NBA Rising Stars mock draft (yes, really)

LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards in Charlotte Hornets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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If you can mock-draft it, we’re going to mock-draft it.

The NBA changed its Rising Stars format, instituting a four-team draft to precede a tournament. With the player pool set, we’re making our picks.

We’ll follow the league’s rules for the draft:

One difference: In lieu of Rick Barry, Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas and James Worthy, our drafters are:

DRAFT

Round 1

1. Kurt Helin: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

This is an exhibition game played up-tempo and with little defense, a setting where Ball will thrive — and make ridiculous highlight plays.

2. Chase Hughes: Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

I want my team to not only win, I want them to put on a show. Edwards is the guy to help me do both with his scoring and Richter scale dunks.

3. Dan Feldman: Desmond Bane (Grizzlies)

Maybe the easiest pick of the draft, Bane is the last of the three Rising Star participants who got actual All-Star consideration. His expanded offensive repertoire goes a long way in this environment.

4. Rob Schaefer: Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

Saving flash for later in the draft, we secure our defensive anchor at the back of the first round. (Always a sound strategy for this exhibition, right? Bueller?)

Round 2

5. Rob Schaefer: Tyrese Haliburton (Kings)

Haliburton’s passing smarts and outside shooting offer a nice complement to Mobley — and, I figure, anyone I may draft later. Plus, he’s displayed a penchant for big moments already in his time in the league.

6. Dan Feldman: Cade Cunningham (Pistons)

Cunningham has played more like a No. 1 pick lately. His all-around game is showing, including the shot creation that could make him a star.

7. Chase Hughes: Scottie Barnes (Raptors)

For my second pick, I’ll take a guy who is the most impressive rookie I’ve seen in person this season. I could play him at any position and rely on him to get stops, regardless of who has the ball.

8. Kurt Helin: Franz Wagner (Magic)

Plays the three with the size of a four, can shoot the 3-ball, runs the floor well, fearless, and can even defend a little (if anyone’s doing that in this exhibition).

Round 3

9. Kurt Helin: Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Best player on the board, has broken out this season as a point guard who can get buckets and he plays fast. I trust he and LaMelo can figure out how to share the rock.

10. Chase Hughes: Josh Giddey (Thunder)

I need someone to run my offense and throw Edwards perfect lobs. Give me Giddey, who has swept the Rookie of the Month awards in the West so far and looks like one of the first major finds in the Thunder’s rebuild.

11. Dan Feldman: Jae'Sean Tate (Rockets)

Am I confident his style will translate to this event? No. But he’s too good to pass up at this point.

12. Rob Schaefer: Cole Anthony (Magic)

A fierce competitor with an already-lengthy clutch-time rolodex, and one of the league’s bounciest personalities.

Round 4

13. Rob Schaefer: Chris Duarte (Pacers)

Again, not the flashiest pick, but arguably the best shot-creator left on the board.

14. Dan Feldman: Saddiq Bey (Pistons)

Like his Detroit teammate Cunningham, Bey has played better lately. At his best, he’s a smooth-shooting wing with length to defend.

15. Chase Hughes: Jalen Green (Rockets)

I’ll take Green, the odds-on favorite for the dunk contest. Now I have Giddey running my offense with Edwards and Green as my wings, ready to defy gravity and destroy the rim. Sounds fun.

16. Kurt Helin: Herbert Jones (Pelicans)

Jones has been an under-the-radar rookie playing well, he brings some solid defense (which we may want at end of games) and he’s the kind of athlete that can thrive in this setting.

Round 5

17. Kurt Helin: Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Okoro has taken a step forward this year, plus I want that massive Cavaliers fan base that is showing up Friday night behind my team.

18. Chase Hughes: Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

I need a big man, so I’ll take Sengun here. He gives me scoring, rim protection and another player capable of highlight reel passes. Him and Giddey firing missiles to Edwards, Green and Barnes should be entertaining.

19. Dan Feldman: Jaden McDaniels (Timberwolves)

I was hoping to nab Sengun for the optionality of playing big. Alas, we’ll fully embrace small ball around Tate at center. So, better snag the last wing or forward on the board to fill the lineup behind him. McDaniels plays smothering defense. Hopefully, he shoots well enough to spread the floor.

20. Rob Schaefer: Jalen Suggs (Magic)

Suggs hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft billing yet, but his athleticism and open-floor passing ability should be conducive to this format.

Round 6

21. Rob Schaefer: Ayo Dosunmu (Bulls)

He’ll buy into our team’s try-hard ethos — that’s right, we’re picking up full-court every possession — and is lightning-quick on the break, to boot.

22. Dan Feldman: Davion Mitchell (Kings)

One last chance to get a big, I’ll pass. Mitchell will give opposing guards hell defensively. He also looks like he might be settling in offensively as a driver and at-least-capable shooter.

23. Chase Hughes: Isaiah Stewart (Pistons)

I’ll take some Beef Stew with my next pick. He will add even more rebounding to my team, even though it was already a strength.

24. Kurt Helin: Precious Achiuwa (Raptors)

Achiuwa falls to me to round out the team, but he’s the kind of athlete and finisher who will be fun in a glorified pickup game setting.

Round 7

25. Kurt Helin: Jaden Hardy (Ignite)

An athletic guard who can get buckets seems like the right fit for this event.

26. Chase Hughes: Scoot Henderson (Ignite)

I’ll round out my team with a guy who could be a superstar years from now. Henderson is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2023 draft.

27. Dan Feldman: Dyson Daniels (Ignite)

With his passing and defense on the wing, Daniels should fit in well. Important considering these minor-leaguers’ ability deficit as they share the court with NBA players.

28. Rob Schaefer: MarJon Beauchamp (Ignite)

Mr. Irrelevant in everyone’s eyes but mine. Beauchamp is a projected first-round pick this year and gives our guard-heavy roster some length and athleticism on the wing.

ROSTERS

Kurt Helin

  • Point guard: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)
  • Shooting guard: Tyrese Maxey (76ers)
  • Small forward: Isaac Okoro (Cavaliers)
  • Power forward: Franz Wagner (Magic)
  • Center: Herbert Jones (Pelicans)
  • Sixth man: Precious Achiuwa (Raptors)
  • Seventh man: Jaden Hardy (Ignite)

These games are going to look a lot like Summer League games — freelance, pick-up style without a lot of defense — and those games are dominated by guard play. Which is why I think this team would take it all, Ball and Maxey are proven scorers and setup men at the NBA level who will thrive in this setting. Wagner, Okoro and Jones are finishers and will get their chances. We might play a little defense at points, and Hardy could surprise some people. But mostly, it’s about the guards.

Chase Hughes

  • Point guard: Josh Giddey (Thunder)
  • Shooting guard: Jalen Green (Rockets)
  • Small forward: Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)
  • Power forward: Scottie Barnes (Raptors)
  • Center: Alperen Sengun (Rockets)
  • Sixth man: Isaiah Stewart (Pistons)
  • Seventh man: Scoot Henderson (Ignite)

I absolutely love the team I got. You could say I’m Giddey. Looking at this roster makes me want to recreate it on 2K. Seems like it’s completely loaded, though that may be a reflection of the league’s young talent in general, as there were a lot of good players to choose from. I’d love to watch this group run the floor together, producing viral highlights between Edwards and Green’s dynamic dunks and nifty passes from Giddey and Sengun. Henderson could make a name for himself, while Barnes and Stewart could show off some flash to match their solid all-around games.

Dan Feldman

  • Point guard: Cade Cunningham (Pistons)
  • Shooting guard: Desmond Bane (Grizzlies)
  • Small forward: Saddiq Bey (Pistons)
  • Power forward: Jaden McDaniels (Timberwolves)
  • Center: Jae’Sean Tate (Rockets)
  • Sixth man: Davion Mitchell (Kings)
  • Seventh man: Dyson Daniels (Ignite)

James Harden was the Rockets’ best player when they built around Russell Westbrook due to Westbrook’s unique and pronounced skills and limitations. Likewise, we’re building around Tate as our small-ball center, even though Cunningham and Bane are the top players and offensive initiators. Tate can screen-and-roll (passing or finishing) and post-up, leaving spotting up on the perimeter to Bey and McDaniels. Tate also has the toughness to battle inside defensively, though this team is built to switch. We’ll pray for rebounds. Mitchell can provide a spark off the bench, sometimes sliding Cunningham to the wing as we go even smaller.

Rob Schaefer

  • Point guard: Cole Anthony (Magic)
  • Shooting guard: Jalen Suggs (Magic)
  • Small forward: Tyrese Haliburton (Kings)
  • Power forward: Chris Duarte (Pacers)
  • Center: Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
  • Sixth man: Ayo Dosunmu (Bulls)
  • Seventh man: MarJon Beauchamp (Ignite)

Lot of guard talent in the league, eh? Poster dunks will be at a premium, but we’re hoping to out-run, out-shoot and out-scrap the competition (while banking on trivial things like rebounding not factoring into this exhibition). Between the passing of Mobley and Haliburton, shotmaking of Anthony and Duarte, and dogged defense of Suggs and Dosunmu, this is a balanced group that can play a high-octane style, and boasts multiple heat-check candidates. The hyper-competitiveness that permeates the roster should make us both irritating to play against and sneakily tough to beat.