Record four Wolves named to Rising Stars game
MINNEAPOLIS — The NBA’s assistant coaches have spoken, and it would appear they recognize the future potential of the Timberwolves’ youthful core.
A record four Minnesota players were named to NBA All-Star Weekend’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge rosters, it was announced Wednesday. That’s the most from any team since the event was founded as the "Rookie Challenge" in 1994.
In a new Americans-versus-internationals format, point guard Zach LaVine and swingman Shabazz Muhammad were named to the United States team. They’ll square off against wing Andrew Wiggins, of Canada, and Senegalese center Gorgui Dieng on the World team.
The annual game that showcases the game’s top rookies and second-year players — as voted on by the league’s assistants, with one ballot coming from each team — is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Locally, it’s a hope-filled honor for a team with seven wins sitting at last place in the Western Conference.
"I’m excited for it," said Wiggins, who leads all rookies in scoring at 15.2 points per game. "I’m looking forward to it. I never really got to experience something like that."
The midseason favorite for rookie of the year, Wiggins was a near lock for inclusion. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft ranks third among all rookies in steals (1.1 per game) and fifth in rebounding (4.3) while posting a rookie-best 15 games with 20 points or more
The Toronto-area native and Kansas product averages 19.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting during his past 18 games.
Dieng’s performance with Nikola Pekovic out rendered him another surefire participant. In his second year out of Louisville, the 25-year-old ranks ninth in the league in blocked shots (1.8 per game), 17th in rebounding (8.6) and fourth among centers in assists (2.3 per game).
He leads all eligible World players in rebounds, ranks second in blocks and is tied for third in assists and fourth in points (9.8 per game).
Dieng is the first Senegal native to make the Rising Stars Challenge.
A 19-year-old rookie like Wiggins, LaVine wasn’t as solid a candidate. But a ballyhooed rookie class that’s suffered several injuries and hasn’t performed up to expectations allowed him to join fellow UCLA product Muhammad on the U.S. squad.
LaVine’s started 21 games at point guard and averages eight points, 3.4 assists and 22.8 minutes per game in 41 appearances.
"It’s All-Star weekend, man," said LaVine, who also will take part in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. "You’ve been looking at it since you were a little kid. I never in a thousand years think my first year would participating in it."
Muhammad, one of the NBA’s most improved and dynamic athletes, ranks third among eligible U.S. players in scoring at 13.7 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting, also third in that field. His 9.8 point-per-game increase is the league’s best scoring improvement from last season to 2014-15.
He’s been out since Jan. 9 with an outer oblique strain, missing Minnesota’s past nine games. Coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders expects Muhammad back by the All-Star Break, but it’s unclear whether he’ll play in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Second-year power forward Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, failed to crack the World roster.
Assistant coaches from the All-Star Game staffs — those from the Western Conference and Eastern Conference’s top teams in the standings — were chosen to coach in the Rising Stars affair. Warriors aide Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S., while Atlanta assistant Kenny Atkinson oversees the World team.
Rosters had to include four guards, four frontcourt players, two players at any position and a minimum of three first-year players and second-year players.
Thunder center Steven Adams (New Zealand), Bucks guard/forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nets guard/forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), Jazz guard Dante Exum (Australia), Jazz center Rudy Gobert (France), Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (Montenegro), Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (Canada) and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (Germany) join Wiggins and Dieng on the World team. On the U.S. squad, Muhammad and LaVine will team up with Jazz guard Trey Burke, Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers center Nerlens Noel, Magic guard Victor Oladipo, Magic guard Elfrid Payton, Nets center Mason Plumlee and Hornets forward Cody Zeller.
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