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7 NBA Stars Whose Games Are Evolving to New Heights in 2012-13

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent INovember 22, 2012

7 NBA Stars Whose Games Are Evolving to New Heights in 2012-13

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    The mark of a great NBA player is one who stops at nothing to improve and evolve their game, and there has been a tremendous showing of that throughout the league early on in the 2012-13 season. Many players used the offseason to better themselves, and it's clearly showing on their stat sheets.

    One of the most notable cases of a player's gradual evolution this year has been Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.

    Normally just one to dish off assists and come away with steals, Rondo's overall offensive game has improved tremendously this year. His mid-range jumper is looking incredible and his field-goal percentage reflects accordingly.

    Of course, Rondo's improvement is but one case in the league today. Some have committed to playing better defense, while others have shown an extra bounce in their step on offense. Some players have just looked better in every way, shape and form.

    If these new-look players can keep up their numbers and effort, then they'll make for some incredible performances over the course of the season, much to the fans' delight.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG, .498% FG, .447% 3PT

    We all know Durant as the unbelievable producer who has led the league in scoring three years running now, but he's become a different player this season.

    Durant is second in PPG, but has shown a commitment to becoming a more complete player. The former Texas Longhorn has shown more aggression in the paint, not at all hesitant about going up for a rebound. He has also improved his perimeter defense, as shown by his increase in steals.

    It's clear that Durant is playing with a chip on his shoulder following the Thunder's loss in the NBA Finals. He wants to get back to that stage by any means necessary, and he knows that it won't happen unless he ups his effort on defense.

    With Oklahoma City standing 9-3 and atop the Northwest Division, it's clear that his approach is working.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    2012-13 Stats: 24.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, .438% FG, .300% 3PT

    Harden may have come back down to earth after scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games as a Houston Rocket, but he has handled the transition from sixth man to starter with ease.

    His scoring is consistent—he can still create plays and his commitment to defense has not wavered. The only real mark against him is his sloppiness with the ball. Through 12 games, he has averaged 4.2 turnovers per game.

    Harden's next step is to further adjust to Houston coach Kevin McHale's system so he can hang onto the ball as much as possible, and he's a smart enough player to do so.

    The Rockets acquired him so he could be their star, and he has been just that. He is a tenacious player with a commitment to winning, so look for the constant progression of his game as the season progresses.

Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

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    2012-13 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG, .471% FG

    Up until this season, Zach Randolph was a scoring power forward who only grabbed rebounds if they came to him. He clearly preferred to work outside the paint and wasn't exactly an attacker on defense.

    He has looked like a completely different player this season. Rather than try to score a great number of points night after night, he has started using his 6'9", 260-pound frame to become more of a true power forward.

    Randolph has been holding his own in the scoring department, but his new commitment to the paint has him in a position nobody could have seen coming. His 13.8 rebounds per game lead the NBA, and so long as he can continue to develop his defense and not back down under the basket, Randolph will continue to be a phenomenal rebounder this season.

    An exciting time for the Memphis Grizzlies franchise.

O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.2 PPG, .503% FG, .568% 3PT

    Ever since he was drafted third overall back in 2008, we all knew that Mayo's NBA future would be as a scorer and three-point threat.

    In his sole year at USC, he averaged 20.7 points and shot 41 percent from downtown.

    He continued to do well as a professional and averaged 18.5 points per game his rookie season in Memphis, but his attitude led to a demotion from the starting lineup in 2011.

    In Dallas, Mayo is back in the starting lineup, where he belongs, and he's proving to be more than just a shooter. Rather, he is a complete shooting guard who has become smart about picking and choosing his long-range shots.

    His shooting percentages are sky high as a result, and he currently leads the league in three-pointers made. The Mavericks may be struggling without Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, but Mayo is determined to step up in the veteran's absence, and is doing a great job of keeping Dallas in contention.

    Once Nowitzki is back, there's no telling how well the Mavs can be this year.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

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    2012-13 Stats: 19 PPG, 5 RPG, .452% FG, .300% 3PT

    Prior to this season, DeMar DeRozan was known for being able to hold his own in the scoring department, but not really blow anybody away. His best skill was his dunking.

    DeRozan's usually nonexistent long-range shooting hasn't really changed this season, but he has definitely shown more confidence with the ball in his hands.

    New Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry has done a fine job of creating for this former USC Trojan, and DeRozan has taken advantage accordingly. He has also shown a bit more tenacity on offense, driving to the basket with increased frequency and averaging a career-high 5.6 free-throw attempts per game.

    His Raptors aren't going to make a lot of noise this season, but his new attitude and commitment to getting better will only help the team.

    There's a light at the end of Toronto's tunnel, and DeRozan is going to play a key role in the team there.

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers

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    2012-13 Stats: 18.4 PPG, 8.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, .442% FG, .439% 3PT

    Based on his lone year at UCLA, one wouldn't have expected Jrue Holiday would turn into such a great point man. As a Bruin, he averaged just 8.5 points, 3.7 assists just 31 percent from long range.

    In the absence of newly-acquired Andrew Bynum, Holiday has done a fine job of stepping up as the star of the Philadelphia 76ers. He has scored, passed and played great defense to go along with his great shooter's eye.

    Holiday has great size for a point guard at 6'4" and 205 pounds, and isn't afraid to use his frame to his advantage. He can create mismatches like no other and isn't afraid to take a trip to the free-throw line.

    Sixers coach Doug Collins may be committed to defense and pure team play, but Holiday is creating a perfect balance to the system with his aggressiveness on offense. Even without Bynum, the Sixers are 7-5 and just two games out of first place in the Atlantic Division.

    Thanks to Holiday's new status as floor leader, the team will continue its strong play throughout the season.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

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    2012-13 Stats: 14 PPG, 13.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, .528% FG, .313% 3PT, .630% FT

    Up until this season, fans knew Rondo as a point guard who was a lock for getting tons of assists and steals, but struggled in scoring.

    Despite being a guard, he has only made 62 percent of his career free throws, and only 24 percent of his three-pointers.

    Rondo's work at the charity stripe and from long range has basically been par for the course this season, but his work in every other department has been phenomenal.

    Boston's Big Three was broken up over the summer when shooting guard Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat, and Rondo realized it was his time to step up and in for his former teammate.

    What has resulted is intelligent, and non-hesitant, shot selection, while Rondo's 13.3 assists per game is first in the league by a wide margin. He has a new confidence, and it's only going to help the Celtics get out of their current funk and improve down the stretch.

    He'll surely garner some MVP consideration.

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