Around the League: BBVA Rising Stars Challenge

Tonight I hope to celebrate my birthday with a win for Team Chuck in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. The annual showcase for the NBA’s best and brightest young talents will kick start All-Star Weekend festivities in Orlando.

This year’s Rising Stars game is unique in that both teams will be a mix of first and second year players, as opposed to the traditional rookie vs. sophomore format. The rosters were decided by a draft on February 16th with general managers and TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal making the picks and positioning their respective squads. With the first overall pick Team Shaq chose Los Angeles Clipper, 2nd-year PF Blake Griffin. Team Chuck then countered with the selection of rookie PG Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and I will man the sidelines for Team Chuck. Barkley put together a solid, balanced roster for us. We have two outstanding young point guards in Kyrie Irving and John Wall. Our seasoned sophomores like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Evan Turner and Paul George will bring experience and confidence to the court.

We had the opportunity to get everyone together for a quick practice this morning. Our current game plan is to start Kyrie Irving at the point, Paul George at the 2-guard, Evan Turner at the 3-spot, Gordon Hayward at the 4 position and DeMarcus Cousins at center. Our second unit will be comprised of John Wall, Kawhi Leonard, MarShon Brooks, Derrick Williams and Derrick Favors (who replaces Tiago Splitter who will be sidelined for a couple weeks with a calf strain).

Hopefully our guys will be able to play well together despite the minimal preparation. The fact that some of our players are former or current teammates will help add some cohesiveness. 2nd year players C DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings and PG John Wall of the Washington Wizards were teammates together at University of Kentucky. 2nd year forwards Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are teammates in Utah, which could provide Team Chuck with a natural 3 & 4 combo at times during the game. The New Jersey Net on our squad is G/F Marshon Brooks, an impressive, scoring rookie out of Providence, who I have the pleasure of covering when I’m doing Nets games for the YES Network.

Team Shaq has a pair of teammates on their side:  2nd-year C Greg Monroe and rookie PG Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons and 2nd-year G Landry Fields and 2nd-year PG Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, who was a last minute addition to the Rising Stars draft pool due to the fact that he’s the most talked about player in the entire league at this juncture.

Another interesting angle in tonight’s matchup is that some players will be competing against their own teammates. Rookie Spanish PG sensation Ricky Rubio a member of Team Shaq will at times be on the court against fellow Timberwolves rookie PF Derrick Williams of Team Chuck. Also, top overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft in June, PG Irving will possibly be picking and rolling against fellow Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson of Team Shaq.

TNT will televise the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge live from Orlando’s Amway Center tonight. Tune in at 9:00 PM ET to see the future of the NBA on display.

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