If you're not yet too familiar with the rookie and sophomore classes in the NBA, there's no better night to get acquainted with the youngsters than Friday, as All-Star 2006 tips off with the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge (9 p.m. ET, TNT).
With T.J. Ford and Chris Paul running the show, the Rookie Challenge is sure to be an up-and-down, fast-paced affair. There isn't anybody in the league right now quicker than these two diminutive point guards and they each have led their teams to a big turnaround this season. Ford's Bucks stand at 27-25, a significant improvement over their 20-30 mark at the break last season, when Ford was recovering a spinal injury. Paul is the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year, leading the Hornets to a 29-23 record. Last year at this time, they stood at 11-42. His rookie teammates are certainly anticipating having Paul on their side for once.
"I'm looking forward to playing with Chris Paul instead of playing against him because he's so tough," Nate Robinson told us.
Paul and Ford will keep the pace brisk.
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Paul has been a little banged up of late, but he says that he's ready to go. Ford was a little disappointed that he wasn't chosen for the game two years ago as a rookie (since he missed all of last season, he qualifies as a sophomore for '05-06), but he's looking forward to teaming up with this class of sophomores.
"We got a lot of guys that can get above the rim, so I definitely want to help those guys put on a show and also put on a show myself," Ford said.
The fun matchups don't end at the point guard position though. Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut, two of the best young big men in the league, will being battling down low. When we asked Howard which rookie he was most looking forward to playing against, he named his fellow No. 1 pick.
Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger will take flight on the wings. Channing Frye and Nenad Krstic are a pair of big men that can shoot from the outside. Ben Gordon and Nate Robinson are, pound-for-pound, two of the toughest players in the league. Charlie Villanueva is a athletic big man that will be a tough matchup for the sophomores. Deron Williams and Devin Harris are floor generals that can each take it to the hole.
The future is now and there will be plenty of talent on display Friday night. Soon enough, some of these guys will be playing in the Sunday game.
T-Mobile Rookie Report | Rookie Rankings | Mailbox
2005 Rookie Challenge Highlights