The Rising Stars Challenge has undergone a makeover from the previous contests. The contest was originally East vs West, then leading to Rookies vs Sophomores and later morphing into a “draft”. The contest is now being played with a new format: American players vs. International players. This change in the contest is intriguing and could spice things up.
The new makeover is to support the ever-growing presence of international players suiting up for NBA teams. You can read more about the new format here. The game surely will be exciting to watch with all four dunk contest participants suiting up, three for the US and one for the international team.
- G Trey Burke (Utah Jazz)
- G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons)
- G Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers)
- G Zach LaVine (Minnesota Timberwolves)
- G Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic)
- G Elfrid Payton (Orlando Magic)
- G/F Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota Timberwolves)
- F/C Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers)
- F/C Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets)
- F/C Cody Zeller (Charlotte Hornets)
- G Dante Exum (Australia – Utah Jazz)
- G Dennis Schröder (Germany – Atlanta Hawks)
- G/F Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia – Brooklyn Nets)
- G/F Andrew Wiggins (Canada – Minnesota Timberwolves)
- F Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece – Milwaukee Bucks)
- F Nikola Mirotic (Spain/Montenegro – Chicago Bulls)
- F/C Kelly Olynyk (Canada – Boston Celtics)
- C Steven Adams (New Zealand – Oklahoma City Thunder)*
- C Rudy Gobert (France – Utah Jazz)
- C Gorgui Dieng (Senegal – Minnesota Timberwolves)
*C Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia – Denver Nuggets) will be replacing Steven Adams due to Adams’ injury
Projected Starting Lineups
USA: Michael Carter Williams (15 ppg), Victor Oladipo (16.6 ppg), Shabazz Muhammad (13.7 ppg), Nerlens Noel (8.1 ppg), Mason Plumlee (10.3 ppg)
USA’s starting five is tough to call because they do not have a true small forward on the roster. The roster is guard and big man heavy, without much middle ground. Shabazz Muhammad is a physical wing and with Giannis Antetokpounmpo likely lining up as the opposing three, it would not do the US well to run with a small lineup, such as sliding Victor Oladipo (6’4) over to small forward and play replace Muhammad with Trey Burke (6’1).
Another option for the US is to start Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over Muhammad, however Muhammad has had the superior season thus far. Nerlens Noel has played well during his unofficial “rookie season”. Mason Plumlee scored 20 points in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge off the bench and will look to improve upon that effort. With Noel and Plumlee patrolling the paint, expect a lot of lobs to be thrown.
International: Dennis Schröder (8.4 ppg), Andrew Wiggins (15.3 ppg), Giannis Antetokounmpo (12 ppg), Nikola Mirotic (7.2 ppg), Gorgui Dieng (9.9 ppg)
Unlike the USA squad, the International team is weak at the point guard position, with Dennis Schröder and Dante Exum as the only two players who play the point guard position. Dante Exum, a 6’5 combo guard has struggled completing his transition from Australia to the NBA which is why Dennis Schröder will receive the starting nod over Exum. It is possible that Giannis Antetokounmpo could get a run at point guard, as he did during the Summer League under Jason Kidd.
Andrew Wiggins will undoubtedly start as the number one pick in last year’s draft and due to the success he has had with the Timberwolves this season. NBA fans seem to be infatuated with Antetokounmpo so expect him to play major minutes.
The big men are more of a question mark. The International team has five true big men on the squad, but will only start two unless they decide to go big. An alternative “big” starting lineup could look like this.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Mirotic, Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng
In this lineup, there is still floor spacing as Mirotic and Olynyk are bigs who can stretch the floor. Olynyk started in the game last year. Antetokounmpo also starts at point guard, which he has done as mentioned above.
It is really hard to say as it is unsure what Head Coach Kenny Atkinson will do, as he could play a multitude a different styles depending on what lineup he wishes to run.
Expect Mason Plumlee to have a big game for Team USA, and potentially bringing home MVP honors. Last year as a reserve Plumlee played just 19 minutes and racked up 20 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals and 1 block while shooting a stellar 77 percent from the field.
This contest is made for Plumlee, with the lack of interior defense it is easy for athletic big men to have a field day both on the glass and the score sheet. Last year’s MVP Andre Drummond had 30 points and a whopping 25 rebounds. Both big men play similar styles, and one can expect Plumlee to have a big game.
Bogdanovic will likely be playing backup to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, but don’t count him out yet. As said previously the International Team is big-man dominated and aside from Dante Exum, Bogdanovic is the only other guard on this team. The game’s pace will be an issue for Bogdanovic but it is easy to fathom Bogdanovic taking advantage of the poor defense and hitting some shots, and transition threes.
He won’t explode for 30 points, but the Croatian could put up 10-15 points if he hits his shots, and even more if he catches fire.
Projected Final Score: USA 156, International 132
While I do like the idea of the new format, the United States still trumps the rest of the world as far as basketball talent, and I do not see the International team coming away with a victory in this one, rather a lopsided loss at the hands of Team USA.