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The participants in the NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge were announced on Wednesday, and big men Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger will represent the Celtics at the game, which will take place on February 14 at the Pelicans’ New Orleans Arena.
The 2014 edition will be the third since the game’s format was changed. It used to pit the rookies against the second-year players, but the last two years the participants were drafted by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal into their respective teams. The particulars of this year’s game haven’t been announced yet, but it is expected to continue in the same vein. Nine rookies and nine sophomores were chosen.
Sullinger is having a very solid second NBA season, all the more remarkable because he was coming off back surgery that forced him to miss the second half of his rookie year. Bookmakers odds would have him struggling this year. But he’s doubled his points and assists averages and earned a spot in the starting lineup. Through 46 games, of which he’s started 33, the Ohio State product is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He’s recorded 13 double-doubles, including a 25-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Toronto on January 15.
Sullinger was the Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2010, and lived up to the hype in his two seasons in college, taking first-team All-American honors both years. He fell to number 21 in the 2012 Draft, largely due to his back issues, but with his play in 2013-14 he’s proving that, when healthy, he’s a legitimate NBA starter and one of the steals of his draft class. This will be his first appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, since he was not selected as a rookie.
Olynyk, for his part, has had a much more up-and-down season, which is only natural for a rookie on a bad team. The 13th pick in the last draft was expected to struggle with the NBA’s level of physicality, and for the most part he has, although he’s benefited from a weak draft class in getting the call to New Orleans. The Canadian seven-footer out of Gonzaga has shown signs of offensive ability, but has only recorded more than 10 rebounds once all season. He had his best game as a pro on January 17 against the Lakers, when he shot 11-of-17 and had a career-high 25 points and seven assists, but he’s failed to reach even 10 points in any game since.
There is no doubt that Olynyk is a talented player but, with averages of 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, he’ll have to step up his game if he doesn’t want to be left behind when the Celtics move on with their abundant haul of draft picks over the next few years.
Olynyk and Sullinger will be the first Celtics to take part in All-Star Friday since Rajon Rondo‘s sophomore season in 2008. The Celtics will be the only team with two players present.
Steven Adams (OC), Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Pero Antić (ATL), Trey Burke (UTA), Michael Carter-Williams (PHI), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (NY), Victor Oladipo (ORL), Kelly Olynyk (BOS), Mason Plumlee (BRO)