NBA All-Star Weekend is often an exercise in disappointment, with high-profile events like the dunk contest and All-Star Game itself failing to provide the thrills and drama we have seen in the past. One event, though, is pretty much always what it claims to be — the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, sometimes known as the Rookie Game or Rookie-Sophomore Game. It doesn't ever really look like real basketball, but the idea of a bunch of the league's up-and-coming players dunking and alley-ooping and playing virtually no defense tends to deliver on its promise. There are worse ways to pass two hours.
The problem is that the NBA can't seem to settle on a format for the event. At various points, the game has featured rookies separated by conference, rookies and sophomores divided by their years of service, and teams picked playground-style by TNT analysts. For this year's game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on February 13, the league has gone in a different direction — the United States vs. the World. Here's some info from the press release:
The league's assistant coaches will select 10 U.S. players and 10 international players for the game, with one ballot for each of the NBA's 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters will include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team will also feature a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.
The head coaches for each team will be an assistant from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. The Eastern Conference and Western Conference All-Star Game coaches will be determined by the best record in the conference through games played on Sunday, Feb. 1.
A quick glance at the likely participants suggests that the World team has the far superior roster. 2014 top pick Andrew Wiggins (Canada), blog favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), and Rookie of the Year candidate Nikola Mirotic (a Montenegro-born Spanish citizen) would all be marquee players in the event. By contrast, the U.S. team would be without several big-name players (most notably Antetokounmpo's Bucks teammate Jabari Parker, out for the year with a torn ACL) and led by Magic guard Victor Oladipo, reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, and Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore. And that's to say nothing of other foreign-born players like Dennis Schroder, Rudy Gobert, and Dante Exum. The World looks stacked, to the point where the NBA might have gone with this format simply because it figures to be a fantastic showcase for the NBA's international flavor.
It's a good idea for this year, as well as a possible inspiration for the Rising Stars Challenge moving forward. No one puts much stock in the event as a basketball game — it's a showcase for young players to do cool things and is only really watchable as such. With that in mind, there's really no reason not to change the format of the game every year to suit the strengths of the available participants.
So why not divide next year's group by height? Or weight? Or whatever weird facts we happen to learn about future draft picks like Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay? The possibilities are endless as long as we think outside the box.
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