One Thing Every Top NBA Star Must Do to Raise His Game

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

One Thing Every Top NBA Star Must Do to Raise His Game

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    The NBA is full of talented players who can take over a game on any given night—but nobody is perfect. Every star has an area he must improve upon to reach his full potential.

    Part of the reason we love this game is because we can watch mind-boggling athletes do things that most humans can only dream of. We spend so much time gawking at what these players can do that we often times forget that they are, in fact, human, too.

    Every team in the Association devotes time to improving their roster, and if the league's best players are smart, they've put in the same effort to improving their already stellar skill sets.

    *For the purposes of this piece, stars will be considered the top 10 players from ESPN’s NBA Rank.

No. 10: Deron Williams

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    Area of Improvement: Defense

    Deron Williams is the clear-cut face of the Brooklyn Nets franchise, but his production on defense isn't something head coach Avery Johnson should be proud of.

    The problem for Williams is seemingly a result of effort, not ability.

    The 6’2” guard isn’t the quickest player in the league, but with great strength and decent lateral movement, he has the tools necessary to lock down and defend smaller guards when he puts his mind to it.

    As a point guard, it can be argued that Williams’ biggest area of improvement should be controlling his turnovers. However, with more help in 2013 than he’s ever had before, he can once again turn into a distributor rather than a one-man playmaker.

    According to ESPN's Mike Mazzeo, Williams has committed to becoming a better defender, which is all the franchise can ask for from a player who is already considered an elite NBA point guard.

No. 9: Russell Westbrook

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    Area of Improvement: Decision Making

    Russell Westbrook has quickly become one of the most dangerous players in the entire NBA, but his decision making is one area that this star must improve moving forward.

    At 6’2”, Westbrook is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. His power at the rim makes him a force on offense, and his pull-up jumper is becoming one of the game’s most unstoppable signature moves.

    The problem is, as his point-per-game average has increased, his assists have fallen at a stunning rate.

    After averaging a career-high 8.2 assists in 2011, Westbrook dropped that number to just 5.5 in 2012. The 23-year-old attempted a career-high 19.2 shots per game in his fourth year as a pro, which wouldn’t be a problem if he were the No. 1 option on his own team.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are a title contender in 2013, and with Kevin Durant still on the roster, Westbrook needs to look at the game as a point guard who can score, not a scorer who happens to bring the ball up the court.

No. 8: Dwyane Wade

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    Area of Improvement: Shooting

    Dwyane Wade is good at a lot of things, but people often forget that the nine-year veteran has never been a great three-point shooter throughout his NBA career.

    The thing about Wade is that with such a high basketball IQ, he’s hidden the fact that he’s not a great shooter fairly well.

    Despite having shot just 29.1 percent from the three-point line for his career (26.8 percent in 2012), he is one of the best in the league at using ball fakes to draw fouls and get to the line.

    Wade is a respectable foul shooter—floating between 75 and 79 percent for most of his career—and he more times than not makes up for the fact that he simply can’t get it done from beyond the arc.

    Now that the Miami Heat have Ray Allen waiting to be let loose, Wade’s shot isn’t going to be a huge concern moving forward. However, if the 30-year-old veteran wants to be even more dangerous at this point in his career, knocking down a higher percentage of long-distance shots is the way to do it.

No. 7: Kevin Love

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    Area of Improvement: Getting Teammates Involved

    Kevin Love has the skills and the court vision to be one of the better passing big men in the league, but his assists are almost embarrassing for a player who is such an integral part of the offense.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves did a lot to improve throughout the 2012 offseason, and the forward now has an array of weapons to help alleviate the pressure in 2013.

    For those who claim defense is the biggest concern, you have a legitimate gripe. The big man needs to improve his lateral movement, he doesn’t block shots and he often times gets caught complaining about calls instead of getting back defensively.

    The truth is, though, the 6’10” forward has done a lot to improve his conditioning, and as a result, he’s not the liability that he was early in his career.

    Love has become a statistical nightmare for opposing defenses, but until he can truly get his teammates involved on the offensive end, you have to wonder just how great of a leader he actually is.

No. 6: Kobe Bryant

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    Area of Improvement: Shot Selection

    Kobe Bryant attempted 23 shots per game in 2012, but with the moves the team made in the offseason, it’s going to be crucial that the 34-year-old veteran is willing to tone down the shots to help his superstar teammates.

    Bryant’s shot selection has always been an area of criticism for those looking to critique the superstar shooting guard. Now, with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining him and Pau Gasol, it’s going to be vital that he spreads the wealth and lowers his shot attempts.

    This in no way means that Bryant needs to drop down to 10 shots per game. The 16-year veteran is still one of the league’s best isolation scorers, and there will be times where he is expected to take over.

    However, he will not need to score on every single possession, like he felt the need to do in the past, and Bryant needs to recognize his new role.

    It may be tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but if Bryant truly covets that sixth championship ring, he’ll make the necessary adjustments and put the team ahead of his shots for the 2013 NBA season.

No. 5: Derrick Rose

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    Area of Improvement: Outside Shooting

    At the moment, Derrick Rose’s health is the biggest concern moving forward. However, once he is back on the court, continuing to improve his outside shot is what will make him an even more dynamic scorer at the point guard position.

    Rose entered the league and shot an abysmal 22.2 percent from the three-point line. He’s steadily increased that number to 31 percent for his career, but having averaged 4.6 attempts from deep in the past two seasons, he must continue to improve.

    The 23-year-old epitomizes what today’s athletic scoring point guard looks like. At 6’3”, his athleticism is top-tier, his end-to-end speed is among the best in the league and his power above the rim is unmatched by most his size.

    Simply put, Rose is not your grandfather’s point guard.

    If the four-year veteran can continue to improve his deep-range shot, he’s going to be one of the most impossible players to guard in the entire NBA.

No. 4: Chris Paul

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    Area of Improvement: Be More Selfish

    Chris Paul is one of the most complete players in the league today, and the bold truth is that he must be willing to be more selfish throughout the course of NBA games.

    The 27-year-old point guard is one of the best players in the Association when it comes to making his teammates better, but he’s also shown throughout his career that he can be counted on to score when it matters most.

    Paul showed more aggression in 2012 than he had the previous season by boosting his point-per-game average, but he often times looked for highlight lobs and unselfish finishes as opposed to taking his man and attacking on his own.

    None of this is to say that Paul is a poor distributor; it’s a testament to how good he can be if he keeps the game in his own hands.

    As the fourth-best point guard in true shooting percentage, Paul must be more willing to take over and show why he is one of the best players in 2013. 

No. 3: Dwight Howard

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    Area of Improvement: Free-throw Shooting

    Dwight Howard has been an awful free-throw shooter for a long time, which is a major problem considering he’s taken the most free throws in the NBA four of the past five seasons.

    Having shot just 58.8 percent from the line for his career—and a career-low 49.1 percent in 2012—the center has only eclipsed the 60-percent mark one time since joining the league in 2004.

    The problem isn’t his form, as he actually displays a decent looking shot from the line. However, with one of the worst percentages among the league’s best players, the 6’11” center must become more reliable.

    It can be argued that establishing a true low-post game with signature moves should be Howard’s main focus, but the fact is, he’s done extremely well for himself utilizing his athleticism up to this point.

    There’s no denying that he lacks an array of moves down low, but with the hack-a-Howard strategy in every team’s back pocket, the big man will remain a huge liability when the game is on the line.

No. 2: Kevin Durant

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    Area of Improvement: Control Turnovers

    The impulse of many NBA fans is to point at strength or defense as Kevin Durant’s biggest flaws.

    It’s true that the 24-year-old could afford to bulk up as he enters his sixth season, and it’s also true that he has yet to become an elite defender; but when it comes to securing the ball, Durant’s turnovers result in less possessions where he can dominate as the lethal scorer that he is.

    According to ESPN’s John Hollinger (Insider), Durant ranked 64th out of 67 small forwards in pure point rating. His 3.8 turnovers per game were the third worst in the league, and those lost possessions are taking away from opportunities to show why he is one of the best scorers in the entire NBA.

    Durant has proven he can score without having the frame of LeBron James, but if he controlled the ball better at this point, he would elevate his game as he continues building toward the prime of his career.

No. 1: LeBron James

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    Area of Improvement: Free-throw Shooting

    It speaks extremely high volumes to LeBron James’ skill set that his biggest deficiency is foul shooting.

    Following a season where James improved his three-point shot, took on a greater role of leadership and added a post game to his already diverse set of weapons, his 77.1 percent from the line is one of the few areas of his game that truly needs improvement.

    James is a world-class scorer who can get to the rim at will, but if he can’t be counted on to make the free throws in crunch time, the strategy becomes a simple one for defenses.

    It can still be argued that James needs to improve his clutch performance as a whole, but as one of the best playmakers in all of basketball, the former Finals MVP is worth taking a chance on late in games. 

    James is considered the best player in the world in the eyes of many, but if he ever wants to be known as truly unstoppable, he must continue to improve from the line when it counts the most.