The Rising Stars Challenge features the most exciting US and international rookie and sophomore players. Team USA and Team World both draft 10 players and face off in a game of two 20-minute halves. It gives us a great chance to see some of the most exciting young talent in the league perform in a showcase game.
The NBA Rising Stars Challenge is usually scheduled for Friday of the All-Star Weekend. This year, the rookies game in Charlotte will be on Friday, February 15, and will start at 9:00 pm. Tickets for the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge are still available.
The number of rookies featured in the game is not fixed and has varied over the years, but it’s fair to expect a 50/50 split of rookies and sophomores if there’s enough talented first-year players available. In the 2017 edition of the game, rookie players like Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Donovan Mitchell, and MVP Bogdan Bogdanovic made their first All-Star weekend appearances.
So, who are the rookies that have impressed that we should expect to see in the 2019 edition of the game? We’ll start with our predictions for Team World in this post, and cover Team USA next week.
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Luka Doncic, SF (Dallas Mavericks) 🇸🇮
|19.5 PPG||5.0 APG||6.6 RPG|
A few weeks ago, we listed Doncic as a rookie hopeful for the All-Star game. NBA fans seem to agree, with Luka receiving the second most votes out of all Western Conference frontcourt players in the first round of the NBA All-Star voting results.
The 19-year old Slovenian has left fans wondering why he wasn’t selected first overall in the 2018 draft. It’s rare to see a rookie take over a team and do well like he has, but Luka had quite a different path to the NBA compared to most rookies.
He is the reigning MVP of Liga ABC of Spain, the second-best basketball league in the world, and of the EuroLeague, where Europe’s premier basketball clubs compete for the continental championship.
His Real Madrid team won both competitions last season. In 2017, he also led tiny Slovenia to the EuroBasket championship while being named in the All-Tournament Team for that competition. While most rookies were playing 30-something games of college hoops last season, Luka was balling with grown men in more than twice as many matches.
Doncic leads all rookies in scoring, has the second most assists and is third in rebounds. He’s a great playmaker and already has an elite stepback three-point shot in his arsenal, which he has flashed in multiple big spots. His signature moment of the season was scoring 11 straight points in crunch time against the Rockets in early December, winning the game for the Mavericks.
On top of it all, he’s got a swagger about him that makes it hard not to like watching his game. Sure, his scoring efficiency and defense could be at a better level, but he’s got a lot of time to improve.
Luka looks like a multiple-time future All-Star, and it seems that he might be going to the main game in his first year. Hopefully we’ll see him in the Rising Stars Challenge as well.
Deandre Ayton, C (Phoenix Suns) 🇧🇸
|17.0 PPG||10.9 RPG||0.9 BLKPG|
DeAndre Ayton put up 24 points in the 2nd quarter tonight. 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/oNlS5f37ak
— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) December 30, 2018
Deandre Ayton, who is Bahamian, was the number one pick in the 2018 draft from Arizona. He’s another player we listed as a rookie hopeful for the All-Star game. His game has translated well on to the NBA court and he is becoming a double double machine, having posted one in 24 games so far this season.
The 7”1 center is starting to find effective ways to score from the post and already looks like a solid rebounder. He leads all rookies in rebounding and is second in scoring after Doncic.
His defense, which was seen as a major weak point ahead of the season, has already improved along with other aspects of his game. Ayton has developed good chemistry with Devin Booker and the Suns have actually been a fun watch at times this season.
He looks like a player who’ll be good for a long time in the league and will surely be an entertaining combo with Luka in this year’s Rising Stars Challenge.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG (Los Angeles Clippers) 🇨🇦
|10.3 PPG||2.8 APG||2.9 RPG|
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦
Gilgeous-Alexander | #ClipperNation
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 2, 2019
Gilgeous-Alexander has featured in all 37 of the Clippers’ games so far, averaging almost 27 minutes on the floor per game. The Canadian has been in the starting five since early November. That by itself is an accomplishment in a team coached by Doc Rivers, who has historically preferred veteran players over young talent.
Starting in place of Avery Bradley, his performances have been up and down when it comes to points production, but he has showed a lot of promise and is said to be highly valued by the Clippers front office. He scored his career-high 24 points against Portland mid-December. We should definitely expect to see him represent Team World this year.
After the aforementioned three top rookies, it gets a little less exciting for the Team World rookie prospects.
Rodions Kurucs, SF (Brooklyn Nets) 🇱🇻
Rodions Kurucs has started a bunch of games for Brooklyn recently and has produced good, energetic performances. Picked 40th overall in the draft, the former Barcelona player from Latvia has been an excellent value find for the Nets.
He seems like the most obvious candidate to fill in one of the spots if Team World wants to feature more than three rookies this year. However, his early season was not spectacular, and he has cooled off in his last two games so it’s possible they’ll rather go for a sophomore. For reference, Team USA featured only three rookies in the 2017 and the 2015 games.
Josh Okogie, Eli Okobo, Svi Mykhailiuk
The next international guys in line haven’t done enough to warrant an appearance in Charlotte. Josh Okogie has played backup minutes for Minnesota, but he’s not exactly popping out with averaging 6.4 points and 3 rebounds per game. He holds a Nigerian and a US passport.
Eli Okobo from France has featured in 22 games for the Suns, while spending parts of the season in the G League. Svi Mykhailiuk, the Laker from Ukraine has had inconsistent minutes and low points production.
Other international picks from the 2018 draft have logged very few NBA minutes.
With international sophomores such as Simmons, Bogdanovic, Markkanen, Dillon Brooks and OG Anunoby probably featuring in this year’s game, how many rookies will find room in the roster?
Let us know what you think!