Friday night was a fun way to kick off the NBA All-Star weekend. The Rising Stars Challenge has long been an overlooked aspect of the festivities, often being overshadowed by the All-Star Game, 3-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest. The NBA decided to switch things up a bit, making the original game of first- and second-year players into a tournament of four teams, complete with four G-League Ignite players as well. Here’s how it worked:
Four former NBA legends (Gary Payton, Rick Barry, Isiah Thomas, and James Worthy) were given a pool of first- and second-year players as well as four G-League Ignite players, as mentioned above. They each drafted 8-player squads to battle it out in a two-round tournament. The games were to 50 for the first-round and to 25 for the championship. For reference, here were the teams:
Team Payton: LaMelo Ball, Scottie Barnes, Ayo Dosunmu, Chris Duarte (injured), Scoot Henderson, Jaden McDaniels, Davion Mitchell, Jonathan Kuminga
Team Barry: Cade Cunningham, Dyson Daniels, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Alperen Sengun, Jae’Sean Tate, Franz Wagner
Team Isiah: Precious Achiuwa, Desmond Bane, Saddiq Bey, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Jaden Hardy, Isaiah Stewart
Team Worthy: Cole Anthony, MarJon Beauchamp, Josh Giddey, Jalen Green, Herbert Jones, Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Suggs
The first matches were Team Worthy vs. Team Isiah and Team Payton vs. Team Barry. Worthy vs. Isiah was probably the closest game of the whole tournament, ending on a Desmond Bane free throw to win it, 50-49. Payton vs. Barry was equally as close, but Cade Cunningham came up clutch for Team Barry and they won as well, 50-48.
The final match was to 25 points, Team Isiah vs. Team Barry. Precious Achiuwa started out strong for Team Isiah, hitting threes, which is a surprise given he didn’t hit a single one his rookie year and this year he’s only shooting at a pedestrian rate of 30%. Although, they might have forgotten about Cade Cunningham, who continued his hot shooting and incredible playmaking as he amassed a total of 18 points over the whole tournament. Team Barry won 25-20, and Cade Cunningham was awarded as the tournament MVP, stealing the spotlight in his inaugural game.