There’s a noticeable lack of Knicks on the rosters for this year’s NBA Rising Stars game, and while it’s disappointing that the youngest team in the league has been totally snubbed, the exclusion of Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier and Mitchell Robinson should be used as a motivational moment for the whippersnappers.
Before we dive into the injustice of the NBA shunning two rookies who have put up 30 or more in a single game (shoutout to Knox and Trier), let’s take a look at the players who were selected this year.
The Rising Stars Rosters
The picks were made by NBA assistant coaches, with each team submitting one ballot per coaching staff, according to the NBA’s press release announcing the rosters. The assistant coaches were charged with choosing four frontcourt players and four guards, along with two additional players from either position, and they were not allowed to vote for members of their own team.
The U.S. team has Utah Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell, along with Jarrett Allen of the Brooklyn Nets, Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies and John Collins and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks.
The World team, meanwhile, is led by Dallas Mavericks prodigy Luka Doncic and Philadelphia 76ers point forward/non-shooter Ben Simmons, along with Cedi Osman of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls, Rodions Kurucs of the Nets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Los Angeles Clippers, Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns, OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors, and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Kings.
Now that you’ve memorized this year’s Rising Stars rosters, it’s time to make cases for or against our beloved Knicks youths.
Knox has handled a challenging rookie year pretty well, especially considering he’s a 19-year-old playing for a team that is missing its centerpiece, and he should have been included in the Rising Stars game.
After an ankle injury caused the 9th overall pick in last year’s draft to miss seven straight games early on, Knox came back, eventually picked up steam, and started showing why he was highly touted coming out of Kentucky.
Since the first day of December, when Knox posted 26 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in a shocking two-point victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game. Knox was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference rookie of the month for December, a month in which he posted 17.1 points and 6 rebounds per game. During that glorious month, Knox became the only teenager besides LeBron James to ever post at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a game, and one time he scored 17 points in the first quarter alone.
He’s continued to impress, even after the calendar turned to January. We’re only a few weeks removed from Knox torching the 76ers for 31 points and 7 rebounds. The Knicks lost, but only by three, which is basically a win this year.
Shooting percentage is one of the biggest knocks on Knox: he’s shooting 37 percent on two pointers and 34.7 percent on three pointers for the year, although he’s improved a bit as the season has gone on.
Knox’s overall averages of 12.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game each rank seventh among NBA rookies this year, and if anyone on the U.S. roster winds up not playing in the Rising Stars game, he should be selected to play in their place. He should have been there in the first place anyway.
They say honesty is the best policy, so now is when we admit that Ntilikina, who represented the Knicks in last year’s Rising Stars game by putting up 6 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals, isn’t deserving of the honor this time around.
His sophomore statistics are actually quite similar to his stats as a rookie, but there’s no question the Frenchman has had a rough go of it this year. He’s averaging 5.9 points per game, which is exactly what he averaged last year, but his assists and rebounds have dipped ever so slightly, and his shooting percentages are down (Frank shot 36 percent from two-point range last year compared to 34 percent this year, and from beyond the arc he has dropped from 31.8 percent to 29 percent).
Ntilikina’s up and down play, plus David Fizdale’s tendency to yank Frank in and out of the lineup, has led many NBA fans to believe that Ntilikina is — sensitive readers should apply the earmuffs rule from Old School for this next part — a bust.
The 20-year-old may still be finding his way, but he isn’t a bust. Ntilikina has had moments of brilliance sprinkled in with some no-shows this season. In December, for example, he responded to three consecutive DNPs by dropping 7 points and 3 assists in 15 encouraging minutes off the bench against the Nets, and one night later he posted 18 points while playing only in the second half against the Charlotte Hornets. He had 16 points and 4 assists in the next Knicks game, and everyone thought there may have been a breakthrough, but his inconsistency on offense hasn’t gone away.
Even when his shot isn’t falling, however, Ntilikina still manages to bother opposing guards with unrelenting defense. During a recent game in which James Harden dropped 61 points against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, Ntilikina actually played really good defense on the big-bearded MVP, which helped the Knicks only lose by four. A loss may not be a win, but this year a four-point loss to the Rockets is kind of like a win.
Unfortunately, Ntilikina’s inability thus far to improve upon his rookie campaign means he is not deserving of a spot on the Rising Stars rosters. Sorry Frank, we still love you.
You know the story, but we’ll do a quick re-telling anyway. After going undrafted last year, Trier signed a two-way contract with the Knicks in July, and by December the Knicks had secured his services for the foreseeable future by inking Trier to a two-year, $7 million contract.
Trier earned that contract with some remarkable play, such as his 15-point outing to open the year against the Hawks, which included a slam dunk so monstrous the NBA decided to feature it heavily as part of its promotion in the early goings of the season.
His average of 10.5 points per game ranks him eighth overall for rookies, and he’s shooting a not-so-shabby 44 percent from two and 37.5 from three while adding 2.4 rebounds and 3 assists. Trier’s a dazzling dribbler who’s ability to start, stop and then sink mid-range jumpers can be so breathtaking that those with asthma better have an inhaler ready if they plan to watch him play.
In the previously mentioned duel between the Knicks and Rockets, Trier dropped 31 points on 12 of 18 from the field while adding 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal. It was wonderful.
He’s not quite as deserving as Knox, but he certainly deserves to have gotten some votes, and if more than one player drops out of the Rising Stars game, Trier should receive consideration.
If it weren’t for the fact that Robinson has missed 15 games this year, there’d be a real argument that his omission from the Rising Stars game — which is ostensibly about showcasing the NBA’s best young talents while producing awe-inspiring highlights to grow the game’s fanbase — is a huge mistake.
Seriously, the highlights Robinson is able to conjure up are exactly what the NBA hopes to get out of the Rising Stars game. Meanwhile, the NBA could have had a hand in enabling Robinson and fellow Knicks rookie snub Trier to showcase the strong connection they’ve been building to fans of all stripes, but the league decided not to.
If dunks alone don’t do it for you, consider that Robinson ranks second in total blocks by rookies this year, having swatted 66, and is first among neophytes in blocks per game (1.9). One time, he had nine blocks in a single contest.
Robinson is still extremely raw, and he’s got a propensity for picking up fouls due to an inability to stop his arms from flailing like one of those blow up thingies that dance around in the wind outside car dealerships. Hopefully he puts it all together in time for next year’s Rising Stars game, but this season’s 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in only 17 minutes per game don’t make the cut.
Wrapping This Up
Because the Knicks have only been victorious 10 times in 49 tries this year, it makes sense that their players weren’t automatic selections to the Rising Stars game. But Knox and Trier can still be counted as snubs, and at least one of them should end up getting the chance to play due to someone else dropping out.
For all four Knicks youngsters, hopefully being excluded from the Rising Stars game strikes a nerve and makes them realize that nothing is handed to you in this league. It’s time for them to get out there and show that they are indeed among the NBA’s rising stars.