C's Rising Stars Surprise in Starting Role

NEW ORLEANS – Fans around the world voted Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk in as starters for Team Webber in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge. The duo did not disappoint despite the fact that their team fell 142-136 to Team Hill.

Boston’s young big men opened up the game by scoring eight of their team’s first 10 points. They continued to play well throughout the game and totaled 22 points, three rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots.

“It seemed to be working at the start,” Olynyk said of the combo of he and Sullinger. “It was fun. Jared hit two shots at the start that got him going, I had a steal and got a bucket. It was a nice start.”

Jared Sullinger takes a 3-pointer in the Rising Stars Challenge

Jared Sullinger made three of his first four 3-pointers Friday night.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

Sullinger and Olynyk stood as the only regular-season teammates who were participating in the Rising Star Challenge. Team Webber’s head coach, Rex Kalamian, made sure to take advantage of that fact by leaving the duo on the floor together for their first 18-plus minutes of playing time.

“It was just fun to be out there with him, knowing him and being with him all year,” said Olynyk, who scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. “It was fun to be with him kind of outside of the system and just having fun and playing for the love of the game.”

During their time on the court both Sullinger and Olynyk went out of the box a little bit, which is to be expected during a game like this. All-Star weekend is all about flash. These guys wanted to show off some skills that they might not be known for around the league.

“I came out today and I knew what I was doing,” Sullinger said with a smile. “I told you all from the get go: I’m going to shoot a lot of 3s. I wasn’t going to go in the paint as much.”

He wasn’t kidding. Sullinger, who has hit just 25.8 percent of his 3-pointers over the first 52 games of his season, came out firing from long distance. He sandwiched two 3-pointers into 26 seconds of action during the first minute of the game. He finished the night having attempted nine treys. He hit three of the first four attempts before cooling off in the second half, but still finished with a conversion rate of 33 percent.

“He’s actually a really good shooter,” said Olynyk. “The thing is his shot looks so pretty. It comes off his hand nicely and he’s got a good base and ball rotation. When it goes in, it looks like this guy should make everything.”

The second-year big man out of Ohio State converted on three 3s to help him score 13 points, but he also did work in the assist column. Sullinger finished with four helpers on the night, which falls just one tally shy of his season high.

While Sullinger went off the reservation with 3-pointers and assists, Olynyk opted to make his mark with something that’s typically missing from All-Star weekend: defense. Not to say that the 7-footer is a poor defender (Synergy Sports rates him as average at the defensive end), but steals and blocks aren’t exactly his forte.

If you don't take Friday night into consideration, that is.

Olynyk used his 6-foot-10 wingspan to reach out and grab three steals. That number matches his season high through 44 games. He also blocked a shot during his 25 minutes of action.

“He has the IQ to be one heck of a defensive player,” Sullinger said of his frontcourt teammate. “He’s working on it every day with Jay (Larranaga), with Ron Adams, with Brad (Stevens). They’re doing a lot of stuff to make sure he’s a successful defender and offensive player as well. So he’s doing all the hard work and he’s willing to listen, and that’s what makes it so easy for him to be able to do it in a situation like tonight.”

Defense, in the Rising Stars Challenge? That surely wasn’t expected out of Olynyk, let alone anyone who participated in the game. The Canadian shocked us all by bringing it at the defensive end while Sullinger launched shots from long range as if he were Ray Allen.

Following the game, both players got a laugh out of their unique contributions to the box score. Their team may have lost, but that didn’t prevent them surprising the fans who voted them in as starters and putting on a show along the way.