While 2014 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans will (barring an unfathomable catastrophe) mark a decade since the Bucks last sent a player to the All-Star Game, the franchise will have some representation at the festivities.
The NBA announced Wednesday afternoon that Giannis Antetokounmpo has been invited to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge, taking place Friday, Feb. 14. He’ll be the sixth Milwaukee player to partake in the event since its inception in 1994.
“It’s my first year in the NBA, first time going to the All-Star (weekend),” Antetokounmpo told Fox Sports Wisconsin. “I wish they call me more times. (I’m excited) to just go there and play against the other guys, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, all those guys. Just play against them so I can see where I am, you know? How good they are and how good I am.”
Antetokounmpo is one of nine rookies selected by NBA assistant coaches to the 18-player pool featuring first and second-year players.
Here’s the complete list of selections:
Steven Adams, C, Oklahoma City
Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Milwaukee
Pero Antic, F/C, Atlanta
Trey Burke, G, Utah
Michael Carter-Williams, G, Philadelphia
Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, New York
Victor Oladipo, G, Orlando
Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Boston
Mason Plumlee, F/C, Brooklyn
Harrison Barnes, G/F, Golden State
Bradley Beal, G, Washington
Anthony Davis, F/C, New Orleans
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit
Terrence Jones, F, Houston
Damian Lillard, G, Portland
Jared Sullinger, F, Boston
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto
Dion Waiters, G, Cleveland
At first glance, it’s clear the sophomores hold the majority of the elite talent, with guys like Davis, Drummond and Lillard likely suiting up for Sunday’s All-Star game as well. It will certainly be interesting to observe the drafting strategies employed by the yet-to-be-announced general managers, as two of the aforementioned three standout sophomores are likely to play together.
As far as Antetokounmpo is concerned, the event should allow him to show off the athleticism and court vision that has so often been on display this season to a national audience. Defense in the Rising Stars Challenge is at a premium, to say the least, and Antetokounmpo is bound to treat fans to at least a couple skyscraping dunks. It’s an ideal platform for young players to play a carefree brand of basketball that’s equal parts And 1 Mixtape Tour and NBA preseason. So Gregg Popovic’s worst nightmare.
Notably absent from the list of participants is fellow-Buck John Henson. In his second NBA season, Henson leads the team in rebounding, blocks and PER, while adding 12.1 points per game in 27.7 minutes. Toronto’s Terrence Ross, the winner of last year’s dunk contest, was also left off the list despite emerging as a major contributor for the third-place Raptors, not to mention scoring a career-high 51 points last weekend.
“I know that there are guys that were picked (before) me that did didn’t get selected,” the ever-humble Antetokounmpo said. “I’m really happy I made it. I just need to keep working hard so I can make it next year and then the following years.”
From 1994 through 2011, the event – then known as the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge – pitted the rookie squad against the sophomores. However, in 2012 the league switched things up, opting to mix first and second-year players, with rosters determined by a draft. Last season, Team Shaq fell to Team Chuck 163-135 behind 40 points from Kenneth Faried.