While most of the attention this All-Star Weekend will be on the revamped All-Star Game, an interesting sub-plot has low-key made the Rising Stars Challenge one of the most interesting events this weekend.
Ben Simmons is in the midst of one of the best Rookie seasons in recent memory. While everyone were getting ready to hand him the Rookie of the Year award, Donovan Mitchell was busy building his case as this year’s most impressive rookie.
Along with fiery new jerseys, Mitchell’s hot hand has given the Utah Jazz new life, winning 11 straight games. It has propelled the Jazz to the brink of playoff contention, and made Mitchell into Simmons’ biggest competition.
Writers and pundits alike can’t come to a consensus on who’s leading the ROTY race and they are about even in betting odds. The remaining 24-27 NBA games might give us an answer, but tonight’s game might be the decider. A Rising Stars MVP could shape the narrative enough that it might ultimately end up deciding who wins the award. This means that we can expect two highly motivated individuals when Simmons’ Team World faces Mitchell’s Team USA tonight.
The two players couldn’t be more different. Simmons is a long, gifted, former #1 pick, who makes up for a lack of shooting with length and passing. Mitchell, who at one point didn’t think he’d be drafted, burst onto the NBA scene as a tenacious gunner. Simmons was a ROTY favorite heading into the season, while Mitchell had at least 10-15 guys ahead of him.
Mitchell never gives up though and it feels like the narrative has started to turn in his direction. Almost no one expected this and he has become one of the main stories heading into the All-Star break. Simmons’ flashy passes and occasional triple doubles are yesterday’s news. He runs the show in Philly, but Joel Embiid is the star and main reason they are in the playoffs. Philly’s 5 game winning streak won’t help as much for Simmons, playing second fiddle to last year’s ROTY runner-up.
Mitchell on the other hand is now the alpha dog in Utah. He’s making game winning plays on both ends and has the green light to shoot from anywhere. He needs to assume that same role for Team USA for a chance to win the game and MVP honors. If Team World ends up winning however, Embiid is favored to lift the Rising Stars MVP trophy. Embiid has the real NBA All-Star game to worry about though, so I think he defers to Simmons.
If the Aussie is the main reason Team World wins it, he can re-assert his position as the ROTY favorite. It almost feels like he has become underrated, but those who favor him will speak up if he’s the Rising Stars MVP. The 76ers haven’t gotten much attention as of late, so we might be due for a wake-up call.
A Rising Stars MVP for Donovan Mitchell would finally tip the scale in his favor, with another shot of raising his profile in Saturday’s dunk contest. NBA die-hards are well aware of what Mitchell can do, but the All-Star weekend is a chance to show off to a more casual audience. I wouldn’t count him out of the dunk contest either, just look at his dunks!
Just like the Rookie of the Year race, it’s hard to figure out who wins the Rising Stars MVP. What we do know, is that both of these budding superstars will have all the motivation they need to go all out. My money is still on Donovan Mitchell coming out on top, making the winning play that wins the game, the Rising Stars MVP and finally the Rookie of the Year award.