All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge always gives fans a chance to see the best young players in the NBA go head-to-head.
In what is typically a pick-up game showcasing the future of the NBA, the Rising Stars Challenge is adopting a new format this year to give the contest a different feel. For the first time, the Rising Stars Challenge will consist of four teams of seven players who will compete in a three-game knockout tournament.
The teams were selected by four members of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, from a field of 28 players – 12 rookies, 12 sophomores and four players from the NBA’s G League Ignite development program.
Ahead of the Rising Stars Challenge, staffers at The Sporting News ranked all NBA players participating in the Friday night event based on their future potential. We’ve excluded the four players from G League Ignite because they haven’t played in a real NBA game yet.
You can watch the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, February 18 at 9 p.m. ET.
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1. Ball LaMelo, Charlotte Hornets
Best case scenario: Steve Nash
Ball has proven to be one of the best players in the league, not just one of the best Young players, after earning his first career All-Star nomination sophomore year. His vision of the pitch and his passing elevate everyone around him, and his showmanship makes him a staple on television. The sky is the limit for LaMelo.
2. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Best case scenario: Dwyane Wade
Watch Edwards for two minutes and you’ll see a thunderbolt bouncing off a wing that approaches every game like he’s the best player on the court. He is already the league’s most cited player, a charismatic breath of fresh air who has quickly established himself as a fan favorite.
3. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Best case scenario: Kevin Garnett
Mobley has been the most impactful defensive rookie in over a decade. His length, lateral quickness and natural instincts give him a chance to become a generational great sooner rather than later.
4. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
Best case scenario: Luka Doncic
The No. 1 pick has been as good as advertised since clearing the rust from an ankle injury. He will soon be playing Sundays at the All-Star Game.
5. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Best case scenario: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Barnes does it all. He’s already scoring, passing, defending and rebounding at a high level for a playoff-caliber team, and he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
6. Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
Best case scenario: Deron Williams
Haliburton is just getting started. After spending the first season and a half splitting ball handling duties with De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento, the young star was given the keys to the Pacers franchise. He’s a sharp shooter, a shrewd playmaker and he rarely makes mistakes.
7. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Best case scenario: Lamar Odom
This kid is better than expected. He is the youngest player to record a triple-double in the NBA, he flirts with a double-double every night and now he feels comfortable in the league. Be careful.
8. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Best case scenario: Zach LaVine
In just his third game of the season, Green buried eight 3s en route to 30 points while showcasing the jumps that make him one of the most attractive young offensive players in the NBA. Consistency will come in time for Green, who has the potential to win a scoring title one day.
9. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
Best case scenario: Tony Parker
Talk about seizing your opportunity! Maxey quickly became a crucial part of the 76ers’ plans this season, so much so that he was considered untouchable in the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade. His ability to push the tempo, score and create for his teammates has been a shining light this season.
10. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Best case scenario: Malcolm Brogdon
Bane is one of the guys who are too good to play in this game. He was the Grizzlies’ second-best player this season and one of the real hidden gems in the league.
11. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
Best case scenario: Kyle Lowry
Suggs didn’t get the start that was expected of him, but the future still looks bright for the Magic rookie. His tenacity, attitude and can-do attitude will eventually show.
12. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
Best case scenario: Paul George
Kuminga serves as an injury replacement for Pacers guard Chris Duarte, but he should never have been omitted from this contest in the first place. He’s already serving as a jack-of-all-trades off the bench for one of the best teams in the NBA, and there’s still an unlimited ceiling to improve. Kuminga will be special for the Warriors one day.
13. Franz Wagner, The Magic of Orlando
Best case scenario: Gordon Hayward
Wagner does a bit of everything and that versatility has gotten him off to a good start in his rookie campaign. He can score as a shooter or a cutter, he’s comfortable playing with the ball in his hands and he’s a multi-position defender. He was the Magic’s top rookie this season.
14. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
Best case scenario: Ron Artest
At 6-foot-8, Bey is the type of player you can fit into any lineup and he will make an impact, whether it’s with his long-range shot or his physical defense. The 22-year-old is already a key part of the Pistons’ rebuild.
15. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
Best case scenario: CJ McCollum
Anthony overcame a poor rookie year and was one of the Magic’s brightest points this season. He’s averaging 18 points, six rebounds and six assists, in addition to leading the league in entertaining post-game interviews.
16. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
Best case scenario: Domantas Sabonis
Sengun has had a good rookie year so far, showing flashy passing shots. His slow feet are a problem defensively, but he’s been a fun player to watch.
17. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings
Best case scenario: Patrick Beverly
Mitchell is already one of the best ball defensemen in the league. With Haliburton gone, he should have a bigger role in Sacramento.
Note: Nuggets rookie Bones Hyland has been named Mitchell’s injury replacement. Hyland has had some big games this season, showing some potential as a Jordan Clarkson-style goalscorer off the bench.
18. Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons
Best case scenario: Hassan Whiteside
Beef Stew, as he is commonly known, is a killer big man for the Pistons. He might be best known for chasing LeBron James after a flagrant foul earlier this season.
19. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
Best case scenario: Spencer Dinwiddie
Dosunmu will be the steal of the 2021 draft. Selected with the 38th overall pick, he has been a key player in the Bulls’ rotation this season and easily a top-10 player in his class.
20. Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
Best case scenario: Mikal Bridges
Jones has already become the Pelicans’ best defenseman. He is one of the most underrated rookies in this class.
21. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
Best case scenario: Andre Iguodala
Okoro’s offensive game has a long way to go, but he is already a talented and versatile defender. I mean, how can a player with limited offensive play find a way to start 104 of his 110 games in the league at this point?
22. Precious Achiuwa, Toronto Raptors
Best case scenario: Montrezl Harrell
Achiuwa’s energy and activity on both sides of the floor fit perfectly in Toronto. As his outside game continues to develop, Achiuwa is quickly developing into a game-changing option as a small-ball five.
23. Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves
Best case scenario: Jonathan Isaac
McDaniels has been an energetic defensive cog for the Timberwolves. His size, length and versatility bode well for his future as a specialist at this end of the floor.
24. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
Best case scenario: P.J. Tucker
Tate has probably been the Rockets’ best defenseman this season. He’s been a fun physical guard to watch, recently chronicling Zach Lowe’s 10 Things.