Grading the Top 25 NBA Stars at First-Quarter Mark of NBA Season

Brendan Bowers@@BowersCLEContributor IIDecember 11, 2012

Grading the Top 25 NBA Stars at First-Quarter Mark of NBA Season

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    In grading the top 25 NBA stars at the first-quarter mark of the season, we are evaluating those players who entered the 2012-13 season as established NBA stars already. 

    The criteria used to determine who those established stars were included the following.

    First, each of the 15 All-NBA players from last season were identified. We then included NBA All-Stars who were not selected as All-NBA players.

    That list totaled 26 players. 

    Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum and Steve Nash were then removed from this evaluation as a result of their injuries.

    That left three open spots.

    Those were filled by the top three players in terms of efficiency last year, or PER, who were neither All-NBA selections nor All-Stars.

    Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson and Manu Ginobili made this list based on PER last season.

    Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng and Roy Hibbert were all evaluated as a result of making the All-Star team.

    The remaining 13 players were All-NBA first-, second- or third-team selections last season.  

    Each of those top-25 stars were then graded on their overall performance through the first quarter of this season. 


    *Statistics are up to date through December 10, 2012

Tim Duncan: A

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    The San Antonio River Walk might be surrounded by a fountain of youth.

    Tim Duncan is averaging more points, rebounds, assists and blocks this season through 20 games than he did last year for the San Antonio Spurs.

    The 18.1 points per game he's scoring are his highest total since the '08-09 season. His 53 percent shooting from the field is also his highest percentage since the '06-07 season.

    Duncan is still the franchise in San Antonio. Even at 36 years old.

    He is fourth in the NBA in terms of player efficiency at the quarter-turn, and his Spurs are winning because of him. 

Al Jefferson: B+

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    Al Jefferson's points and field-goal percentage are down slightly from his previous season.

    He's still averaging 17.2 on 48 percent shooting through Monday, though, and rebounding at 10.7 per night.

    More importantly, he's the best player on a team that's currently holding the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. 

    Jefferson is one of the most underrated stars in the NBA and has been for some time. 

    He continues to be as consistent as ever on the low post for Utah again this season, regardless.  

Manu Ginobili: C

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    Manu Ginobili is averaging career-low field-goal percentages from the floor overall as well as from three-point range.

    The 12.2 points per game he's scoring are also his lowest total since the '02-03 season.

    His minutes are at about the same number he averaged through 37 games last year, but his efficiency is down through one quarter of play. 

    The Spurs are still winning at a league-best rate, though, and Manu has had a hand in that to be sure. 

    Only maybe not as much of one this season as in seasons past.

Chris Bosh: B-

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    Maybe it's the 40-point game that Chris Bosh registered early on this season that's left us wanting more.

    Or maybe it was the thought that Bosh would capitalize on mismatches offensively against bigger centers more than he actually has.

    Whatever the reason, it seems like Bosh is having a subpar year at first glance. 

    Truth is, he's actually putting up the same numbers he did in each of his two previous seasons at 18 points and eight rebounds per night. 

    Very good, but not quite great. 

Marc Gasol: A-

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    There will be no hack-a-Gasol this season.

    At least not as far as Marc is concerned with the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Gasol is shooting a career-high 90 percent from the free-throw line at the quarter mark of the season.

    That's helped add to his career-high scoring average of 15.7 points. He's also shooting over 50 percent from the floor, and his Grizzlies are off to a great start.

    Gasol's rebounding total is under what he averaged previously, though, but that's probably because Zach Randolph is grabbing those boards that he doesn't.

LaMarcus Aldridge: B+

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    LaMarcus Aldridge is up over 20 points and eight rebounds every night.

    His shooting percentage is lower than his career mark of 49 percent, though, keeping him from earning an A at the quarter turn.

    Aldridge has blended well with rookie Damian Lillard, and that is encouraging for Trail Blazers fans moving forward.

    If he can help his team get up over the .500 mark, that would be even more encouraging. 

Deron Williams: B-

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    Deron Williams is not shooting the ball well through the first quarter of play this season.

    He is averaging 16.8 points per game, but the 39 percent from the floor he's totaled would be a career low should he finish that way.

    As would his 28 percent rate from three-point range. 

    If he can inch back closer to the 45 percent he's averaged for his career, Williams could get back to the 21 points per game he's averaged previously. 

    For now, his 8.7 assists are keeping him in the B range despite all that.

Paul Pierce: B+

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    Paul Pierce is essentially the same player this season as he was last year.

    He's averaging 19 points and five rebounds again at the quarter turn through Monday.

    In five of the Celtics' nine losses, though, he's shot under 40 percent.

    At the same time, Pierce has also scored at least 10 points in every game this season. 

    Rajon Rondo was supposed to become the Celtics' leading scorer this season. So far it's been Paul Pierce assuming that responsibility, just like he always has. 

Joe Johnson: C+

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    Joe Johnson's season looked better when the Brooklyn Nets were 11-4 a couple weeks ago.

    Since then, they've dropped four straight to fall to 11-8.

    The Nets are still light-years away from what they were last season, and Johnson is an obvious reason for that improvement.

    His field-goal percentage is as low as it's been in nine seasons, however, at 41 percent from the floor.

    The 16 points per game he's averaging is also his lowest output since his '02-03 season with the Phoenix Suns.

Andre Iguodala: B-

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    The Denver Nuggets almost need to play five more home games before we can analyze them fairly.

    They've played only six at home through the first quarter this year. That's an NBA-low.

    Regardless, the players are judged by their record, wherever those games are played.

    To that point, the Nuggets have been OK. Same with Andre Iguodala.

    He might not have made the impact it seemed he could when acquired this summer, but he's still averaging 14 points and five rebounds per night.

    Those numbers are better than his All-Star season from a year ago.

Luol Deng: A-

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    Luol Deng was an NBA All-Star for the first time a season ago.

    So far this year he's playing even better.

    Deng is averaging more points and more rebounds than he did a season ago at 18.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per night. 

    He's scored in double figures every game since the opener. 

    Deng's averaging 20.6 over his last six through Monday at the quarter turn, helping his Bulls to a 5-1 record over that stretch.

    More importantly, however, he's also keeping his team in the race until Derrick Rose is healthy enough to return. 

Roy Hibbert: C-

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    Roy Hibbert signed a max contract this past summer. 

    This after earning his first trip to the All-Star game. 

    He is averaging 29 minutes per game again this season through his first 21 games.

    His shooting percentage is way down, though, to a number unacceptable for someone playing so close to the rim. 

    The 38 percent from the floor he's shot needs to improve for Hibbert. As does his scoring average of nine points per night. 

Rajon Rondo: B

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    Rajon Rondo might just need to start shooting more as the season moves on.

    His field-goal percentage is a career-best 51 percent. He's averaging more points than he did last season at 13 per game too, but not necessarily as many as his team might need.

    After scoring in the 20-points-per-game territory during the playoffs last year, the Boston Celtics were hoping he'd shoulder more of the scoring load this season.

    He hasn't yet.

    But Rondo is still leading the league at 12.8 assists per game, which is continuing to push his team toward the playoffs. 

Dwyane Wade: B-

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    Dwyane Wade hasn't looked like himself so far.

    Maybe it's a health issue that will eventually work itself out. Maybe it's something else. 

    Regardless, the 20.2 points per game he's scoring is his lowest total since 2005.

    The 3.8 rebounds he's averaged are also under his career total of five per game.

    He's been good through one-quarter of play, but he needs to be great if the Miami Heat are going to repeat as NBA champions this season.

Tyson Chandler: A-

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    The only knock on Tyson Chandler is scoring volume as compared to other stars. 

    Anytime he does shoot, though, it goes in.

    Chandler is leading the league in field-goal percentage at 70.9 percent from the floor.

    He's averaging a double-double at 12.8 points and 10 rebounds per game. Those numbers are up from the production he used during the '11-12 campaign to earn All-NBA third-team honors.

    He's also continuing to captain a defense that's helped his team to a conference-best record at the quarter turn.

Carmelo Anthony: A+

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    Carmelo Anthony is locked-in mentally this season.

    He has his Knicks leading the Eastern Conference at 15-5 and earned himself a perfect quarter grade as a result.

    Anthony is third in the NBA in scoring this season at 26.8 points per game.

    His biggest improvement is on field goals attempted from 16 to 23 feet out. Anthony converted 35 percent from that range last season while improving to 46 percent this year.

    He is also eighth in the NBA in terms of Player Efficiency Rating.

Russell Westbrook: A

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    Russell Westbrook's game is maturing this season. 

    He's playing like the unselfish facilitator that his critics have alleged he isn't over the course of his career.

    Westbrook is sixth in the NBA in assists at 8.5 at the quarter mark of the season. Last year he finished tied for 16th overall at an average of 5.5 per game.

    Combine this with his 21.5 points per night, and you can't ask too much more from Westbrook so far.

Tony Parker: A

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    Tony Parker is once again the best point guard in the NBA that nobody wants to talk about.

    He's averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 assists per game for the NBA's winningest team at the quarter turn.

    Parker used almost identical numbers last season to be named All-NBA second team.

    He's on his way toward those type of honors this year. He also remains a critical reason why the San Antonio Spurs are a threat to go deep into postseason play once again.

Blake Griffin: B-

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    Blake Griffin still needs to develop a post move or two.

    As a result, defenses are catching up with the best power-dunker the NBA has seen since Shawn Kemp played in Seattle. 

    Griffin's stats are currently down to 18 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

    Still solid to be sure, but both are career lows for Griffin.

    They are also less than the 21.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per game he's averaged for his career.

Kevin Love: B+

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    Kevin Love has only played in nine games so far due to the hand injury he suffered at the start of the season.

    Despite that, he's still averaging 21.2 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.

    His grade will inch closer to an A as his sample size increases moving forward.

    Love's three-point shooting percentage is only 21 percent right now, too. His field-goal percentage overall is 38.2 overall.

    Those are career lows that should also increase as his health continues to improve.

Chris Paul: A

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    Chris Paul has quietly led his Los Angeles Clippers to six straight wins at the quarter turn of the season.

    The Clippers are balanced and deep this season, and Paul is the engine that makes all of that go.

    He is second in the NBA in assists at 9.3 per game. He's also scoring 16.1 points while shooting better than his career average from the floor overall.

    Paul is the sixth-most efficient player in the NBA this season too, while leading the league in steals.

    He has the Clippers playing like a true title contender over the first 20 games.

Kobe Bryant: A-

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    For as long as Kobe Bryant is still playing, the Los Angeles Lakers will remain his team.

    The only knock on Bryant so far is that his team is 9-12 over the first quarter of the season. Otherwise, Bryant has been as prolific as ever. 

    He's leading not only the Lakers but the entire league in scoring at 28.6 points per night. 

    Bryant is also fifth overall in terms of Player Efficiency Rating.

    Heading toward the All-Star break, Bryant must now work to elevate the play of his teammates around him. 

Kevin Durant: A+

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    It is championship or bust for Kevin Durant, and he's playing like that every night.

    Durant is second in the NBA in scoring at 27 points per game. In the process, he's been deadly in the mid-range game specifically.

    He is converting 58.1 percent of his field goals attempted 10 to 15 feet away from the basket. That number is currently up from 39.5 percent a season ago.  

    Durant is also second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating behind only LeBron James

    Most importantly, though, he's led his team to a 17-4 record through one quarter of the season despite the loss of James Harden.

Dwight Howard: B-

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    Limping into the quarter turn of the season is Dwight Howard's new team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Howard has been scoring right around his career average of 18.4 points per game. His 11.7 rebounds are below the career mark he's posted in that category, but it is still good for third overall in the NBA.

    He is the biggest acquisition of the summer, however, and his team is playing under .500 basketball. 

    Part of the reason is that Howard has become less effective on field goals attempted from three to nine feet away from the basket this season.

    His field-goal percentage has dipped to under 40 percent from that area of the floor. He's also attempting 3.1 shots per game from that distance, down from 5.7 attempts a year ago.

LeBron James: A

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    LeBron James is currently fourth in the NBA in scoring, 10th in assists and 17th in rebounds per game.

    He's leading the Miami Heat in all three categories again through Monday with 25.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists. 

    James is also leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating and converting 78 percent of the shots he's attempted at the rim.

    The only thing keeping him from earning an A+ through one quarter of the season is his team's win total.

    There are four teams with better records than Miami at the quarter turn, and that should not happen to the league's most talented group.