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Which Young Players Shined on the All-Star Stage?

A look at four young players who became household names by shining on the All-Star Weekend stage.

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All-Star Weekend is a chance for some of the game’s biggest stars to come together and put on a show for the fans. It’s one of the few times all year where we get to see the world’s top basketball talent together on the same court. While players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the reason many folks tune in, there were a number young players who showed up in a big way under the bright lights of New York City.

With that said, let’s take closer look at four players who took advantage of the All-Star Weekend spotlight.

Rudy Gobert

Traditionally, All-Star Weekend is dominated by guards and high-flying wings. Both the Rising Stars Challenge and the All-Star Game are typically played at an ultra-up-tempo pace with minimal defense and a non-existent half-court, which leads to a ton of dunks and threes. It’s not exactly a style that most big men excel in. However, second-year Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had no trouble making his presence felt during the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday. Gobert, a member of the World Team, made it known that he wanted to win. He was one of the few players who exerted any sort effort on the defensive end, using his incredible size and length to slow down the parade of dunks. One of the more memorable sequences of the night came when Philadelphia 76ers big man Nerlens Noel caught the ball just above the free-throw line, took one hard dribble to his left, rose up and attempted throw down a big left-handed jam. Unfortunately for Noel, Gobert was right there to emphatically deny Noel’s dunk attempt, bringing the World team bench to their feet. Gobert finished the game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, playing a key role in the World Team victory.

Gorbert has really come on strong over the last two months and is blossoming into one of the better defensive centers in the league. His massive frame allows him to consistently block and alter shots at the rim. The Jazz seem to have hit a home run, choosing the big Frenchmen with the 27th pick in the 2013 draft. Gobert has bounced in and out of the Jazz starting line-up with Enes Kanter missing time. When Gobert has started he has performed well, averaging 8.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.88 blocks per game. Kanter is reportedly unhappy with his inconsistent role and would like to be traded; if that happens, look for Gobert to continue to produce at a high level.

Zach LaVine

It’s been a while since we’ve had a participant in the dunk contest who’s received as much hype as Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine. Anyone who has followed his career knows just how explosive of a leaper LaVine is. Even at the NBA level, a league littered with some of the top athletes in the world, LaVine has the type of athleticism that stands out. So when it came time for the dunk contest on Saturday night, the pressure was on LaVine to impress. Well, it’s safe to say he not only met, but exceeded the high expectations of many fans. From his first Space-Jam-inspired dunk to his final slam (a between the legs smash that came after catching a pass off the backboard support beam), LaVine left the crowd in awe. He put on a historic display and was the run-away winner of the Dunk Contest.

While LaVine made it clear that he is going to be one of the best dunkers in the league for years to come, he must now work to harness his incredible athletic gifts and use them to improve his overall game. He has played nearly all of his minutes this season as a point guard and is still working to get comfortable playing the position at the NBA level. Fortunately for LaVine, he has a terrific point guard to learn from in Minnesota in Ricky Rubio. If he can continue to develop as a floor general, LaVine has the chance to be a special player in the mold of Russell Westbrook. He still has a long way to go to get there, but he is one of the more tantalizing prospects in the league and his dunk-contest performance showed why.

Andrew Wiggins

Welcoming Andrew Wiggins to the big stage may not be the right way to put it, considering he’s been a known commodity among hardcore basketball fans since he was in high school and was the number one pick in last year’s draft. However, on Friday night he proved he was ready for the exposure that comes with All-Star Weekend as he dominated the Rising Stars Challenge. Wiggins, like his teammate Zach LaVine, showed off his next level athleticism throughout the game. He put on a dunking exhibition from start to finish on his way winning MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge. He led the World Team in scoring with 22 points on just 11 shots, and also chipped in six rebounds and four assists.

Wiggins’ play in the Rising Stars game shouldn’t come as a surprise. He has started every game for the Timberwolves this season, and over the last couple months played his way to the front of the Rookie of the Year race. Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring at 15.2 points per game, and maybe even more impressive, he is leading all qualified rookies in three-point field goal percentage at 35.8 percent. Shooting was one the bigger concerns for Wiggins among scouts prior to the draft, but he has turned it into one of his strengths. Wiggins has the chance to be a big-time star down the road and, along with LaVine, should have the Timberwolves very excited about their rookie class.

Victor Oladipo

For a brief moment, it looked like Zach LaVine might not be the sure-fire dunk contest winner many predicted. Victor Oladipo came strolling out of the tunnel, tuxedo t-shirt on, mic in hand, singing Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York.  That’s the type of showmanship that can really get the crowd on your side during an event like the dunk contest. It wasn’t just smoke and mirrors with Oladipo either. His first dunk, a 540 slam with a reverse finish, was easily the best of the night prior to the LaVine show. Oladipo received a 50 for that dunk and looked ready to go toe to toe with heavy favorite LaVine. Of course, it didn’t take long for LaVine to make it clear that he was in a league of his own, but Oladipo’s first dunk certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

Oladipo has been one of the steadier performers for the young Orlando Magic all season. Starting in all of the 45 games he has played, Oladipo is the team’s third-leading scorer and second in assists. He is an integral piece of their young core and will be counted on as the Magic work to transition from rebuilding squad to contending team.

 

Each of these players did well when the spotlight was on them and showed that they were ready to perform on the national stage. They embraced the fanfare of All-Star Weekend and put together some of the most memorable performances of the three-day event. Don’t be surprised to see a few, in not all, of these players playing in the main event on Sunday in the next couple of years.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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