The 18-player pool of rookies and sophs for All-Star Weekend's 2013 Rising Star Challenge has been set. But before Team Shaq and Team Chuck pick their teams on Thursday, we're putting some of the tougher roster choices up for debate, keeping in mind whose skills would shine brighter on this kind of stage.
1. Take your pick: Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Irving. He's just a little more polished. Hard to believe that statement applies to someone who has played less than 100 college and pro games combined. Lillard is right behind him and can close the gap even more if he makes the playoffs while Irving is at home. But for now I'm going with the returning rookie of the year over the next rookie of the year.
Jacob Frankel, HoopChalk: Irving. The way he can completely toy with his defender with his handle is something else. Add that to his unlimited range, acrobatic layups and constant crunch-time heroics and you have one of the most exciting players in the league.
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Irving. Both players are tremendous, smoothly shifting gears from meticulous distribution to devastating scoring. However, in a vacuum devoid of circumstance, I think Irving's ability to create offense for himself separates him from Lillard. Also, if the ambiguous future factors into the decision, Irving is two years younger.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Irving. I'd take him in a curling match at this point. I'd trust him to do my taxes and find all the right deductions. In a glorified pickup game? I'm absolutely taking Irving. He should be required to wear the whole Uncle Drew getup, though.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Irving. Didn't he hit 8 of 8 3s and dominate last year's Rising Stars Challenge? I say that with a question mark because those games blur past my brain. Anyway, Irving is better than Lillard at pretty much everything right now. Lillard's a slightly better passer, but this game isn't exactly the forum for crisp, smart pick-and-roll dimes.
2. Take your pick: Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond?
Adande: Davis. This is probably based more on what he did in college than in the NBA. At Kentucky he oozed with potential and kept producing moments such as this one. But how many "Did you see that?" plays has he made with the Pelicans? Still, he's averaging almost twice as many points per game as Drummond.
Frankel: Drummond. Who doesn't want to see him get some extended run? There are sure to be some soaring alley-oops and out-of-nowhere rejections in this type of game. Let's just hope nobody sends him and his 37 percent free throw shooting to the line.
Levy: Drummond. This is the most difficult hypothetical decision I've made in a long time. Each player fully inhabits an opposing seat on the teeter-totter of extreme athleticism. I bounced them back and forth for a while and ultimately settled on the destructive potential of Drummond's combination of size and strength.
McNeill: Davis. I saw what Skynet was able to do in the few minutes he played with Team USA this summer. Both he and Drummond can finish alley-oops with the best of them -- and there should be plenty of opportunities -- but games like these favor the more mobile bigs.
Strauss: Davis. Much as I've evangelized on behalf of Drummond's talent, Davis is the better dribbler, shooter and overall player. There exists the potential for Drummond to unleash a dunk powerful enough to turn city blocks into rubble, but I'll bet on Brow having a better performance.
3. Take your pick: Bradley Beal or Klay Thompson?
Adande: Thompson. He was my pick when the choice was Thompson or Jimmer Fredette (The Sacramento Kings chose ... poorly.) The reasons why are the same as when compared to Beal: Thompson is taller, as good a 3-point shooter as any young player and can go to the hoop.
Frankel: Beal. Both players are lights-out shooters who are threats as soon as they step on the court, so this comes down to who is hotter. I take Beal, who shot 50.8 percent from 3 in January.
Levy: Thompson. Beal's ceiling is higher -- much higher. But right now, Thompson is the perfect offensive gap-filler, moving without the ball and knocking down open shots. No matter what the structure of your team is, there's always room for a player like Thompson, who can space the floor and reliably contribute without the ball in his hands.
McNeill: Thompson. Being able to get your shot off easily is a huge strength in games like the Rising Stars Challenge, and few young guys have smooth, quick, compact releases like Thompson. I predict plenty of transition 3-point attempts for Thompson.
Strauss: Thompson. I prefer Beal for the long-term, but right now Klay boasts the ability to rain fire like a hyperventilating dragon. Beal can dunk, but he rarely does so with flair. Advantage Klay.
4. Take your pick: Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Adande: Barnes. In real games and especially during All-Star Weekend, Barnes is more likely to go boom on someone's head.
Frankel: Barnes. He had the guts to dunk on a man with this tattoo on his arm, so it's fair to say he'll mash it on anybody. That's what I want in this type of game.
Levy: Kidd-Gilchrist. Barnes' foundation is laid with bricks of well-developed skill and ageless savvy. Kidd-Gilchrist is building on a slab of ferocious intensity and irrational effort. You can out-scheme skill, but even brick walls are useless against a player willing to run right through them. I'll take Kidd-Gilchrist right now ... and tomorrow ... and the day after that.
McNeill: Barnes. The Warriors rookie gets the nod over MKG for some of Barnes' dunks this season alone. He's been a role player for Golden State this season, but this showcase could provide an opportunity for a breakout performance in the public's eye. At the least, he'll be a crowd favorite.
Strauss: Kidd-Gilchrist. His style is getting squeezed by well-prepared defenses that seek to make him shoot. In an open, haphazard environment, MKG should revert to the transition destroyer that defined his game at Kentucky. Though Barnes has had three of the best dunks this season, such moments are few and far between. Barnes just doesn't Barnes enough. Advantage MKG.
5. Take your pick: Chandler Parsons or Kawhi Leonard?
Adande: Leonard. He has thrived in the Spurs' system and draws a lot of praise from Gregg Popovich. As a reward (to us as much as to him), don't you want to see him liberated and free to do whatever he wants in a defenseless game?
Frankel: Parsons. He might be the most underrated dunker in the NBA this side of Alonzo Gee. Hopefully we can get a few "Chandler Bang!" calls on Friday night.
Levy: Leonard. Parsons' versatility is tantalizing but he does nothing with the exquisite excellence that Leonard brings to the defensive end of the floor. Throw in a second straight season of 37.5-plus percent 3-point shooting and Leonard is too much to pass up.
McNeill: Parsons. As much as the Spurs homer in me wants to pick Leonard here, I don't get the impression from Leonard that he cares too much for unorganized basketball. I don't see the Rising Stars Challenge keeping his interest piqued.
Strauss: Leonard. Parsons is a useful stretch 4 and a great late-draft pick. That concludes my Parsons praise for the day. Neither one of these guys is a high-level athlete (both had 25.5 inch verticals at the combine), but I would like to see Leonard snag some crafty steals in this setting. Advantage Leonard.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
J.A. Adande is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Jacob Frankel, Ian Levy, Andrew McNeill and Ethan Sherwood Strauss contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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