David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Team Shaq is employing a strategy that's worked in the Rising Stars Challenge for a long time: crank up the pace and knock down shots galore.
While Charles Barkley appears to be hoping that a more traditional roster will prove victorious, the roster selected by Shaquille O'Neal for this year's NBA Rising Stars Challenge reflects how teams have won this game in the past: running, gunning, and running some more.
With a group that features Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, Team Shaq is centered around quick, sweet-shooting point guards with tight ball-handling skills. In an event defined by its lack of defense, those players should be licking their lips at the highlight possibilities.
O'Neal may have designed his personal game around size, brute strength, footwork and a stunning array of post moves, but he selected players more likely to run the court and rain three-pointers than pass the ball down low and stand around.
Shaq's squad could roll out a small ball lineup right from the beginning by starting Lillard, Irving, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller. It's a lineup that'll get killed on the boards unless Zeller goes bonkers, but that may not matter if they don't miss many shots.
The bench boasts the team's legitimate defense ace, Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as a pair of explosive scorers in Walker and Dion Waiters. Andrew Nicholson and Chandler Parsons fill out the roster, giving the team some size but little strength in the post.
It's worth noting that the roster would presumably look much stronger if Andre Drummond didn't suffer a back injury recently. With Nicholson replacing him in the game, Team Shaq's biggest weaknesses are only magnified.
Let's Get Running
Given that Team Shaq has just two legitimate post players -- Zeller and Nicholson -- there really isn't any choice but to run the court aggressively and hope to get easy buckets in transition.
Lillard, Irving and Walker are three of the game's best young players at running the fastbreak, able to force opportunities both as scorers and passers. Team Chuck doesn't have those kinds of weapons, so turning up the game's pace will presumably be a core part of the strategy this team deploys.
With so many good shooters on the roster that are able to run the floor -- Thompson, Parsons, Barnes, the aforementioned guards -- transition three-pointers should be a major weapon for Team Shaq's offense. If those guys can get hot from long range and put up a huge point total, it'll be difficult for Barkley's team to keep up.
Luckily for Team Shaq, this event is historically a "who cares about defense, let's show these fans some points!" sort of thing, so this strategy could prove to be genius despite being ridiculously simple.
Staying Alive Inside
On the other hand, a team needs to get defensive rebounds if it wants to get into transition with any sort of consistency. And facing a team that boasts Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Tristan Thompson, Nikola Vucevic and Kawhi Leonard, getting rebounds won't be even a remotely easy task for this roster.
While things looked dire for Team Shaq even when Drummond was in the fold, one pictures this squad getting absolutely crushed on the boards now. Zeller and Nicholson are decent rebounders for big guys, but they're facing some of the premier young ball-snaggers in the league.
And now consider for a moment that the likes of Zeller and Thompson obviously won't be able to play the entire game. Anybody want to take a bet on who wins the rebounding battle between Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried?
Team Shaq clearly has a strategy, one that involves running, gunning and blowing up the scoreboard. It's going to require his players to make shots with incredible efficiency, but the winner of this event over the past five years has scored an average of 138 points. This is certainly a team designed to meet that point total.
The 2013 NBA Rising Stars Challenge will take place Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.