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Rising Stars Challenge takes place Friday night
By: Sam Chase - StatFox
Published: 2/17/2017  at  12:31:00 PM
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BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge: United States vs. World
Friday, Feb. 17 at 9:00 pm ET - Smoothie King Center, New Orleans
Line: N/A

The NBA’s young stars and some other random young players will go at it on Friday night.

For the third year of the Rising Stars Challenge’s United States vs. World format, the NBA’s most talented young players will take to the court in the Mecca of all things basketball, the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Last year’s edition was a tight and (obviously) high-scoring affair, as the youngsters of the U.S. team took down their international counterparts by a 157-154 final score. Then-second-year SG Zach LaVine of the Timberwolves took home the greatest individual honor in all of professional sports, the game’s MVP award, by leading the victorious team in scoring with 30 points on the night. Lakers SG Jordan Clarkson scored 25, while Suns SG Devin Booker and Lakers PG D’Angelo Russell also topped 20 points for the victors. For the World team, Nuggets PF Emmanuel Mudiay and Knicks PF Kristaps Porzingis each scored 30, and Timberwolves SF Andrew Wiggins poured in 29. Over the last five years, the average combined scores of the two teams in the Rising Stars Challenge has been just under 280 points. Last year’s 311 were the most points scored in the game’s last five outings, while the 233 scored in 2015 were the fewest. The average margin of victory in those five games was 13.4 points, a number drastically thrown off by a 28-point win by “Team Chuck” over “Team Shaq” in 2013. 76ers C Joel Embiid, one of the Rising-est of the league’s Rising Stars, will miss the game with a left knee injury.

The United States team features four sophomores who played in the Rising Stars Challenge as rookies last season: Booker (21.1 PPG, 3.2 APG), Russell (14.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.7 APG), Philadelphia C Jahlil Okafor (11.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and Minnesota C Karl-Anthony Towns (23.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG). As evidenced by their performances last season, the fast-paced style of play preferred by Booker and Russell lends itself well to the defense-optional ethos of all-star games. Towns should thrive, too, as only two players on Team USA took more shots than him in last year’s game. He had 18 points and seven rebounds. Okafor has fallen completely out of favor in Philadelphia, and it will be interesting to see if and how that manifests itself in his minutes and treatment by teammates this weekend. His plodding, post move-heavy play doesn’t lend itself to fast-paced basketball, but he managed 13 points last year. U.S. sophomores new to the game this year are Charlotte C Frank Kaminsky (10.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG), San Antonio SG Jonathon Simmons (6.4 PPG) and Indiana C Myles Turner (15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.1 BPG). Turner is the best player of the three, but Simmons probably has the most potential to shine in an exhibition setting. The team’s rookies are Milwaukee PG Malcolm Brogdon (9.4 PPG, 4.2 APG, 1.2 SPG), Suns PF Marquese Chriss (7.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG) and Lakers SF Brandon Ingram (8.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG). It’s a rather underwhelming cast of rooks, to be honest. Brogdon is the most polished, while Chriss is the most athletic.

Team World also returns four sophomores from last year’s roster: Denver C Nikola Jokic (16.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.3 APG), Mudiay (11.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.2 APG), Porzingis (18.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG) and Utah PF Trey Lyles (7.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG). Porzingis is an ideal exhibition player between his size and his shooting range, and Mudiay’s worst flaws—turnovers and poor shooting—don’t really matter in this setting. Jokic had 12 points and eight boards in last year’s game, but will likely have a bigger role as probably the best player on the World team this season. Lyles played just over 12 minutes last year, the fewest of anyone in the game, and scored two points. The only sophomore new to the World roster this year is Utah SG Dante Exum (6.2 PPG). He was drafted in 2014 but missed his entire second year to an injury. He didn’t make an impact before that and hasn’t made an impact since, so it’s a little odd that he got an invite. He played in the 2015 game and scored four points. Rookies on Team World are SG Buddy Hield (8.6 PPG), Denver SG Jamal Murray (8.9 PPG), Oklahoma City PF Domantas Sabonis (6.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Philadelphia SF Dario Saric (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG), New York C Willy Hernangomez (6.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Oklahoma City SG Alex Abrines (5.4 PPG), who was selected to replace Embiid. Hield and Murray should get plenty of opportunities to launch shots from deep, but it’s unclear how the rest of this group fits into the traditional up-tempo style of this game.

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