Barnes, trio of Canadians headline players to watch at NBA’s Rising Stars Game

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) attempts to block a shot by Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (00) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Indianapolis, Ind. (AP Photo/Marc Lebryk)

The NBA All-Star Rising Stars game will see 28 of the world’s best young basketball players set the table for the festivities to come in Salt Lake City as part of the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend. 

The 28 players will be broken up into four different teams, each coached by a former notable NBA player with Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, Joakim Noah and Jason Terry.

The four former players held a draft before the event and have a roster locked in, highlighted by Gasol taking Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero No. 1 overall.

The format of the Rising Stars game will see two semifinal games playing to a target score of 40 and a final between the winners of the first two contests trying to hit a final score of 25.

Like last year, this year’s Rising Stars game features players made up of NBA rookies, sophomores, as well as NBA G League players.

Here’s a look at a few players to watch during the game.

Scottie Barnes

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes is a Rising Star for the second consecutive year, adding another accomplishment to what has been a strong start to the 21-year-old’s NBA career so far.

However, after a very encouraging Rookie of the Year campaign last season, there was, understandably, greater anticipation and, perhaps, even expectation from fans and the media alike that Barnes would take a greater leap in his sophomore year.

Through 55 games of his second season, Barnes has looked a lot like the player from last season, averaging 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game on 45.7 per cent shooting from the floor this season, numbers very similar to the 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 49.2 per cent shooting he put up in 74 games last season that won him top rookie honours.

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Frustrating though it may be to not see Barnes take the kind of leap that players like LaMelo Ball or Ja Morant took in their respective second years, there has been an apparent improvement from Barnes this season, and the Rising Stars game could be an excellent place to showcase it.

Barnes has acted as a ball-handler and offence initiator far more this season than last and has been improving in this regard with every rep he gets. Considering the dearth of shooting the Raptors have, however, many of Barnes’ passes that could have gone for baskets have rimmed out, making his playmaking look not as impactful as it actually is.

In an all-star game format like the Rising Stars game is, with loose defence being played, Barnes’ natural ability to pass the ball and make plays for others could make him shine brightly in the game.

Canadian contingent

Two potential beneficiaries of Barnes’ playmaking on Team Pau will be Indiana Pacers rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard.

The Canadian pair have been two key reasons for all the optimism around Indiana this season. The Pacers got off to a hot start and have since cooled down, but the impression that Mathurin and Nembhard have left around the league has been lasting thus far.

Mathurin is in the running for rookie of the year and could even push for sixth man of the year, averaging 17.2 points per game as one of the most lethal bench scorers in the league right now.

Nembhard, on the other hand, doesn’t have as impressive counting stats but has already earned a starting spot alongside Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana’s backcourt as his defence, playmaking and overall basketball smarts has made him a favourite of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle quickly.

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Over on Team Jason, a third Canadian player was selected as a Rising Star. 19-year-old Leonard Miller of G League Ignite was named to the game as a deserving up-and-coming player.

The Scarborough, Ont., native is averaging 15.3 points per game in 27 G League games this season and will likely go in the first round of this year’s draft as a versatile six-foot-10 combo forward with plenty of upside on both ends of the floor.

Paolo Banchero

The No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 draft, Banchero has lived up to his top-billing reputation thus far as this season’s Rookie of the Year frontrunner, leading all rookies in scoring, averaging 19.9 per game. Banchero may also be the best player on the young Orlando Magic at the moment, leading them in scoring, rebounding and assists per game, to boot.

The numbers Banchero’s putting up, combined with the fact he’s helping make the Magic a lot more competitive than many thought has him way out in front of the pack for top rookie honours this season, something that he’s likely aware of and will likely be looking to solidify with a strong showing in the Rising Stars event.

Scoot Henderson

If you’ve been paying any attention to basketball recently then you’ve more than likely heard of Victor Wembanyama, the seven-foot-two French wunderkind who is all but guaranteed to go first overall in the 2023 draft.

The player who most expect to go No. 2, however, is Henderson, and he looks like he could be one hell of a consolation prize to Wembanyama.

Henderson is a six-foot-two point guard with explosive athleticism and the kind of strong frame that have many comparing him to the likes of Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook in their primes.

He’s averaging 18.9 points per game across 17 G League games this season.

Don’t be surprised if you see Henderson steal the show during the Rising Stars showcase. He has lots of incentive to try to impress and further improve his draft stock with the NBA world watching.

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