With the start of the 2012-13 NBA regular season just around the corner, anticipation is brewing as fans prepare to see their favorite players back out on the court.
At the moment, these players are getting back in the swing of things in the preseason. While these games are not always a perfect indicator of the kind of season a player will have, they can often give us some valuable information.
This preseason has been particularly interesting, as we have been able to watch transcendent players like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade all work themselves back into shape and see the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams adjust to new roles during these tune-ups.
The players listed here are not just essential to the success of their respective teams, but widely regarded as the league's top 15 superstars. This is not an attempt to rank these players in any way—just a look at how each of them is performing in the preseason and the implications that could have on their impending regular-season performance.
Without further ado, here is the stock up, stock down look at the NBA's brightest stars based on the 2012-2013 preseason.
Note: Derrick Rose has not appeared in the 2012-13 preseason and is not eligible for this list.
The Miami Heat’s LeBron James is coming into the 2012-2013 season with more momentum than any player in the league. He won his first championship and NBA Finals MVP and was the primary catalyst for Team USA’s gold medal in the London Olympics.
In four preseason games, James has played well, albeit in a more measured manner than he would during a regular-season NBA game. Still, he has been incredibly efficient offensively, made the right plays and done the stellar things on the court every basketball fan has come to expect of him.
He has averaged 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.2 steals on impressive 52.4 percent shooting from the floor during four games in Beijing, Shanghai and the United States.
James played very well in a 94-80 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, notching 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 8-of-9 from the foul line. He attacked the basket consistently and also made great passes, including four beautiful passes off penetration that led to three-pointers. He also notched eight dimes in a blowout win over the Detroit Pistons in just 27 minutes of playing time.
Defensively, he is still capable of locking down anyone in the league and has been forcing turnovers well during the preseason and creating transition opportunities for his squad.
It will be difficult for James to improve on his historic 2011-2012 campaign, but all indications are that he will be more than ready to defend the crown once the proper season is under way.
While LeBron James has been playing as well as expected, his Miami teammate Dwyane Wade has looked a step slow coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the offseason.
Obviously the preseason isn't necessarily an indicator of how the season will go, but Wade has simply not looked like himself.
His minutes have been limited to just 20 per game, and he’s averaged 11.5 points, 2.5 boards, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per contest on 45.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Wade struggled against the San Antonio Spurs, shooting just 5-of-13 with four turnovers, but he proved doubters wrong with a super-efficient performance against Detroit where he tallied 21 points. In that game, Miami’s home opener, Wade moved very well on the floor, slashed to the basket and even made some nice passes for open shots.
Despite the talent on the Heat's roster, they are not going to repeat their title unless Wade can prove that his health will not hinder his play and he can return to peak or near-peak form for the regular season.
It will take time for him to get back into elite shape coming off surgery, but at 30 years old and with a significant injury history, Wade’s slow start to the preseason should be noted by Heat fans at this juncture, even if it proves to be nothing more than rust.
Chris Paul is expected to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to title contention, but he has not looked quite himself in the preseason. As relayed by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Paul says that is because of the surgery he had on his right thumb in late August to repair a torn ligament.
Paul has been wearing a brace to protect the digit and was quoted as saying the injury has made him apprehensive, even though his doctor told him everything is fine.
In four games, Paul has averaged 9.5 points, 3.8 boards, 8.0 dimes and 1.8 steals per game while shooting an efficient 51.7 percent from the field.
He started slow in his first performance against Miami, finishing with four points, five rebounds and six assists but taking just two shots in 22 minutes. However, he has improved every game, including a 17-point, eight-assist night against the Utah Jazz where he looked like his usual All-Star self.
The preseason was designed so players could work through injuries and regain their comfort on the court, so Paul's early struggles are far from surprising, and it is unlikely that this injury will seriously impact his play once he has a few regular-season games under his belt.
The problem for Carmelo Anthony in the 2012-2013 preseason has been his inefficiency. The New York Knicks’ superstar small forward has been scoring solid numbers, averaging 21.8 points over four games, but during that stretch he has shot just 38.2 percent from the field overall.
Against the Toronto Raptors he went 8-of-20, including missing all seven of his three-point attempts, and he was an even worse 7-of-23 against the Philadelphia 76ers; neither is an elite defensive ballclub.
This Knicks offense under Mike Woodson is predicated upon Anthony’s ability to score in isolation. For the team to have a shot at contending for a title, he needs to be far more efficient than he has been during his tenure in New York. Unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far in the preseason.
However, he has been rebounding decently in limited minutes to the tune of 5.3 per game and has gotten to the free-throw line with ease. His passing has been decent with games of three and five assists thus far.
Still, fans expected him to come in scorching after a dominant offensive performance in London; as the Olympic team’s sixth man, he provided an instant spark off the bench.
With Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined for the start of the regular season with a knee injury, the Knicks need more out of ‘Melo than he has given them so far.
Sure, Dwight Howard has played in just one preseason game for the Los Angeles Lakers, but in his first appearance with his new team, the All-Star big man more than made his presence felt and assuaged concerns about his troubling back injury.
In 33 minutes against the Sacramento Kings, Howard looked as sharp as ever, notching 19 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and four blocks, while connecting on eight of his dozen shots from the floor.
Although the Kings' Thomas Robinson lit him up for a show-stopping putback dunk, Sacramento's big men had significant trouble containing Dwight, and he made eight trips to the foul line, as they had no choice but to foul him to prevent easy scores.
Despite the talented frontcourt of the Lakers, Howard asserted himself firmly on the glass, carving out great position and using his strength and size to make multiple efforts on the offensive boards to keep possessions alive for his team.
Howard also anchored the team's defense, playing above the rim to block shots and showing that he can still be the rim-protector he was during his time in Orlando.
Before this game, Howard had not played an NBA game since April, so for him to come out and look so sharp certainly bodes well for his professional future and the championship dreams of the Lakers' organization and faithful.
The Boston Celtics have played plenty of preseason basketball, including tilts with both NBA and European teams, and star point guard Rajon Rondo has looked extremely strong throughout.
In the Celtics’ eight contests, the three-time All-Star has averaged 10.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.3 dimes and 1.1 steals per game on 43 percent field-goal shooting.
As a playmaker, Rondo’s play has picked up recently, as he’s recorded double-digit assists in three of Boston’s last four games and had nine dimes in a 30-point rout of the Brooklyn Nets.
He hasn’t been terribly efficient as a scorer, though he is still capable of getting to the rim seemingly at will and needs to take much better care of the ball, given how much time he will spend with it in his hands, but Rondo’s play on the whole has been quite impressive.
He fits perfectly with this more youthful, athletic team and looks ready to run and play more in transition now that he has athletes he can run with.
He played great, mistake-free basketball against Philadelphia despite the Celtics’ loss, notching 12 points and 10 assists with just one turnover. He always seemed in control, never impatient and made plenty of quality passes.
Though Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still high-level contributors, this team will go as far as Rajon Rondo takes it, and if the preseason is any indication, that should certainly be back to the Eastern Conference finals.
Kevin Love was playing well for the Minnesota Timberwolves in three preseason games but then unfortunately broke his hand in a pre-practice workout. Although the injury will not require surgery, according to the Associated Press, he is still expected to miss between six and eight weeks.
Prior to the injury, Love was having a decent but unspectacular preseason, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting just 44.1 percent from the floor and struggling mightily to hit threes.
He dominated Maccabi Haifa with 24 points on 50 percent shooting and eight rebounds, but he will now be forced to watch his team start the season from the sidelines even though it so desperately needs him.
He also did not play particularly well against Indiana, notching 12 points and six points in two contests with the Pacers.
With Ricky Rubio sidelined for the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign too, it seems Minnesota, a team many picked to make the playoffs as a low seed, could be out of the running if it starts too poorly.
Love’s injury could not have come at a worse point in his career, and while he should be able to bounce back by December or January, this is certainly a disheartening start to Love’s fifth NBA campaign.
Many expected Kobe Bryant, after playing in the London Olympics, to ease his way into the preseason, but the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar guard has played brilliant basketball despite L.A.’s 0-5 record during that time.
He has played an average of 26.8 minutes per night and averaged 20.4 points, 4.8 boards and 3.4 assists on impressive 50 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent from behind the three-point line.
Bryant played poorly in his first game against the Golden State Warriors, tallying just 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, but since then has come on strong, highlighted by a 31-point, five-rebound outing against Utah where he was 10-of-18 from the floor.
Against the Jazz, he looked excellent, scoring in a myriad of ways at the rim, from distance and of course at the charity stripe as he punished Utah’s guards.
Bryant has looked rejuvenated playing with a more talented supporting cast, picking his spots well and knowing when to drive and when to shoot from outside, and he has also been capable of getting to the foul line and converting when his team needs a score.
Sharing the ball with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will generate fewer shots for Bryant than he is used to, but if he can score this efficiently in the regular season, Los Angeles will be an absolute nightmare to stop defensively.
Even after 16 years, Kobe remains one of the league’s all-around best players, and there is no reason to expect anything less based on his very strong showing in the 2012-2013 preseason.
Russell Westbrook was not as maligned in the 2012 postseason as he was in the 2011 playoffs, but many still expect more from the hyper-athletic point guard who is as capable scoring the basketball as making passes to open teammates.
Through four preseason games in 2012-13, he seems to have struck a perfect balance, taking few bad shots, making his offensive forays count and finding his teammates while minimizing turnovers to a degree.
Westbrook has averaged 14.8 points, 0.8 rebounds and seven assists per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and a blistering 60 percent from three-point territory.
His performance against the Phoenix Suns was particularly impressive, as the UCLA product had 18 points and a dozen assists while shooting 6-for-11 and connecting on three of the five three-pointers he attempted.
Obviously, his percentages will dip with the grind of a full regular season, but his stroke looks much better, and he has shown growth picking his spots and knowing when to try to score. The only serious concerns for Westbrook are keeping turnovers low and rebounding.
Westbrook is one of the league’s best rebounding point guards but has just three rebounds through four games.
Still, this is grasping at straws, as he has played very well as an all-around point guard. The 2012-2013 season has the potential to cement Westbrook as a top point guard, and he appears ready to rise to the challenge.
That Dirk Nowitzki’s stock has dropped is a surprise to no one, as the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise forward is expected to miss roughly six weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, per the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend.
Nowitzki appeared in just one contest, a game against Germany’s Alba Berlin, where he scored eight points and grabbed five boards but also had three turnovers and shot 3-of-9.
Despite the Mavericks’ frontcourt depth, they need Nowitzki if they want a realistic shot at making the playoffs, let alone making any kind of noise against the Western Conference’s elite teams.
Though arthroscopic surgery is fairly mundane, Nowitzki’s health has become a more significant issue recently, and this team is still built around him as its cornerstone. Nowitzki missed time last season due to conditioning issues, although that was largely a product of the lockout.
The sharpshooting power forward looked a step slow for much of the 2011-2012 season. That impacted not just his ability to score consistently, but also his play on the defensive end and on the glass, as he simply could not move as he used to.
Nowitzki undoubtedly has a few more quality years in him, but these ailments could very well be signaling the beginning of the end for Germany’s best basketball player.
After a 2011-2012 season in which he showed little growth from his rookie campaign and brought fear of stagnation to the minds of many NBA fans, Los Angeles' Blake Griffin has been having a pretty impressive performance in the Clippers' preseason games, particularly as a passer.
In five contests, Griffin has averaged 15 points, 7.4 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field. While his numbers are lower than they will likely be during a regular-season NBA game, he has still been playing very solid basketball in 26 minutes per night.
Thus far, Griffin's best performance was a 23-point, five-rebound, five-assist, five-steal explosion against the Utah Jazz, where he showed just why he is poised to become the league's next great big man. He scored in a bevy of ways, made some brilliant passes to open teammates and was even capable of reading passing lanes and knocking balls loose.
If Griffin can showcase that kind of versatility and not just be a high-flyer, he has the potential to prove the doubters that labeled him as purely one-dimensional incorrect. Griffin is no doubt an absurd athlete, and as long as he continues to improve his finesse game, the sky really is the limit.
Because of his playmaking and all-around excellence, fans should be absolutely giddy to see Griffin step out onto the court with Chris Paul and the revamped Clippers.
This is admittedly somewhat of a cop-out, but Kevin Durant's play through Oklahoma City's first five preseason games has neither impressed nor disheartened me; the lanky forward has simply played very solid basketball in all facets of the game.
Durant has averaged 14.6 points, 3.4 boards, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. He has seen limited minutes at just 24.6 per game, as the Thunder hope to keep him fresh for what should be a grueling regular season.
As a passer, Durant has been impressive; he had seven assists against the Charlotte Bobcats, five against the Denver Nuggets and looked more comfortable as a playmaker in the point-forward role than he has in the past.
However, his rebounding numbers have been uninspiring, and he has not been scoring with the same flair and consistency that he has in the past, even in the preseason.
His best scoring performance was a 22-point effort against Phoenix, but Durant needs to be more focused on taking the ball to the basket and going to the foul line, as he has not attempted particularly many free throws during the 2012-2013 preseason.
Still, there is absolutely no denying Durant's talent and that he is more than capable of leading this team to another NBA Finals appearance and potentially a championship. For that reason, his stock stays flat until further notice.
Deron Williams spent the past season-and-a-half playing on a New Jersey Nets team completely devoid of other reliable scorers, meaning he had to consistently look to generate his own offense instead of finding teammates.
Williams appears not to have completely adjusted out of that mindset, as he has taken some very poor shots for Brooklyn this preseason.
His numbers of 14.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists are solid, but he has shot a paltry 35.3 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point territory.
With the offensive talent he has around him, Williams should be looking to score less and facilitate more, but he has been taking some difficult shots en route to a trio of 4-of-11, 3-of-11 and 2-of-8 performances early in the preseason. His best game was a 22-point, four-assist outing against Philadelphia, but even in that game he shot 2-of-7 from three.
For the Nets to be a relevant team, they need Williams to play more like a playmaker, the way he was in Utah, and not like the Williams who (understandably) felt the need to call his own number more often than not, making it difficult to keep his teammates energized and involved during a game.
Williams’ stock is not considerably down, as he still is talented enough to lead these Nets out of the first round of the playoffs, but he needs to make some adjustments with his game prior to doing so.
LaMarcus Aldridge has not quite been playing up to expectations during the 2012-2013 preseason. He is still among the league's elite power forwards, but as Portland's unquestioned leader, he needs to put up better numbers and simply convert on more of his attempts from the field.
He has averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.6 dimes and 1.6 rejections per game through five contests, but he has shot just 42.9 percent, a troubling clip for a dominant big man.
Aldridge relies heavily on mid-range jump shots to score his points, but he has not been shooting a very high percentage at all from the field, going 4-of-12, 4-of-13, and 5-of-15 in his first three outings.
His scoring has picked up as of late, but as a result his rebounding has taken a nosedive, as he is no longer playing as much in the paint and is often out of position to snatch boards.
This Portland team has plenty of shooting and wing talent; it needs a rugged big man in the middle that can score consistently in the post and react well to double-teams, something Aldridge should be able to do given his tremendous physical abilities.
As a young player shouldering big expectations and coming off hip surgery in May, it is understandable that he will come out of the gate slowly, but the Blazers need L.A. to assert himself as a player a team can be built around.
After he missed the brunt of the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals due to injury, fans began to appreciate just how important a piece Chris Bosh was for the Miami Heat. When he returned to the court, he primarily logged time, very successfully, as a center against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With his first championship under his belt, Bosh is expected to spend more time at center for the 2012-2013 season, something he has done a bit in the preseason to successful results.
The All-Star forward has averaged 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game but has played sparingly at 21.2 minutes per contest.
Bosh had strong games against the Atlanta Hawks, notching 22 points and six rebounds, while he notched 17 points against the Detroit Pistons and snatched six boards.
His silky-smooth mid-range jumper, solid handle for a big man and deceptive quickness make him a nightmare cover for opposing big men, and he has the power to exploit matchups or at the very least draw opposing big men away from the basket.
Bosh will never be the main attraction in Miami, but he is finally getting the recognition he deserves after being constantly maligned. His stock is high right now because he has proven to be the perfect piece alongside James and Wade.