The Phoenix Suns of the past decade have been chastised for not drafting and developing quality young talent, and perhaps that indictment can be summed up by the fact that Steve Nash (1997), Shawn Marion (2001) and Amare Stoudemire (2003) were the last three Suns to play in the rookie-sophomore game.
With Phoenix on the verge of rebuilding with youth, that drought has ended after Markieff Morris was one of nine rookies chosen for the event now known as the Rising Stars Challenge. The game will take place on Feb. 24, the Friday of All-Star weekend in Orlando.
Morris is enjoying the best statistical season for a Suns rookie since STAT took home Rookie of the Year honors in 2002-03 by averaging 7.2 points and a rookie-best 5.0 boards in 20.6 minutes per game while leading all rookies with a 46.0 three-point shooting percentage that ranks seventh in the entire NBA.
“Congratulations young fella. You deserve it,” Channing Frye tweeted to Morris.
The league switched the format of this game this year, as former Suns big men Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will pick their squads from the group of rookies and sophomores selected for the game by NBA assistant coaches (one ballot per team). The draft for Team Chuck and Team Shaq will take place Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. MST on NBA TV.
Morris, the 13th overall pick in June’s draft, will be joined by Kyrie Irving (first pick), Derrick Williams (second), Tristan Thompson (fourth), Ricky Rubio (fifth in 2009), Brandon Knight (eighth), Kemba Walker (ninth), Kawhi Leonard (15th) and MarShon Brooks (25th) as rookies in the game.
Aside from the Suns’ former Big Three, Wesley Person (1995), Trevor Ruffin (1995) and Michael Finley (1996) are the only other Suns to play in this game, which debuted in 1994.