All-Star Weekend 2011: Rookie - Sophomore Challenge

Thursday, May 26th 2011, 12:12 pm
By: News On 6

Originally Published: Feb 17, 2011 9:17 PM CDT

More All-Star Coverage on Oklahoma Sports:
All-Star Weekend 2011: Slam Dunk Preview
All-Star Weekend 2011: 3-Point Contest Preview
All-Star Weekend 2011: Skills Challenge Preview
All-Star Weekend 2011: All-Star Game Preview
Harden to Replace Evans on All-Star Sophomore Team
Westbrook to Take Part in All-Star Skills Challenge

Grant Belcher
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer

NBA Rookies vs. Sophomores
Friday, Feb. 18
8 p.m. CST
Staples Center, Los Angeles

Where You Can Find It:

Anticipated Starting Lineups

Rookies Sophomores
G John Wall, Washington
16.6 ppg, 6.5 apg
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee
15.4 ppg, 4.9 apg
G Landry Fields, New York
10.1 ppg, 7.1 apg
Stephen Curry, Golden State
18.4 ppg, 6.0 apg
F Derrick Favors, New Jersey
6.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Wesley Matthews, Portland
16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
FBlake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
22.8 ppg, 12.6 rpg
Taj Gibson, Chicago
7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg
CDeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
13.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg
DeJuan Blair, San Antonio
8.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg

Rookie Reserves:
Eric Bledsoe, L.A. Clippers
Wesley Johnson, Minnesota
Greg Monroe, Detroit
Gary Neal, San Antonio

Sophomore Reserves:
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City
James Harden, Oklahoma City

What You Need to Know:

This will be the 12th annual Rookie-Sophomore Challenge, and the Sophomores have understandably held an 8-3 advantage in the series. After all, the Sophs have an extra year of experience under their belts. They won seven straight from 2003-09, but the Rookies surprised everyone last year in pulling off a 140-128 victory. Now, those rookies have become sophomores and the pressure is on for them to defend their glory.

Rookie - Sophomore Challenges look a bit like mini All-Star games: no defense, not much effort and a lot of impressive dunks and showmanship. No one wants to get hurt diving for a loose ball during a game that doesn't count toward their own team's win-loss record. The only real bit of intensity shown in the games comes at the end, when several players are vying for the potential MVP title and want to pad their stats as much as possible before the final buzzer.

Tyreke Evans was named the MVP in last year's event, as his 26 points, six rebounds and five assists led the Rookies to their first victory since 2002. But Evans is dealing with Plantar Fasciitis and will not be taking part in this year's game for the sophomores. Oklahoma City guard James Harden took Evans' spot in the contest, making it three players with Oklahoma ties to earn a roster spot for the game. Blake Griffin, a former Sooner and OCS player, will lead the Rookie squad, while Harden and forward Serge Ibaka will represent the Thunder for the sophomores.

Who to Watch:

Blake Griffin plays every game as if it's his last. He wants to dunk on people and rebound over people, and if he had his way he would probably try to smash the backboard every time if he could get away with it. Something about the way Griffin plays has a tendency to get under his opponents' skin. Throughout high school, college and into the pros, there have been numerous instances of opponents eventually losing their temper and picking up a flagrant foul. One of the most relaxed atmospheres in the NBA is All-Star weekend, and it will be interesting to see how Griffin reacts to being in a relaxed environment. If he plays with the same intensity and aggression he normally does, he will probably pick up 40 points, including 18 or so dunks. But he might also catch some glares from others on the court who aren't taking the game quite as seriously. No one wants to get hurt during All-Star weekend, and if Griffin is playing as physical as he normally is, some tension could flare up.

Though the two Thunder players in the game aren't exactly superstars, they will obviously still see plenty of time on the court during the game. Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin make up two of the four participants in the 2011 Dunk Contest, so fans always expect those dunkers to give them a preview of what they might see the following evening. The guards on the teams know that as well, and will usually defer to the more spectacular players when given the opportunity on a fast break. Deep inside, Thunder fans have wondered what Ibaka is capable of, dunk-wise, when the pressure is off and the mistakes don't matter. The Rookie Challenge will be an opportunity for Ibaka to open up and attempt some more flashy dunks that he passed up in normal Oklahoma City games.

Before Blake Griffin exploded onto the NBA scene, Washington point guard John Wall was considered a favorite to win Rookie of the Year. In any other season absent of Griffin, Wall would be at the top of the list, considering his impressive numbers and plenty of hype. With a wide open court and no defense, Wall will have free run of the court and could try to make a statement by putting up big numbers in the Rookie-Sophomore game. Sophomore Brandon Jennings of Milwaukee should match up well against Wall making for an exciting matchup at the point guard position.