All-Star Weekend in Chicago got underway Friday night with the annual Rising Stars Challenge, as the USA beat the World by the final score of 151-131. Miles Bridges was one of three reserves to score at least 20 points on the night, as he accounted for 20 (8-of-12 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs) to go along with five rebounds, five assists, three steals and three 3-pointers. He was named MVP for his efforts, becoming the first Hornet to take home the honor in the history of the event.
Bridges came into All-Star Weekend playing his best basketball of the season, as in six games this month he averaged 19.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 three-pointers per game with a usage of 23.8%. Marvin Williams being waived freed up more minutes for Bridges at the four, which Hornets head coach James Borrego believes is his best position, and the second-year forward has played his best basketball of the season to date. He’s certainly trending upwards, and Bridges’ performance Friday night was a continuation of that even though it was just an exhibition.
Hornets teammates P.J. Washington (five rebounds, two assists and one steal), who’s been used at the five at times recently, and Devonte' Graham (six rebounds, five assists and three 3-pointers), scored eight and nine points, respectively.
Eric Paschall led the USA with 23 points, shooting 10-of-13 from the field and 2-of-3 three from the foul line, while also tallying three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer, with Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton (21/5/3/1 with three 3-pointers) also surpassing the 20-point mark. After a highly productive November in which he averaged 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.9 three-pointers per game Paschall cooled off in December, but he’s gotten back on track once the calendar flipped to 2020.
In 20 games played ahead of the All-Star break he averaged 11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 three-pointers per, not scoring as much as he did in November but a step up from his production in December. Golden State isn’t anywhere near the playoff hunt, and after the break it wouldn’t be a surprise if Paschall played an average of 30 minutes per night (24.9 mpg over his last 20 games). Sure the Warriors have Draymond Green, but those games to finish out the season will likely be used to further evaluate young players such as Paschall with an eye towards the future.
All five starters for the USA scored in double figures, led by All-Star Trae Young as he scored 18 to go along with four rebounds, seven assists, one steal and four 3-pointers. The second-year point guard, who will start Sunday’s showcase, entered the All-Star break playing his best basketball of the season. In 19 games played in 2020, Young has averaged 31.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.5 three-pointers per. While the turnover count (5.1 per game) wasn’t great, he’s been one of the top players in fantasy hoops during that stretch.
Atlanta finds itself in a spot similar to that of the Warriors at this point in the season, with the difference being that the Hawks know what they have in Young. The post-break games will be more about evaluating the other pieces, most notably Clint Capela as he returns from his heel injury, and their fit with the team’s All-Star point guard.
Heat guard Kendrick Nunn added 16 points, one rebound, one assist, two steals and two 3-pointers, followed by Zion Williamson (14/2/1), Jaren Jackson Jr. (12 & 7 with one three-pointer) and Ja Morant (10/5/6). Williamson’s addition to the Pelicans lineup has changed things for the team, as they’ve gone 6-4 in the 10 games that he’s played and now harbor ambitions of chasing down Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West. The rookie forward is averaging 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game, shooting 57.6% from the field and 65.4% from the foul line.
Williamson (who played on back-to-back nights for the first time this season) still has strides to make as a perimeter shooter, but he’s gotten better at not settling for the shots that opposing teams want him to take while also improving at the foul line. Look for him to continue to play well after the break, as he scored 30-plus in each of the Pelicans’ two games this week.
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Knicks guard RJ Barrett led the way for the World team, as he scored a game-high 27 points (11-of-17 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) to go along with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Having returned from a sprained ankle just over a week ago, the rookie wing averaged 9.0 points, 3.5 assists, 2.0 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.3 three-pointers in his final four games ahead of the All-Star break. Those certainly aren’t great numbers for Barrett, but he should have every opportunity to show what he’s got once play resumes next week.
The Knicks aren’t a playoff team, which in theory should open the door for guys such as Barrett and Mitchell Robinson to play a lot of minutes. However interim head coach Mike Miller has been more than willing to get the veterans quality minutes (Julius Randle averages a team-high 32.8 mpg), which could be an issue for those banking on the young guys to take on an increased workload. Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke added 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal, shooting 11-of-15 from the field, and Memphis really has to like where it is right now as a franchise.
The Grizzlies don’t lack for promising talent, led by Morant and Jackson Jr., with players such as Clarke, Dillon Brooks and De'Anthony Melton also playing well heading into the break. Add in veteran center Jonas Valanciunas, and the Grizzles have a team that’s exceeded the expectations of many. But the schedule will get tougher after the break, making the task of hanging onto that final playoff spot more difficult for Taylor Jenkins’ team. Over the last two months Valanciunas (third round), Jackson Jr. (fifth round) and Clarke (eighth round) have all provided top-100 value in nine-cat, with Morant, Melton and Brooks providing 12th/13th-round value.
Luka Doncic (two rebounds, five assists, one steal and four 3-pointers), who like Young will start Sunday night, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (three rebounds, three assists, one block and one three-pointer) and Moritz Wagner (four rebounds, two steals, and one three-pointer) scored 16 points apiece, with Rui Hachimura adding 14 to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and one steal. Hachimura returned from groin injury in early February, and in his last five games the rookie forward averaged 13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.6 three-pointers per while shooting 51.9% from the field, 42.9% from three and 73.3% from the foul line.
Washington, which has won three of its last four, is making a push for that eighth and final playoff spot in the East (the Wizards trail Orlando by three games) and Hachimura will be key. He’s only provided 13th-round value over the last two weeks, but that’s understandable given how long he was out of the lineup. Look for him to be more productive after the break, and now would be a good time to pick him up in standard leagues (currently rostered in 56 percent of Yahoo leagues).
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both struggled with their shot Friday night, with Svi shooting 2-of-11 from the field and Alexander-Walker 2-of-12. Both finished with six points, with the former adding four rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers and the latter two rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers. Alexander-Walker has fallen out of the rotation in New Orleans, so he doesn’t have much value unless the Pelicans lose multiple guards due to injury. Mykhailiuk doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value in Detroit, so he can also be left on the waiver wire after the break.
Josh Okogie (three rebounds, five assists, one block and one three-pointer) and Nicolo Melli (five rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer) rounded out the scorers for the World, finishing with five and three points, respectively.
Saturday’s Events (begins at 8 PM Eastern)
Taco Bell Skills Challenge: Bam Adebayo (Miami), Patrick Beverley (LA Clippers), Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana), Pascal Siakam (Toronto) and Jayson Tatum (Boston). Beverley is still listed as a participant despite having missed time due to a groin injury.
MTN DEW 3-Point Contest: Davis Bertans (Washington), Devin Booker (Phoenix), Devonte' Graham (Charlotte), Joe Harris (Brooklyn), Buddy Hield (Sacramento), Zach LaVine (Chicago), Duncan Robinson (Miami) and Trae Young (Atlanta).