As soon as the clock hit zero on Tuesday night’s loss to Sacramento (and yes, probably even before that), every MFFL’s attention shifted to the horizon, envisioning Dennis Smith Jr. flying through the rafters of the STAPLES Center. Through the banners. Past both of Kobe’s retired jerseys. Slamming it directly in to the soul of every man, woman and child that questioned his dunking supremacy.
Heck, I’ve been looking forward to this even before I knew DSJ would be a Maverick, way back on January 23 of last year when he removed Jayson Tatum’s heart and tomahawked it in to the stands.
But enough of that now.
Before Smith Jr. can focus on the dunk contest, he has the 2018 Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars on Friday night. This event showcases some of the best rookies and “sophomores” in the NBA, an all-star game of sorts for the kids of the league. Certainly a well-earned honor for DSJ.
For the NBA trivia buffs out there, a version of this game goes back to 1994, though the league has come up with a number of ways to try and keep it fresh. The Mavericks have an eclectic history of players at the event, with Dwight Powell representing the Mavericks most recently in his sophomore season. And check your stomachs because the last time a Mavericks rookie appeared was 2005 Devin Harris (*tear).
Kevin Durant has the record for most points in the game with 46. John Wall has the record for assists at 22. And Denver’s Jamal Murray was last year’s game MVP.
Here’s what to expect, and what to watch for as we kick off NBA All-Star weekend!
In what feels like the most American thing ever, this will be the fourth year that Rising Stars will be United States vs. The World; with The World being up 2-1 in the series matchup.
The rosters are selected by the assistant coaching staffs of the league, and since the game features just first and second year players, the talent pool can be a bit hit or miss. Thanks to a very stacked rookie class — and a sophomore who is not really a sophomore in fan favorite Joel Embiid and his actual sophomore teammate who is technically a rookie (Philly is breaking the league) — they were able to build some fun rosters.
A few observations
It’s clear that these two draft classes were not stacked with big man talent. The only true dominant center from this group... was drafted in 2014. Yes, Sabonis has had a nice second year in the league after moving to Indiana; and yes, Markkanen and Collins can both spend time at the five. But there’s only one superstar center in the making from this group. That will be much different next year with the incoming rookies.
Conversely, there’s plenty of guard and wing depth from this crew, which will only help the game fall in line with all other exhibition showcases: fast paced, plenty of on-ball skill, great passing and lobs, and deep, deep threes. Though DSJ doesn’t have a fun one-on-one opponent across from him on Team World, his and Frank Ntilikina’s start to their careers seem constantly linked (if only in Dallas and New York City), so maybe look for their face-off.
But outside of Smith Jr. putting Embiid on a poster, I think we’re all excited to see a DSJ-Donovan Mitchell backcourt (hopefully constantly lobbing to each other). We’ll get plenty of them going head to head over the next decade, so we can enjoy them as teammates Friday night.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 8 PM, Central. It is being aired on TNT.