More so than ever before, today's NBA is a superstar-driven league. With the exception of the Denver Nuggets, whose credentials have been seriously questioned in the 2012-13 season, the majority of championship contenders have been built around the principle of acquiring one or two (or three) transcendent players and building a team that suits their strengths.
From the Miami Heat to the Los Angeles Clippers to the New York Knicks, every team that is in true contention has been constructed around the idea that having elite talent will lead them to the promised land.
However, all superstars are not created equal. While some possess an uncanny knack for scoring or rebounding, others dominate the game with their elite defensive play or facilitating ability.
Without further ado, here are the most superhuman traits of the top players in the league and some highlights that demonstrate exactly what makes them so remarkable.
Chris Paul: Craftiness
Chris Paul is often touted for his basketball IQ and his ability to make plays for his teammates, but that really comes from his craftiness and absolutely cunning nature.
Few players in the league understand all aspects of the game like Paul does, and even when it appears he is having an off night he can still make an impact on every facet of the contest while out on the floor.
Paul knows not only how to find open teammates, but also who specifically to seek out. Whether it is Chauncey Billups working himself back into shape from injury and needing an open shot or Blake Griffin looking for an attempt at the rim to open up his game in other aspects, Paul not only delivers the perfect pass, but also to the perfect person.
He does the same thing defensively, quarterbacking his team's defense, making sure everyone rotates and is accountable while still being one of the league's premier on-ball defenders.
Paul does not wow fans with his athleticism, and though he is a terrific shooter, he is far from a score-first point guard. But his craftiness and ability to manipulate the game, whether it is weaving through traffic or selling a foul call, is simply unparalleled.
Kevin Durant: Shooting Touch
Kevin Durant has grown by leaps and bounds as an overall player since James Harden's departure, but the most remarkable aspect of his game remains his phenomenal shooting touch from anywhere on the floor.
Durant is far from a one-dimensional scorer. He is as comfortable driving the ball into the paint as he is pulling up, but what is incredible is his ability to make even the most difficult, well-challenged shots seem effortless.
His length and quickness allow him to get to any spot he wants on the floor, and even when a defender is draped all over him, he never has difficulty getting his shot off. He also can absorb contact and adjust himself to finish at the rim.
In the clutch, Durant is as reliable as they come, hitting a slew of game-winners in his young career that range from tough floaters in the paint to deep threes as the game clock expired. Durant is a threat to score literally at any point once he steps across the half-court line, which is what makes him such a nightmare to guard.
For a perimeter-oriented player to be shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from three-point range is absolutely unheard of, but it's not a fluke—just a testament to Durant's stunning shooting ability.
Derrick Rose: Driving
Derrick Rose is still a ways away from returning, but the second he steps onto the United Center court and pulls off one of his trademark Derrick Rose drives into the lane, it will be just like old times for Chicago Bulls' fans.
Rose has molded himself into a solid shooter and an above-average perimeter defender, but what earned him his 2011 MVP award was his ability to salvage any offensive possession by simply putting his head down and attacking the rim.
Few point guards in league history are as willing to get into the paint as Rose, and when he does, he consistently makes opposing defenses pay. Rose has the best body control of any guard in the league, contorting himself in mid-air to either finish the shot or draw enough contact to earn a trip to the charity stripe.
Although he will be understandably hesitant at first to test his surgically repaired knee, once Rose is back to his old self, expect to see the Windy City superstar throwing down a vicious two-handed dunk over your favorite team.
Russell Westbrook: Explosiveness
Many wondered if the departure of James Harden and the subsequent shift of more ball-handling responsibility onto Russell Westbrook's shoulders would lead to somewhat of a slump from the star point guard, but so far in the 2012-13, season Westbrook has proved that is not the case.
Westbrook has put a renewed focus on setting up his teammates and making the proper pass instead of primarily looking for his own shot, but his speed and explosiveness still make him one of the most potent players in the league on both ends of the floor.
A true one-man fast break, Westbrook is capable of grabbing a rebound and, before a defense can even cross the timeline, finishing with an awe-inspiring slam. He even uses this speed to blow by opponents in the halfcourt and either take it to the hole or find an open teammate for a high-percentage shot.
This quality translates to his defense as well, and though Westbrook gambles a little too often on steals to be an elite defender, he moves very well laterally and can absolutely hound opposing point guards as they bring the ball up the floor, often forcing them to cough it up.
Westbrook is still quite young and developing himself as a player, but as long as he has his incredible explosiveness, the tandem of him and Durant will be more than enough to keep OKC in contention without the Bearded One.
Kevin Love: Rebounding
Kevin Love has become a very effective stretch-4 during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves and is easily one of the most versatile offensive big men in the entire league. But there is no denying that what he hangs his hat on when the day is done is his ability to single-handedly take over a game by imposing his will on the boards.
Love is not a high-flyer, and he is not especially quick, but he uses his body to carve out position better than any player in the entire league. Love knows how to sneak into the lane and grab tough rebounds in traffic on both ends of the court, working tirelessly to ensure his team another possession.
What makes Love such an effective rebounder is his physicality and his timing. Love can read a ball brilliantly and always knows how to position himself to have the best shot at getting his hands on the rock.
Due to an unfortunate stretch of injuries, Minnesota has started its 2012-13 campaign slowly, but if it can squeeze into the playoffs, it will be on the strength of Love's ability to dominate the inside and crash the glass better than anyone.
Dwight Howard: Athleticism
Dwight Howard is by no means a particularly skilled basketball player. His offensive game lacks versatility outside of a shaky hook shot, he is as inconsistent as they come from the foul line and he still has the habit of swatting shots into the stands instead of trying to save them.
However, Howard makes up for all of his finesse shortcomings with is his pure, unmatched athleticism. Despite being 6'11" and pure muscle, Howard's movements on the court are incredibly fluid, which makes him a devastating help defender.
Offensively, he may not be able to do much in the halfcourt, but he can power his way to the rim with his deceptive quickness and often outruns his man down the court on the fast break to finish at the rim.
While many thought that his back injury would hamper him in terms of moving on the floor, that has not been the case thus far during his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, and as long as Howard remains one of the most athletic players suiting up in the league, L.A. has to be considered a championship contender regardless of its record.
Kobe Bryant: Sense of the Moment
Saying Kobe Bryant is "clutch" at this point in his storied career would do nothing but incite a riot in the comment section. At this point, Bryant has more than earned the reputation as a crunch-time assassin, but what really impresses about him is his ability to elevate his play at any moment during a game to help his Lakers' squad.
Bryant has plenty of game-winners under his belt and is the player everyone knows the Lakers will look to if they are down one with 10 seconds left, but Bryant is more than capable of taking over at any point in the game if it is necessary.
If a team appears to be pulling away from L.A., Kobe will knock down a few tough outside jumpers or go to his extremely refined mid-post game to put the Lakers right back in the thick of things, and he always seems capable of shaking off a rough shooting night to make shots when it counts.
On the defensive end, he recognizes when he is guarding an elite wing player and elevates his game accordingly instead of just relying on his pair of dynamic big men to protect the rim.
Even in 2012-13, Bryant has stepped up his offensive game to help the Lakers, who have struggled to score the basketball. He is averaging 28 points on career-high 49 percent shooting from the field and a very solid 37.2 percent from behind the arc. While these numbers may go down, they are a testament to Kobe's competitiveness and "win-at-all-costs attitude."
He may not be too pleased with how his L.A. squad has been playing this season, but Bryant continues to elevate his game at the most opportune moments.
LeBron James: Versatility
LeBron James has been viewed as the league's most versatile player practically since he first donned a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey in 2003, and that reputation has only grown since he captured his first NBA title with the Miami Heat.
James has always been a match-up nightmare thanks to his size, strength and quickness. He can blow by larger, slower-footed forwards while using his body to punish smaller guards trying to contain him. His uncanny passing instincts and rebounding ability allow him to dominate every aspect of the game and be a true multi-tool on the floor.
The aspect of his game that was lacking for a time was crunch-time chops, but during the 2011-12 season and playoffs he repeatedly showed up his doubters and skeptics, making plays with the game on the line and throwing up one of the all-time best playoff performances in a do-or-die Game 6 against the Boston Celtics.
Now playing the "point-power forward" with Miami, James is rebounding the ball brilliantly, showcasing an improved shooting touch and generally being the best player on the court on a night-in, night-out basis.
A fourth MVP trophy may not be in the cards for James, but there is no question that his ability to dominate from any spot on the floor is the biggest luxury a coach could have in this league.
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