NBA Rising Stars Challenge Pits U.S.A. vs. the World: Which Team Is Better?

The U.S. generally dominates basketball on the global scale, but will that be the case as the American rookies and sophomores take on the world's best youngsters?

The Rising Stars Challenge that takes place on the Friday ight of every All-Star Weekend has never been what you would consider a "must-see" event. Yes, it's exciting to showcase the game's young, up-and-coming talent all in one exhibition game, but the basketball played in the game has rarely been what one would call, well, good.

For all the criticism the actual All-Star game gets for being a dunk and chuck festival with no defense, the Rising Stars Challenge is that tenfold. Scores get out of control fast, there are usually more three-point attempts than twos, and no one really remembers anything about the game once it's over. Even the biggest NBA nerds probably can't tell you who won last year's game and would probably have to dig deep to remember the MVP.

(For the record, Team Hill beat Team Webber 142-136 and Andre Drummond was the MVP with 30 points and 25 rebounds.)

In its early days, this game was comprised entirely of rookies playing a sort of mini All-Star Game with Eastern and Western Conference teams facing off. Eventually, when the NBA realized that rookie classes were generally too thin to fill two competitive rosters worth watching, they changed it to a rookies versus sophomores game. As you can imagine, the sophomores usually dominated the inexperienced rookie teams, so that eventually gave way to two former NBA players picking and coaching teams made up of rookies and sophomores that they picked, playground style.

In all those iterations, the NBA never found anything to make anyone outside the biggest NBA diehards care about the game. This year, with the new U.S.A. versus the World format, they might have found something to draw in casual fans and NBA fanatics alike.

After all, there's no better way to inject a bit of competitive spirit into a competition than to attach national pride to it. This format change is even more interesting when you consider the history of professional hoops on an international level.

The U.S. pool of players has long dominated international competitions, to the point where it makes the big tournaments unexciting for outside observers. As the game continues to grow globally, however, we're starting to see more and more international players getting drafted in the lottery and more international flavor in the upper echelons of the NBA's elite. At the NBA's entry level, you could even argue that the international pool of young players is just as good or better than the US one pound for pound.

Yes, the U.S. still produces the biggest quantity of talent, and there's clearly no one nation that can stack up to them. Still, it's a fun idea to take the best young players of every country outside of the US and see how they fare against the Americans together. At the very least, it should make a game that's usually met with an overall sense of apathy by the general public to something a bit more compelling.

How Do the Teams Stack Up?

Trying to decide which of the two teams is better on paper could be done any number of ways, but we'll use our in-house nERD metric to compare them. It combines a wide variety of factors on both the offensive and defensive end, factors in efficiency, and then spits out a number that represents a player's overall impact on a team. That resulting figure is meant to estimate how many games over or under .500 a league-average team would finish an 82-game NBA season with the player in question as one of its starters. You'll often find that first and second year players have low nERD scores due to a lower level of efficiency during the early stages of their careers and that number often grows as they move closer to their primes.

Below, I've compiled tables of the two teams, listed their current nERD for the 2014-15 season, and then added up everyone's scores to see which team is made up of the best NBA contributors at this point in time, based on our metrics.

U.S. Team Roster

Trey BurkeJazz-7.4
Kentavious Caldwell-PopePistons-5.0
Robert Covington76ers0.6
Zach LaVineTimberwolves-8.7
Shabazz MuhammadTimberwolves1.2
Nerlens Noel76ers-4.4
Victor OladipoMagic-4.0
Elfrid PaytonMagic-7.4
Mason PlumleeNets3.7
Cody ZellerHornets1.2

World Team Roster

Giannis AntetokounmpoBucks2.9
Bojan BogdanovicNets-3.7
Matthew DellavedovaCavaliers-2.4
Gorgui DiengTimberwolves1.6
Dante ExumJazz-7.1
Rudy GobertJazz6.7
Nikola MiroticBulls3.9
Kostas PapanikolaouRockets-2.5
Dennis SchroderHawks-1.8
Andrew WigginsTimberwolves-8.2


It would seem that the World Team beats the U.S. Team, and it's not even really all that close. The average nERD of the 10 World players is -1.1, while the U.S. players average -3.0. The highest nERD between both squads is France's Rudy Gobert (6.7), while the lowest is the U.S.'s Zach LaVine (-8.7).

You may notice that the more prominent and popular young players like Andrew Wiggins (-8.2 nERD), Victor Oladipo (-4.0), Nerlens Noel (-4.4), and Trey Burke (-7.4) score fairly low by this metric and that's largely due to their high usage percentages compounded with inefficient shooting marks and high turnover rates. Having the opportunity to play more minutes and rack up more counting stats on a bad team isn't rewarded by our efficiency metrics and that is clear here, as solid role players like Gobert, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Mirotic, and Mason Plumlee all tend to score better for their contributions than their more popular counterparts.

In the end, the World Team looks set to own tonight's game. It may have been even more lopsided, had Steven Adams (1.1 nERD), Jusuf Nurkic (-0.6), and Kelly Olynyk (1.5) played for the World Team as originally intended, and Michael Carter-Williams (-10.7) had suited up for the U.S., as those players would have separated the average nERD of each squad even further.

Then again, nERD is just number. Which team do you think will win tonight? Let us know in the comments below.