The NBA has never been more global than it is right now. Per NBA.com, the league had a record 101 foreign-born players on 2014-15 opening night rosters.
Now, the association is acting upon this abundance.
For the first time ever, the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge will feature a USA vs. The World format. Each assistant coach will select 10 native-born representatives and 10 foreign-born representatives to comprise the rosters, respectively, according to NBA.com. As usual, only first- and second-year players will be eligible for the game, and the rosters will have 10 players each.
However, each squad must have at least three rookies and three sophomores. The new format also requires at least four backcourt players, four frontcourt players and two players of any position to make up each team.
Let’s break down what the rosters might look like, if assistant coaches do their due diligence.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Key Stats: 16.5 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 1.6 steals per game
Oladipo should be Uncle Sam’s clear-cut No. 1 option on offense, with the way he’s been playing lately. The No. 2 overall pick in 2013 has averaged 21.7 points on just 16 shots per game in the month of January and looks the part of an Eastern Conference All-Star for next season.
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Key Stats: 15,6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 7.1 assists per game
While Carter-Williams raw stats are inflated from being the go-to-guy on the pathetic Sixers, he’s still an above-average player. His size and length are excellent at the point guard position, and he will look to take advantage of those attributes against whoever guards him from The World’s team.
Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Stats: 13.7 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game
Muhammad is currently out with a strained oblique muscle, but he should be good to go by All-Star Weekend. The second-year scorer ranks No. 22 in the NBA in points per 48 minutes (28.3) and could be a strong candidate to lead this game in scoring.
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
Key Stats: 10.4 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 1.0 blocks per game
A member of Team USA last summer at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Plumlee has made some nice improvements in his sophomore season. He’s an athletic, efficient scorer in the post with solid rebounding and shot-blocking abilities to boot.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
Key Stats: 7.2 rebounds per game, 1.6 blocks per game, 1.6 steals per game
Noel has been pretty much the player many expected he would be in his rookie season: an athletic defense playmaker with a mediocre offensive game. In the Rising Stars Challenge, he’ll be a valuable rim protector and fast-break finisher for Team USA.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets
Apologies to: Tim Hardaway Jr., Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (Canada)
Key Stats: 15.1 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 1.1 steals per game
Wiggins has pulled a “reverse rookie wall” on the league this season. Most first-year players see their production drop off of a cliff as the middle part of the campaign approaches, but Wiggins has only upped his numbers. The 19-year-old has reached double-digit scoring in each of his last 15 contests, and his athleticism should be entertaining in an exhibition game such as this.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks (Germany)
Key Stats: 8.0 points per game, 3.3 assists per game, 0.9 steals per game
Schroder has taken several steps forward since a disastrous rookie season in 2013-14. The German floor has learned to harness his amazing speed, and as a result, his statistics have improved in nearly every category for the surprising Hawks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)
Key Stats: 11.7 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game
Does the Greek Freak have a real position? He’s listed at different places depending on the source, but I’m calling him a forward based on his minutes distribution on 82games.com. Antetokoumpo isn’t a star yet, but with his freakish length and athleticism, he will be soon.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (Canada)
Key Stats: 11.1 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, 1.0 steals per game
Olynyk doesn’t have the explosiveness you may usually enjoy when watching the Rising Stars Challenge, but he’s been very effective for the Celtics in his sophomore season. The stretch-four could provide matchup problems for the U.S. big men with his outside shooting.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (France)
Key Stats: 6.7 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, 2.2 blocks per game
Gobert’s stats might not look overly impressive, but he only plays 21.6 minutes per contest. His efficiency is fantastic (62.9 percent shooting from the field) and he protects the rim like his life depends on it. Gobert’s gangly 7’1″ frame and impressive agility are also well-suited to the free-flowing nature of this exhibition game.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (Croatia)
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz (Australia)
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves (Senegal)
Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (Montenegro)
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder (New Zealand)
Apologies to: Jusuf Nurkic, Pero Antic, Alex Len
What will happen?
Looking at the rosters, neither side has a clear advantage. Both teams are elite athletically, which could turn the game into a fast-break contest pretty early on.
Despite The World’s advantage on the interior, the superior depth of the U.S. guards will be the story of the game as the contest wears on. I have a lot more faith in McLemore, Payton and McDaniels off of the bench than I do in Bogdanovic and Exum.
Expect a close contest throughout, with the USA pulling away late in the second half.
Final score prediction: USA 128, The World 119