The Rising Stars Challenge - the exhibition game which showcases some of the league's top young talent over All-Star weekend - is undergoing yet another makeover. Rather than pitting rookies against sophomores, this year's event will see select international and American first- or second-year players divided into two squads based upon country of origin. In other words, the new format is USA versus the World.
While the possibility of an international team headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert is already generating plenty of buzz, the change in roster assignment will likely reduce second-year Pacer Solomon Hill's chances of being named. Per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper, here are the guidelines NBA assistant coaches must follow this year when making their selections:
Now, assistant coaches around the league will select 10 first- or second-year players for the World side and 10 for the U.S. for the Feb. 13 game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, rosters that must include four guards, four front-court players and two wild cards regardless of position. At least three of each 10 must be rookies and three in their second season.
As a small forward, Hill will be vying for as few as four or as many as six (four guaranteed front-court and two possible wildcard) available spots on the U.S. team. The below graphic ranks the most likely pool of American front-court players according to descending Player Efficiency Rating:
If the assistant coaches happen to favor guards (i.e. Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Michael Carter-Williams, etc.) over front-court players when making their wildcard picks, then that may mean that Hill could find himself on the bubble for one of only four spots on the U.S. Team.
Also weakening Hill's chances is the fact that he has been slumping at exactly the wrong time. Over the last eight games, the Pacers have gone 1-7 and the former Arizona Wildcat has averaged 6.3 points on just 29.1% shooting.
That being said, if last year's Lance All-Star saga taught us anything, it is that coaches are motivated - for better or worse - by more than just numbers when making their selections for All-Star weekend festivities.
As most are likely well-aware, Hill was thrust into a leading role when Paul George - the Pacers' franchise player - went down with an open fracture of the tibia and fibula in his right leg. With the team's leading scorer, two-time All-Star and All-NBA defender sidelined indefinitely, Hill - with minimal experience - has been asked to fill some very big shoes. Though it cannot be said that Solomon has occupied the void on the wing with the same skill and panache as George, his growth and development have - for the most part - provided a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season.
Only appearing in 28 games as a rookie, the 6'7" small forward has swapped in his gently used Fort Wayne Mad Ants uniform for a spot in Indiana's starting lineup, where he leads all starters in minutes played by a wide margin. While his shot very noticeably still needs some work, he has proven himself to be crafty at getting to the rim, drawing contact, and making the right play at the right time as well as defending the perimeter. In the end, if his stats are not considered to be enough to punch his ticket for Brooklyn, his story - making a jump in the unlikeliest of circumstances - as well as his commitment just might be.
Solomon hill.. Rookie/ Soph game!— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) December 11, 2014
If selected, Hill would join David West (sophomore, 2006), Luis Scola (rookie, 2008; sophomore 2009), Rodney Stuckey (sophomore, 2009), and Paul George (sophomore, 2012) as the only current Pacers to have once competed in the Rising Stars Challenge.