NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 08: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls fights for a rebound over Gustavo Ayon #15 of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on February 8, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Graythen/Getty Images)
The NBA announced its "Rising Stars Challenge" roster pool yesterday. Unlike previous iterations, the game will feature 18 players on two teams selected by TNT's Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. Via SBNation, here are the all eighteen invited participants:
ROOKIES: Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Derrick Williams (Timberwolves), Tristan Thompson (Cavaliers), Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves), Brandon Knight (Pistons), Kemba Walker (Bobcats), Markieff Morris (Suns), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Marshon Brooks(Nets).
SOPHOMORES: Blake Griffin (Clippers), John Wall (Wizards), Evan Turner (76ers),DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Greg Monroe (Pistons), Gordon Hayward (Jazz), Paul George (Pacers), Landry Fields (Knicks), Tiago Splitter (Spurs).
The Hornets' Greivis Vasquez, Xavier Henry, and Gustavo Ayon could have theoretically qualified, though it's difficult to imagine either Vasquez or Henry trumping the sophomore list, which features primarily starting level players with significantly better minutes, production, and efficiency.
Gustavo Ayon, meanwhile, has a strong case when only efficiency is considered. Here are the rookie leaders in PER for a minimum 15 games played in 2011-2012:
Tota Rk Player Season Age Tm G GS PER 1 Kyrie Irving 2011-12 19 CLE 23 23 21.6 2 Gustavo Ayon 2011-12 26 NOH 18 1 21.0 3 Jimmy Butler 2011-12 22 CHI 16 0 19.5 4 MarShon Brooks 2011-12 23 NJN 17 9 18.4 5 Nikola Vucevic 2011-12 21 PHI 16 3 18.4 6 Tobias Harris 2011-12 19 MIL 16 0 18.1 7 Jon Leuer 2011-12 22 MIL 23 6 18.1 8 Ricky Rubio 2011-12 21 MIN 25 15 17.2 9 Enes Kanter 2011-12 19 UTA 24 0 15.9 10 Isaiah Thomas 2011-12 22 SAC 24 0 14.9
Ayon's candidacy, though, falls short when considering his overall minutes. Monty Williams has simply not used him in the consistently expanded role many Hornets fans have wanted for him, and as a result, his overall counting stats haven't been nearly as impressive.