The young, rebuilding Phoenix Suns have no Rising Stars.
At least, none of the Suns first or second year players have been named to the 20-man rosters that will compete on All-Star weekend, despite having three of the top 12 picks (top 8 last year, top 4 this year) in the last two drafts.
Dragan Bender was drafted 4th overall a year ago. Marquese Chriss was taken 8th. Both were clear picks, universally listed among the top 8 prospects from the 2016 draft. Josh Jackson was taken 4th this year, universally listed as a Top-4 pick who could easily have been taken even higher. Even Tyler Ulis, taken 34th a year ago, was generally ranked as a first-round talent.
But none are having particularly good years in 2017-18, despite all of them getting plenty of starting opportunities and none of them having to carry to huge scoring load.
The Rising Stars rosters are split evenly between USA vs. the World. The USA roster - to which Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson and Tyler Ulis would qualify - has six rookies and four second-year players. The World roster - to which only Dragan Bender would qualify - has five rookies and five sophomores, including Joel Embiid who was drafted four years ago but just began playing last year and will also compete on Sunday in the grown-ups All Star game.
*By the way, big props to former Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic for making the World roster as a rookie! Too bad it’s while playing for the Kings.
I don’t think any of us would argue that Dragan Bender should make the World roster ahead of fellow sophomores Embiid, Jamal Murray, Domantas Sabonis, Dario Saric or Buddy Hield.
Let’s take a look at the stats, just to be sure.
Yep. Nope. No Dragan.
Now, let’s see how our young Americans are doing compared to their rookie brethren.
Here’s the stats for sophomores Marquese Chriss (who made the Rising Stars team last year along with sophomore Devin Booker) and Tyler Ulis, as well as rookie Josh Jackson.
And now here’s the stats for the USA rookies who made the Rising Stars roster.
You really can’t argue very well that Josh Jackson with his 10/3.5/1 stat line should have been named ahead of any of these six rookies. This is a really impressive group of 19-22 year old players, and even more than this group probably ranks ahead of the Suns’ JJ among rookies.
But remember, even all the NBA GMs in the offseason predicted Jackson would be unlikely to win Rookie of the Year but might end up as the best of this class by year five. Cross your fingers that the latter part still comes true.
Now, let’s see the sophomore stats of those who made the Rising Stars challenge as Team USA members compared to the Suns’ own second year Americans.
Marquese Chriss made the Rising Stars USA Team as a rookie last year, won Western Conference Rookie of the Month in January and finished on second-team All-Rookie. And Tyler Ulis won Rookie of the Month in April last year.
But neither is having a great second season Just when Chriss was playing better, he came down with a hip pointer. Ulis has struggled all year with a size disadvantage and terrible shooting numbers.
Ah well. Now Chriss, Bender and Ulis will have to just make one of the other teams (three point, skills, slam dunk, All-Star big boys) in order to get to All-Star weekend at some point later in their careers.
At least Josh Jackson has one more shot at making the Rising Stars team next year. After missing the Rising Stars game as underperforming rookies, Brandon Ingram (taken 2nd last year) and Kris Dunn (5th) have both made it this year as well-deserving sophomores.
*All stat tables courtesy of the great basketball-reference.com