookie of the year this season. He’s averaging 15.4 PPG this season for the Timberwolves, and he’s still just 19 years of age.

Who to Watch For

Shroder and Exum are both point guards that should do well in a game like this. They’ll push the tempo, set up fantastic finishes for their teammates. Both of them, particularly Exum are capable of some exciting finishes themselves. Andrew Wiggins and The Greek Freak could dominate this game. The USA squad doesn’t have the athletes on the wing to hand with them. Either of them could win the MVP if their team wins. Antetokoumpo is also participating in the Dunk contest so expect him to get a good warm-up for that in.

My Picks:

Who Wins?

I think the World Squad has a bit more talent, and as I mentioned, Wiggins and Antetokoumpo are liable to run riot. MCG and Oladipo will bring it for the USA team, but I think the World Team will come away the victory.

Who Wins the MVP?

The Greek Freak. Wiggins will be motivated, but I think this Weekend will be a coming out party for Giannis Antetokoumpo, and it will start Friday night with this game.

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