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Which Rookies Get Into the Rising Stars Challenge?

The All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City will be one to remember. There will be a bunch of young stars taking the stage on Friday Night, but which players will represent the rookies in the Rising Stars Contest?

Photo By: Douglas P. DeFelice (Getty Images North America)


Last year the NBA introduced a new format to the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Weekend. It was a huge success, and it finds its way to Utah for this year's festivities. This new format comprises of 4 drafted teams from a pool of 12 rookies, 12 sophomores, and 4 G-League Ignite players. It was a single-elimination tournament style, with the first game being played to 50 points, and the second being played to 25. So with last year's success, who gets in this year for the rookies?


Paolo Banchero, ORL

Paolo Banchero is for sure the best rookie in the class. The Magic made a shocking move to pick Banchero with the 1st pick, after the assumption that Jabari Smith Jr. would be taken at the top slot. The Magic have had an up-and-down season, and so has Paolo. But his highs have been incredible. Early on in the season, Banchero looked like an All-Star before his injury. He's currently averaging 21 PPG, 7 RPG, and 4 APG for Orlando. He has shown everything that a 1st overall pick should offer. Barring a huge run by Mathurin or an injury, Paolo should undoubtedly be Rookie of the Year.


Bennedict Mathurin, IND

Bennedict Mathurin has proved basically everyone wrong about his perception coming into the league. He has become not only one of the best rookies but possibly the best player in the league to come off the bench. He's averaging 17.3 PPG for the 6th seeded Indiana Pacers. He won Rookie of the Month for the Eastern Conference back in November, and has really given 1st overall pick Paolo Banchero a run at the Rookie of the Year race. As well as being a great scorer, Mathurin has shown flashes of defensive potential by getting in passing lanes and hustle. He should become one of the best players from the class, and could have a shot at ROTY.


Keegan Murray, SAC

People across the league bashed the Kings for taking Keegan Murray over Jaden Ivey this summer. Well the decision to take Murray has paid huge dividends for the Beam Team. While starting a majority of games, Murray has averaged 12 PPG and is shooting 38% from 3. He's making a huge impact on both sides of the ball for the 20-16 Kings, who sit 5th in the West. While Ivey may have a better upside for the long-run, Murray is exactly what the Kings need to break the longest playoff drought in American pro sports.


Jabari Smith Jr., HOU

The Rockets have had a very bumpy season so far. And that has thrown 3rd overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. under the radar. Through bad coaching, inconsistent teammates, and sometimes just not getting the ball; Smith Jr. has had a solid season. He's averaging 12 PPG and 7 RPG and is kind of holding the Rockets together. While he may've not deserved to be selected 1st, as most projected, Jabari should have a nice career.


Jaden Ivey, DET

Jaden Ivey has silently been crushing it up in Detroit. With Cade Cunningham out for the year, Ivey has had to speed up his offensive development on a failing Pistons squad. He's averaged 15 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4 APG on normal rookie efficiency of 41/32/73. Ivey has cemented himself as one of the best offensive-oriented rookies in the class. So while his team may not be doing as well as projected, Jaden Ivey is still playing at an All-Rookie level.


Jalen Williams, OKC

Jalen Williams is for sure the most underrated player in this rookie class. Williams has been a huge aspect of the Thunder's success. J-Dub has started in just around two-thirds of the Thunder's games, and has been incredibly impactful for an improving OKC team. He's averaging 12 PPG on 52% from the field while bringing intense defense next to Lu Dort and Kenrich Williams. Jalen will have a huge part of the Thunder's future in years to come as a viable option for a young squad.


AJ Griffin, ATL

AJ Griffin has had a crazy season thus far for Atlanta. He's hit two game-winners and has been one of the NBA's most clutch players since entering the league. Next to Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Griffin has provided a much-needed role to a team that is struggling to stay afloat. The Hawks traded away Kevin Huerter, lost Delon Wright, and De'Andre Hunter has been hurting with nagging injuries. Griffin fought his way into Nate McMillan's rotation, and has averaged 10 PPG while shooting 37% from 3.


Andrew Nembhard, IND

For those who may not know; Andrew Nembhard is a 6'3 SG out of Gonzaga and was the 31st overall pick to the Pacers. He has the biggest contract ever for a 2nd round pick, and has shown why he deserves it. When Tyrese Haliburton went out with an injury, Nembhard went off and took the attention of fans. But Nembhard has been playing fantastic all season. In 8 PPG and 4 APG on 47% FG and 38% 3PT. Nembhard has taken on the role as the primary perimeter defender for the Pacers. He's guarded the likes of Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, and others with efficiency and is showing he can be a big piece of the Pacers future.


Tari Eason, HOU

Unfortunately for Tari Eason, he is also subject to the Rockets' terrible handling of young talent this season. Stephen Silas has only given Eason 18.9 minutes per game, even though he has played great in limited minutes. In the Summer League and Preseason, Eason was one of the best players to touch the floor. In the regular season, Tari is averaging 8.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, on 37% from 3. I really hope Eason gets minutes, because he's been huge on both sides of the floor.


Jeremy Sochan, SAS

Jeremy Sochan has been exactly what people projecting coming into the season. An incredible defensive figure that can struggle on offense. But that's okay. His defense has been so good this season that he absolutely deserves a slot in the All-Star Weekend. However, he's averaging 9 PPG with 5 RPG. While he's severely struggled from the line, he's made up for it by taking on the opposing team's best wing. He's held down LeBron James, Jerami Grant, and Zion Williamson. So he should definitely be in the Rising Stars Challenge.


Walker Kessler, UTA

Walker Kessler was considered a throw-in for Rudy Gobert by the Timberwolves. But the Jazz have surprised a lot of people this year, and Kessler has been a near-perfect replacement for the former Jazz great. Walker's defense has been some of the best in the league in the paint. Hrfecte's averaged 7 PPG and 7 RPG for Utah this season. I'd like to see Kessler get some more minutes, especially if the Jazz continue on their downward descent.


Jalen Duren, DET

The same deal applies to Jalen Duren. He has originally traded for essentially cap space by the Knicks on draft night. But Duren has showed up and showed out this year for the Pistons. He has been a beast on the defensive end in Detroit, as well as being a constant lob-threat on the offensive side of the ball. This season, Duren has averaged 7.3 PPG and 8.4 RPG with a block and steal per game. His game should improve as time goes on, but as of right now he's still pretty good.



Honorable Mentions: David Roddy (MEM), Shaedon Sharpe (POR), and Christian Braun (DEN)

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