The Rising Stars Challenge – an exhibition showcasing the best first- and second-year players in the league on All-Star weekend – will roll with the Team USA vs Team World format for the fourth year.
Team World has the advantage in the series, leading 2-1 after last year’s 150-141 win. Canadian guard Jamal Murray led the way with 36 points and 11 rebounds, and he returns as part of an impressive-looking Team World headlined by the Philadelphia 76ers’ trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric.
As for Team USA, they will be led by breakout rookie star Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, as well as the Boston Celtics wing duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball will not join his teammates Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma due to injury, nor will reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. De’Aaron Fox and Taurean Prince have come in to take their place on the team.
Team USA lineup
Guards: De’Aaron Fox, Kris Dunn, Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell
Wings: Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Taurean Prince
Bigs: Kyle Kuzma, John Collins
Team World lineup
Guards: Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Frank Ntilikina
Wings: Dillon Brooks, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic
Bigs: Dario Saric, Domantas Sabonis, Lauri Markkanen, Joel Embiid
Three keys to the game
Star power – It’s pretty clear just what an advantage in star power Team World has. They arguably have three of the four best players in the game with Embiid, Simmons, and Murray, who are all having terrific seasons with their respective teams. Meanwhile, Team USA has Mitchell, who has been outstanding in his own right, as well as some athletic point guards and wings. However, no one in Mitchell’s supporting cast can come close to matching the talent Team World has on offer.
Size advantage – Moreover, Team World is HUGE. Their frontcourt of Embiid, Markkanen, Saric, and Sabonis is monstrous compared to Team USA, which features just one player taller than 6’10” (John Collins). But even in the backcourt, Simmons is a gigantic point guard who can wreak havoc on the game with his sheer length and athleticism. It would be a bit of a shock if Team World didn’t just completely dominate in the paint.
Shooting – Sadly, even the shooting edge is in Team World’s favor. Everyone knows what Murray is capable of in this setting, while Hield, Bogdanovic, and Markkanen can also get hot from deep. As for Team USA, no one on the roster can be classified as a knockdown shooter. Tatum is hitting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, but he’s hardly a volume shooter from that distance. In a game that will likely feature a lot of lazy pull-up jumpers, Team USA’s lack of shooting is concerning.
Matchup to watch
Donovan Mitchell vs Ben Simmons – Mitchell and Simmons have pretty clearly separated themselves as the top candidates for Rookie of the Year this season. Simmons seemed to have the award in the bag early in the year with the outrageous start he had. He has leveled off a bit but remains remarkably productive on both ends of the court.
However, Mitchell has taken the league by storm and is averaging close to 20 points on the season as the Jazz’s clear No. 1 offensive option. This game won’t have much of an impact on the actual voting, but it will nevertheless be fun to see the two talented rookies going at one another.
The Rising Stars game hasn’t had a double-digit margin of victory since going to the current format, but this year could finally see it happen. On paper, this just shouldn’t be much of a contest. Of course, there will be other factors at play like effort levels (especially on defense) and playing time (actual All-Star Embiid might not get too many). Still, it feels like Team World’s game to lose.
Team USA 139, Team World 152