For the second consecutive season, "general managers" Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley selected the teams for All Star Weekend's BBVA Rising Stars Challenge from a pool of 20 players. Much like the first try in 2012, the draft was a good idea not necessarily carried out in the best way.
First, though, let's run down the teams. The draft took place with alternating selections from both TNT analysts, with O'Neal choosing first. He opted to pick Portland Trail Blazers point guard and likely Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, which was surprising considering that Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Kyrie Irving was pretty obviously the best player on the board. Barkley did not take the opening, however, instead picking New Orleans Hornets rookie big man Anthony Davis. As we all know, the Rising Stars game (aka the Rookie Game, aka the Rookie/Sophomore Challenge) has always been about interior defense.
After the jump, take a look at the rest of the picks, along with brief analysis of the process.
Shaq jumped at the chance to take Irving, and he was well on his way to putting together what looks like the far superior squad. In order, the rest of his picks were: Detroit Pistons man-child Andre Drummond, Golden State Warriors wing Klay Thompson, his teammate Harrison Barnes, do-everything Houston Rockets wing Chandler Parsons, Cleveland Cavaliers gunner Dion Waiters, and Charlotte Bobcats wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Barkley continued to shore up his interior defense with his second and third picks, Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. He continued on with (in order): Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Minnesota Timberwolves maestro Ricky Rubio, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic, and Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight.
No one wanted to hurt anyone's feelings, so the last four players were divvied up by way of a blind draw. Team Shaq got Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller and Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker; Team Chuck got Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved.
Again, it looks obvious that Team Shaq is the stronger team. However, the Rising Stars Challenge has never resembled a real basketball game, and the outcome may simply come down to which teams runs the floor harder or which squad happens to hit more open three-pointers than the other. Logic only matters so much here.
That lack of sense is also one of the reasons that the Rising Stars draft can seem a little underwhelming. In the past, commentators such as ESPN.com's Bill Simmons (aka "The Sports Guy") have advocated that the All-Star Game itself should be chosen as a draft, a system that the NHL has adopted for its last two contests. It's possible that the NBA chose this format for the Rising Stars Challenge as a sort of dry run for holding a draft for Sunday's main event, although there's no proof that's the case.
Regardless, TNT's format is not the ideal version of an ASG draft. For one thing, having two former players make the picks robs fans of one of the main draws of the draft, which is to see how players judge loyalty, hold grudges, and show respect for their peers. Shaq and Barkley are effectively just analysts displaying their values — or, in theory, what they do every week when they discuss games and stories from around the league.
Plus, while the Rising Stars participants obviously want to be picked near the beginning of the draft, the game means so little that it seems ridiculous for anyone to take a late pick as a sign of disrespect. Similarly, dividing the last four players via blind draw ensures that we won't see how players react to being picked last, which is one of the most exciting parts of the NHL's draft.
No one should lose sleep over a lackluster structure for the Rising Stars Challenge, but the NBA is beginning to make a habit of presenting exciting innovations in forms that doom them failure. Just a few years ago, All-Star Saturday's HORSE competition seemed like a way to overhaul a stagnant day. Poor planning, long breaks between shots, and random participant selection forced it off the schedule after two seasons. Perhaps the Rising Stars draft will be the next to go.