In the context of All-Star weekend, perhaps the Rising-Stars game is underwhelming, especially when compared in the same breath to the plethora of the NBA’s elite taking centre stage on Sunday night; yet this year’s game no doubt offers many reasons to get excited.
For a start, the line-up this year is stacked with potentially era-defining talents. Two of this year’s All-Stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young will take centre stage on Friday night, whilst last year’s number one draft pick Zion Williamson and this year’s likely recipient of rookie of the year Ja Morant will be paired alongside one another for the first time.
The USA’s side in general looks to be perhaps the strongest since this format was adopted. Though Doncic would unquestionably be the first pick for either team, Morant, Young and Williamson, all of whom will play for team USA, could reasonably stake a claim to be the next in line. Expect Morant to combine with his Memphis teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. as well.
The latter has often been overshadowed by Morant in recent times but was a college superstar and a number four draft-pick himself. Eric Paschall is another name to watch closely. A shining light for the Warriors this season, in what has been a dismal season, Paschall has stolen the show for Golden-State on a number of occasions, and could easily do the same tonight.
The key-matchup this evening, however, will obviously be Doncic against Williamson. The former has been setting records all season, surpassing Michael Jordan to lead the way in consecutive games of over 20 points, over five rebounds and over five assists. There is a case to argue that Doncic, though only 20, is already the most complete player in the league aside from Lebron James. He is the youngest All-Star starter since Lebron fifteen years ago and is staking a claim for MVP by averaging close to a triple-double this season.
Meanwhile, Zion Williamson, who has been injured for much of his debut year, has undeniably lived up to the hype so far. One of the all-time great college stars has only played 10 games so far this season but is already setting records of his own.
Williamson hit more threes in one quarter on his debut than Ben Simmons has in his entire career, whilst he entered this weekend in fine form by shooting a career-high 32 points against Oklahoma City last night. In just 10 games, Williamson is only the third number one-pick to score 200+ points, and the only man since Michael Jordan to score more than 20 points in eight of his first ten NBA games. If he had been fit sooner, then Zion could easily have justified a rookie All-Star call-up, but for this year at least, the Rising-Stars game will have to suffice.
Expect dunks and more dunks on Friday night. Expect an RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson reunion. Expect a Ja Morant and Trae Young highlight real. There truly is so much to expect from a game that is normally second-best, so be sure not to miss it!