Jeremy Lin's ascension to NBA stardom has caught everyone by surprise, including the league office. It didn't have the chance to include him in any All-Star Weekend events that made sense, so it changed the rules around. That's why, on Thursday, Lin was named not only as a passer in the dunk contest for teammate Iman Shumpert, but as a participant in the Rising Stars Challenge, too. With rosters announced last week, when Lin was just starting to become a story, the NBA stepped in and added him and Miami Heat guard Norris Cole to the mix right before "general managers" Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley. Lin went third-overall (Shaq's second pick), right after Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving (see full rosters here). It's a crazy turn of events for a guy who was close to out of the league a few weeks ago, but it's also the new normal for Lin.
Kudos to the league for getting it done. All-Star Weekend is often discussed as if it were primarily intended as a merit-based reward for players, but it's more sensible to think of it as a showcase for everything that makes the NBA interesting. Including Lin, even if he's a relatively recent phenomenon, just makes sense now that he's the top story in the league. There's a reason the Oscars always try to get George Clooney and Brad Pitt involved in the show even when they're not nominated.
Beyond Lin, Thursday night's Rising Stars draft took on an experimental air. After the jump, check out a few more interesting ideas from the NBA TV broadcast.
The draft concept as a whole seemed to be a test to see if it could work for the big All-Star game. The NHL has had success the past two years having two captains choose the teams, and it stands to reason that the idea of two great players picking their own squads has enough inherent drama to be exciting no matter who's involved. Pitting Kobe Bryant and LeBron James against each other, or having a situation in which teammates played on separate teams, would give the game another layer of interest beyond the spectacle of the best players in the world making a few amazing plays in an exhibition atmosphere. Thursday's draft obviously had fairly low stakes, with two analysts picking teams and a pool of young players instead of the league's best, but it produced its fair share of interesting moments. John Wall lasted to the 11th pick, behind Markieff Morris and MarShon Brooks, which speaks to the stink that accompanies anyone associated with the wretched Wizards. And, yes, Lin over Rubio says something about which media-favorite point guard now commands more attention around the country.
Plus, while it would've been more fun to see, say, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving choose their own teams, the structure worked. Both Shaq and Chuck have plenty of personality, and their opinions about the way the game should be played came through in their picks. Team Shaq, full of highlight-factory workers like Griffin, Lin and Rubio reflects the Big LCD's love of pizzazz and showmanship. Barkley, on the other hand, opted for less showy effectiveness in the form of Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George. Those guys are capable of thrilling the crowd, especially in a loose game like this one, but they reflect Sir Charles' belief in height and steady play winning out. Whether or not those traits matter whatsoever in the Rising Stars Challenge remains to be seen — they certainly haven't in the past. Nevertheless, the personalities came through, and the same could be true of guys like Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant in the same situation (or, for that matter, a guard like Chris Paul and a big man like Howard).
The quality of the game is ultimately what matters, and if the players look disjointed and Shaq and Barkley barely pay attention to their teams then the idea might not be long for this world. Then again, that situation would be remarkably similar to the old game. If the new version provides nothing more than an interesting run-up to the game itself, then it'll still be an improvement. This idea has promise. If the NBA let's it grow, without squeezing the life out of it as they did with HORSE, then we could have something exciting.
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