ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz and Team Chuck attempts a shot during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge part of the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend at Amway Center on February 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris O'Meara-Pool/Getty Images)
Last night the NBA hosted a number of events, none more interesting than the 2012 Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game (5 p.m. | ESPN) and BBVA Rising Stars Challenge (7 p.m. | TNT). I usually don't watch these two events, ever. Back in my day All-Star Friday night would be a place where they'd just talk to the All-Stars on camera, live, and get Karl Malone mad. The Celebrity Game and "Rookie" game have both gone through a number of changes over the years. This year in the Celebrity game they augmented the rosters with some former NBA-All Stars (passed their prime), and one WNBA notable (Tamika Catchings). The coaches for the two teams (somehow separated into "East" and "West") were Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant respectively. I really had no idea who the celebrities in the celebrity game were except for the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (I'm kind of a news and information junkie), and Kevin Hart (because people at my gym call him Kevin Hart when I play basketball -- because I'm a short guy who is funny).
There were even more changes in the Rookie game. This year they put all the rookies and sophomores into a pool, and had Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley alternate picks to fill out the two teams. The rosters used to only be 8 players strong, but because Jeremy Lin is a huge story right now, they increased the roster size to 10 players. In the older format it was very rare for the rookie team to beat the sophomore team. This way seems a bit more interesting though; you know, provided that the people making the picks actually know what they are doing. Shaq's first two picks, Blake Griffin and Jeremy Lin, both hardly played at all during the game. On the other hand, Chuck's first two picks dominated when they were in the game. Early on DeMarcus Cousins was dunking on everybody, and his first pick Kyrie Irving won the MVP of the game (He went 8-8 from downtown). Also the two teams had every uneven coaching. Shaq's team was coached by an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls and Steve Kerr (TNT). The Bulls assistant was coaching in a game where no one played defense, so he was wasted; and Kerr was a GM but never a coach. On Charles' team the two coaches were Maurice Cheeks (Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach), and Mike Fratello (TNT). Mo Cheeks and The Czar were both NBA head coaches -- and Mike was totally into the game actually coaching. (It was also his birthday yesterday)
I'm having difficulty finding an actual Box Score of the game, but Gordon Hayward finished the game with 14 points, a pair of blocks, and countless nice passes. His outside shot was still missing; however he got to do a little bit of everything and he looked like he was having fun. I was particularly impressed with his defensive rebounds -- which he snagged due to his length and athleticism, I would like to see more of that for the Jazz. Derrick Favors also added 14 points, in 14 minutes according to John Hollinger. He made pretty much all of his shots, including all of his free throws -- and he was the only guy out there on Chuck's team who failed to convert his thinking into "Exhibition Game Mode". In a way, he was the analog to Shaq's team's dour blue collar bigman Greg Monroe. They both played back to the basket, had some dunks, but many more of their finishes were fundamentally sound. And they both played post defense, instead of just letting people dunk it. Monroe, of course, stole the game and the highlight of the game when -- in super-duper garbage time, actually disrupted a potential John Wall Jam, and turned it into a full court assist with seconds left on the clock.
Both of our guys played well off the bench, and seem to be enjoying themselves. Hopefully they can get more playing time together in the second half of the season. I think the last time I watched the rookie game was when Andrei Kirilenko was a sophomore, and he was the only guy playing defense for his team. Nice to know that few things have changed for the mentality of our players.