It’s been quite the All-Star Weekend for our NBA rookies. After an impressive Friday night of BBVA action, the League’s newst talent took center stage during Saturday night’s line-up of events.
Out of the four events that took place in Houston last night (Shooting Stars Challenge, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, and the Dunk Contest), two of the events were won by rookies.
After a rather lackluster Shooting Stars Challenge, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard (a Rookie of the Year favorite and BBVA competitor) got things going by dominating in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, an “obstacle course” for the some of the league’s best and brightest ball handlers in the league. Lillard, who posted the best first-round time (and time of the night) of 28.8 seconds, defeated Phildelphia’s Jrue Holiday in the final round with a time of 29.8 seconds.
Aside from Holiday, Lillard also beat out San Antonio’s Tony Parker (the defending champion), Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, Detroit’s Brandon Knight, and Houston’s hometown favorite Jeremy Lin.
And while Lillard’s performance was impressive and helped to set the tone for young participants in the competitions, nothing said “I am rookie; hear me roar” more than the Toronto Raptors’ Terrence Ross, who won the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest by defeating returning dunk champion Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz in the final round. Ross, who beat out his Eastern Conference counterparts James White of the New York Knicks and Gerald Green of the Indiana Pacers to make it to the finals, paid tribute to former Raptor and Slam Dunk Champion Vince Carter by donning his jersey for his first of two dunks in the Championship Round. To complete the Carter-tribute dunk, Ross took a pass from current rookie (and former high school teammate) Terrence Jones of the Houston Rockets off the side of the backboard before spinning in the air and throwing down a one-handed jam. With his second dunk, Ross got one of the many ball boys involved, as he jumped over the adolescent and completed the through-the-legs-around-the-world maneuver before throwing down another one-handed jam.While Ross hasn’t been making the biggest contributions to the Raptors this season, he has proved several highlight reel jams throughout the season, which helped him to earn him a well-deserved spot in the competition. After a huge night like this, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ross getting a bit more playing time as Dwayne Casey and the rest of the Toronto brass try to figure out an extremely strong starting five moving forward (after the recent acquisition of Rudy Gay).
As for Lillard, to say that he was expected to win the Skills Challenge would be an overstatement. Lillard has been all that Portland could have asked for -and then some -in his first season in the league. The only dispute that comes to mind in regards to Lillard is as to why he didn’t receive as much hype during the voting process for selecting All-Star’s; Lillard’s numbers have been impressive to say the least, and he’s shown throughout this year that he can lead Portland through many-a-tough-situation when called upon. It’s a shame he wasn’t rewarded for his hard work and dedication by getting the All-Star nod.
An even more impressive statistic Saturday’s feat was that only two rookies took part in the entire nights’ festivities, Lillard in the Skills Challenge and Ross in the Slam Dunk Contest. For two rookies to come away with victories on All-Star Saturday is amazing. For the only two rookies in the entire nights’ competition to complete the feat? Well, that’s just extraordinary.
And yet, after the way this rookie class has performed this year, it’s hard to imagine anything less than that.