The Wizards have seven players in their first or second NBA seasons on the 14-man roster, following the recent release of second-year big man Hamady Ndiaye. They will likely have three players in their first or second year in the starting lineup tonight against the New York Knicks. But only one of those players – John Wall – was recognized by NBA assistant coaches to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend.
Wall was the MVP of the Rookie Challenge last season in Los Angeles, where he set a record for the game with 22 assists and led the Rookies to a 148-140 victory over the Sophomores. He is averaging 16 points, 7.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds this season and was among 18 players selected to participate in the game, which will have a new format this season.
Detroit, Minnesota and San Antonio will have two representatives in the game that is no longer about draft-class unity as the NBA tries to generate more interest. In the past, Rookies took on Sophomores for bragging rights, but now TNT analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley will select nine-man teams from a pool of nine rookies and nine sophomores for the Feb. 24 contest.
“I’d rather see Rookie and Sophomore game. I’d rather see it like that,” Wall said about the new format. “I’m just happy I have the opportunity to be selected in the game. Go down and enjoy myself in Orlando.”
The Sophomores selected include Wall, all-star forward and 2011 rookie of the year Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, former Georgetown star Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons, former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner of Philadelphia, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Landry Fields of the New York Knicks, Indiana’s Paul George, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter.
The Rookies will be represented by rookie sensations Kyrie Irving of Cleveland and Ricky Rubio of Minnesota, New Jersey’s Marshon Brooks, Detroit’s Brandon Knight, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, Kemba Walker of Charlotte and Minnesota’s Derrick Williams.
Wall was disappointed that the players wouldn’t be allowed to represent their draft classes. “That’s what I thought it was for,” Wall said. “Rookies thinking they was better than sophomores, sophomores think they’re better than rookies. This was our chance to prove ourselves. Last year, we had a great battle, the rookies won and the sophomores was mad. Should be fun to defend our own title, but I guess they changed it up on us.”
In its latest NBA Future Power Rankings, ESPN.com had the Wizards coming in at No. 22, with analysts John Hollinger and Chad Ford offering up this assessment of the team’s young talent: “We rated the Wizards just 25th in players, based on the disappointing progress their young charges have made this season. Wall is as fast end-to-end as any player in the past 20 years, but looks lost in the half-court and miles away from stardom. . . . Meanwhile, first-rounders Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Kevin Seraphin have offered little. The only young player making something of his talent is forward Trevor Booker.”
Coverage of tonight’s game vs. the Knicks