Cade Cunningham named MVP of revamped Rising Stars Challenge

CLEVELAND — The Rising Stars Challenge became the latest part of All-Star Weekend to undergo a format change, and it was a success.

The event, which features the best freshmen and sophomores in the NBA, used an all-new format this season. Rather than just being a game involving these players, like in years past, there were four seven-man rosters coached by Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Rick Barry, James Worthy and Gary Payton.

Three games were played – two 50-a-side semi-final clashes and a 25-a-side league game, in a nod to the league celebrating its 75th anniversary this season.

And after Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, led Team Barry to a 25-20 victory over Team Isiah to win the event, he said he was pleased with the change in format.

“It was a lot of fun,” Cunningham said after winning the event’s MVP award. “Great teammates, great coaches, great atmosphere… I had a great time, for sure.”

All three games used the “Elam Ending”, which first came to All-Star Weekend two years ago in Chicago when it made its All-Star Game debut.

“It felt good,” Rockets guard Jalen Green said after his team lost in the first semifinal when Desmond Bane hit some free throws to seal the game. “It was fun. It was exciting there. We were just playing, playing freely.”

While the games’ opening moments were reminiscent of previous Rising Stars games, which are usually full of dunks, 3s, and barely any intensity, the new format led to a bit of spice in the closing moments.

When Bane was fouled by Jalen Suggs – who had missed a potentially game-winning free throw moments earlier – at the end of the first semi-final, Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey spoke to him before calmly sinking the second to give victory to his team.

In fact, all three games ultimately ended on free throws – a sign of the unusual kind of defense that was played, at least when the games were on the line, all night long.

“I like it,” Hornets guard LaMelo Ball said. “I feel like it was awesome. To have something new, with the 75, 50 and 25, I feel like it was creative.”

The evening also saw players from the G League Ignite join in the festivities for the first time – yet another way for the NBA to highlight its new initiative to entice top prospects to skip college and spend time in the G League before being eligible for the Draft.

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