San Antonio Spurs rising sophomore Lonnie Walker IV will not be in the Rising Stars Challenge thanks to a broken model that denies the best players their spot.
When neither one of the San Antonio Spurs established stars were selected as reserves for the 2020 All-Star Game I was kind of bummed, but I got it. As well as DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have played over the past month they haven’t played at as high of a level as the players who were selected to take part in the game.
But The Athletic’s Shams Charania broke the news that Lonnie Walker would not be taking part in the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge I was stunned. While I know that this game is ultimately meaningless, it still would have been nice to see Walker in the game amongst his peers. And it looks like one aspect of the game is to blame. The Team USA v. Team World model, while admirable in its intentions, is keeping the best players out of All-Star Weekend.
Under the current rules, if Walker was going to be in this year’s Rising Stars Challenge he would have to be on Team USA. As deserving as he is, you can make the case that every player on Team USA is equally or more deserving. But one look at Team World and it’s like…really? You’re telling me that Moritz Wagner and Josh Okogie deserve to be in this game and Walker doesn’t? Seriously?!
I get it, the Rising Stars Challenge is a great place for the NBA to showcase some of the up and coming talents in the league while also putting the global spread of the game on full display. But if the whole point of the game is to build excitement about the future of the league you cannot honestly tell me that Okogie, the guy who contributed the most forgettable 13 points ever in last year’s game, is going to bring more excitement than Walker would.
Furthermore, two spots in the game were given to Luka Doncic and Trae Young, guys who are in the actual All-Star game as starters! They’re not just playing in the game, they both finished with the most fan votes at their positions in their respective conferences.
If the purpose of the Rising Stars Challenge is to show off up and coming talent, guys who are the next generation of All-Stars, why are two players who are already two of the best-known players in the league being included? They not rising, they’ve risen.
Walker’s leading of the Spurs to a thrilling double-overtime win over the Houston Rockets earlier this year was one of the more exciting games of the season. Certainly more exciting than any performance Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk or Okogie has had. And Walker isn’t alone in his undeserving exclusion from the game, both Michael Porter Jr. and Matisse Thybulle should have been included as well.
Two things that should be changed for next year’s Rising Stars Challenge: abandon the Team USA vs. Team World format and feature the most exciting up and coming players, regardless of nationality, and if a player is in the actual All-Star Game that should prevent them from taking part in the Rising Stars Challenge.
There’s no defense played in these games, the focus is on high flying dunks and other feats of eye-popping athleticism. Knowing that, you would think that the NBA would construct the rosters accordingly.
Walker is a little known star outside of the San Antonio Spurs faithful. It’s frustrating to see him denied an opportunity to showcase his talents on a bigger stage due to a flawed model of building rosters.