If you’re watching the NBA Rising Stars Challenge for a competitive game or defense, you’re going to be disappointed. As games go, this was not a great one. The World blew out the USA early. By the end of the game, the World, up over 30 points, was utterly indifferent to defense as Team USA held an impromptu dunk contest.
Still, if you’re willing to look past players not wanting to risk injury to protect a 35-point lead in an exhibition game, there were plenty of spectacular moments from players on both sides who showed how much potential has entered the NBA in the last two years.
Ben Simmons, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, was breaking down defenses, getting to the rim and making things easy for his teammates, such as on this dish for Frank Ntilikina:
On the night, Simmons had 11 points, 13 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Not at all a bad evening’s work. He also set up his teammate, Joel Embiid, for one of the most exciting plays of the game:
Embiid was one of several big men in this contest with an extraordinary skill level who will be part of the NBA’s future. Lauri Markkanen was showing his ability to score both inside and out. Dario Saric was making electric passes, as was Domantas Sabonis, who isn’t quite as known for it (see the pass off the rebound that set up the play above).
The World, led by Bogdan Bogdanovic, made 23 3s Friday night on 56 attempts. Bogdanovic made seven of them himself on 13 attempts and in just 21 minutes en route to winning the MVP award.
While the USA squad was blown out of the water, that doesn’t mean its young stars didn’t have their moments. Jaylen Brown had 35 points and 10 rebounds in his resurgent second year, reminding people why he was the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft.
Kyle Kuzma, the steal of this year’s draft, had another 20, though some of that came in the garbage time that comprised most of the fourth quarter.
Then there was the insane dunk contest that broke out:
The Donovan Mitchell dunk was especially impressive, particularly since it was before the game had gotten completely out of hand.
Sure, the game wasn’t competitive and there was very little attention to defense. I honestly don’t care much about such things because I don’t think people should be drawing charges and risking injuries for exhibition games.
But the athleticism and skill sets the players exhibited, whether in the form of highlight-reel dunks, pinpoint passing, alley-oops or crossovers, was electric.
It was also exciting to see the World be so dominant, because it demonstrates how much the game is advancing around the globe. Euros like Markkanen and Kristaps Porzingis seem to be debunking the old myths of the “soft bigs” who come across the pond and look ready to take the mantle from Dirk Nowitzki.
The game may have been terrible in terms of competitiveness, but the futures of basketball and the NBA sure look bright with a ton of young stars all over the planet ready take their turn.