Grades are out for the NBA's top 25 superstars.
New grades are out, and NBA superstars are running to the mailbox to intercept their report cards before mom and dad get home.
Some of the bigger stars could be grounded from TV and video games for a week, while others will likely be rewarded for receiving high marks.
There's no grading on potential or past performance. Top grades are earned by production on the court and results in the win column.
Keep in mind, the list of superstars is built off a general consensus entering the season. It should not be seen as a ranking system, but an organizational method to deliver grades.
*Note: All statistics and records accurate as of December 16, 2012.
Andrew Bynum hasn't played this season.
If you gathered all the Philadelphia 76ers fans in America and asked them about Andrew Bynum, you would probably hear a collective sigh loud enough to drown out the boos at the Staples Center.
No one can blame Bynum for being what he is. The 76ers knew what they were getting when they brought him in for a trial marriage this season. However, it probably doesn't help that a bowling outing further exasperated his knee issues.
Knocking a guy for being injured, even for bowling, isn't very fair. Bynum's words, published in a recent Los Angeles Times article, pretty much said it all:
"It kind of broke off cartilage and it made the bone bruise bigger," Bynum told reporters, characterizing bowling as "relatively nothing. It's three steps [and roll]. I can't answer and [doctors] can't now either. We're trying to figure out what's going on.
"Obviously in hindsight you shouldn't go bowling, but it's not more than anything I've done in my rehab."
Bynum isn't choosing to be hurt. His future bankroll depends on how, or if, he returns this season.
Earning $16 million in the last year of his deal, there is still no timetable for a return. Bynum will be a free agent this offseason, so there's a chance that Philadelphia will receive little-to-nothing for parting with Andre Iguodala.
Chris Bosh is enjoying a fine season.
Chris Bosh gets complete step-child treatment.
While he has regressed in scoring and shots attempts since coming to Miami, he has come back to life this season and is shooting a career-high 54 percent.
Bosh is developing more as a center, and though his rebounds (8.1 per game) could still stand to improve, he's becoming a more physical presence down low.
Bosh seems willing to do whatever it takes to help Miami win, and the strides he has taken are proof of that.
Blake Griffin is enjoying wins in Los Angeles.
A player's arc usually starts to bend upwards in his third season.
For Blake Griffin, he's actually hitting a slight drop early this season. In fairness, that drop is consistent with a new level of roster depth.
Griffin's shot attempts have lessened since his first season, an effect of playing around more talent in Los Angeles. However, his scoring, shooting percentage and rebounding have also seen dips.
He does remain incredibly valuable at a plus-21.57 efficiency rating, and his free-throw numbers have improved since last season—a stat that will be thrust into the spotlight when the Clippers play more meaningful games.
Tim Duncan just keeps going in San Antonio.
Here's what makes Tim Duncan great: "I wouldn’t complain if I’m not on the (All-Star) roster. I want to play well and want to feel good about what I’m doing on the court, but I am not going to be unhappy if I don’t make it."
Duncan doesn't care about all that stuff. His quote from Spurs Nation is proof of that.
He has helped guide the Spurs to a league-best 19 wins. His actions consistently point to the end result of playing for a championship, not regular season accolades.
At 36 years old, Duncan just keeps oiling up the robot body casing.
He is showing a statistical resurgence, averaging 17.3 points on 49.8 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds per game. This marks his best season to date since 2009-10.
Stephen Curry is having a breakout year in his fourth season.
The real Stephen Curry has finally emerged.
No more sharing the backcourt with Monta Ellis. No more playing on a bum ankle. And, most importantly, no more losing like its a habit.
The Warriors' early success has been a balanced effort from David Lee, the continued emergence of Klay Thompson and a balanced bench led by Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack.
But make no mistake, this is Curry's team.
The health of the point guard's ankle has shown in his ability to cut, plant with strength on his shots and even play pressure defense.
He is posting career-best per-game averages in points (19.7) and assists (6.5) on top of getting to the free-throw line more.
Kevin Garnett is near the end of his road.
Not much has changed for Kevin Garnett over the years.
He is still the same intense, unselfish and defensively gifted player that he always was. While the Boston Celtics have struggled early, there is an underlying sense that Garnett will be behind another push for a title.
This isn't how Garnett wants to go out.
Who knows how many more years KG has, but it's difficult to imagine that he will allow his career to end without one last playoff push.
Garnett hasn't shot below 50 percent from the field since he arrived in Boston. His scoring is on par with his second career in Boston, averaging 15.7 points per game this season.
His rebounding numbers have dipped back down to the 7.0 mark, an area that Garnett and the Celtics roster need to resolve.
Steve Nash has yet return for Los Angeles
Pencil him in as a late-season hero.
If you had to pick one player who could come in and help the Lakers execute Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll offense, it would be Steve Nash.
Fortunately for Los Angeles, Nash is ready to start practicing next week, according to reports.
"Hopefully, I can practice next week," Nash said. "We'll see. I'm definitely getting better. We'll see if I continue to improve and there's no setbacks, then I should be able to practice next week.
Once he returns, there will be even more pressure to perform.
But don't bet against Nash. Considering his track record of success with "seven-seconds-or-less", the Canadian should create cohesion for the struggling Purple and Gold.
Pau Gasol has been hammered more than any other Lakers player this season.
Pau Gasol's trade value may be higher than his on-court value for the Lakers.
That's not saying the team should trade him, but it points to how little things are working for the veteran big man in Los Angeles this season.
Remove injuries from the equation, a glimpse at Gasol's numbers in 17 games reveals something is wrong.
He has shot below 50 percent just once in his career, and this season he is shooting just 42 percent. His rebounding average of 8.9 per game is the lowest it's been since the year he was traded to L.A.
Worst of all, his per-game scoring average is five points lower than it's been in his whole career.
It's not all Gasol's fault. Part of the blame falls on the disarray in Tinseltown and early-season injuries.
Gasol didn't just become an afterthought overnight. He can come back strong, but it might need to come in another city.
LaMarcus Aldridge is part of a young nucleus in Portland.
It's easy to be overlooked when you play half your games in Portland.
LaMarcus Aldridge is missing some superstar intangibles, but how long can we ignore his presence as one of the better bigs in the league?
He may not be a "rally around me, guys" type franchise player, but with the leadership of Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard, he might not have to be.
His 21.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game is impressive, despite dipping from his career 49.3 percent field-goal percentage to this early season's 46.5 percent. Those numbers are consistent with his career, but he's not making the next-level jump that many expected from him coming into the season.
If we're slapping the superstar tag on Aldridge, he also must shoulder some of the blame for the Trail Blazers' last-place division standing, albeit with an 11-12 record.
Tony Parker is the key to San Antonio's success.
You do realize that you can't Google search Tony Parker's name without Eva Longoria coming up, right?
Will this forever be Parker's legacy? Does Longoria cast a greater shadow than Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, even after a divorce?
Looming questions that need to be answered.
We're talking about the greatest French basketball player of all time. That has to count for something, right?
Parker is averaging 19.2 points and 7.5 assists per game, and is arguably the most valuable player on a Spurs team tied for the most wins in the NBA.
At 30 years old, Parker could conceivably play another 8-10 seasons. If he does that, his legacy will be all his own.
Dirk Nowitzki hasn't seen the court yet this season.
Dirk Nowitzki earns some credit just for staying on the sideline.
That was the smart move: heal up to 100 percent after offseason knee surgery and return to the court with plenty of time to lead a push into the playoffs.
But the Mavericks are no longer doing a good job of hanging in there without their superstar. After dropping three in a row, Nowitzki's absence is becoming more alarming for Dallas.
Nonetheless, that much-anticipated return doesn't seem near.
Nowitizki was quoted in the Dallas Morning News with the simple three-word statement that says it all: "I'm not close."
Kyrie Irving has had a frustrating first term.
Kyrie Irving is in superhero mode, cool mask and all.
The precautionary plastic, certainly a new accessory on the list of young hoopers across America, protects a fractured bone in Irving's jaw—an injury that occurred in a fall on Friday.
Irving had just returned from missing action due to a broken finger.
It's been that type of season for the reigning Rookie of the Year.
While he hasn't truly been able to get in the flow, the second-year guard is displaying elite—dare I say, super hero-like—abilities, averaging 23.8 points and 5.6 assists per night.
That said, his lackluster attendance, and the fact that his team has only five wins, hurts his overall grade.
Rajon Rondo is learning to grow in Boston.
Statistically, Rajon Rondo is having his best season of his career. His assists total is nearly eclipsing his scoring total, as the floor general is dropping 12.7 dimes next to 12.9 points per game.
He is also one of the most efficient players in the league with a plus-23.1 efficiency rating.
Unfortunately, the current state of the struggling Celtics brings him down a couple notches. Rondo all but begged to be the man in Boston, and carries himself like one of the league's elite, but his once dominant team is now barely over .500.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still there, but it's time for Rondo to step up and be the guy.
The stats are there, but the wins are not.
Kevin Love has been good since his return.
The 24-year-old kid with a Minneapolis beard and a Santa Monica outspokenness has returned.
And he isn't holding back upon his return from a broken right hand—in the media, that is.
About a week ago, Kevin Love questioned his team's direction in an article by Yahoo! Sports:
"You walk into the locker room every year, and it's completely turned over," Love says. "There's new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?"
You have to appreciate his honesty. But at the same time, what is Love doing right now?
While he's mostly been the same old Love since his return, averaging 19.4 points and 13.7 rebounds on the season, he is having a rough month.
In five games in December, his shooting percentage has been incredibly low (31.6 percent), and he's seen a dip in his scoring output (16.6 points per game).
His criticism is justified, but it would come with more oomph if he was producing at his highest level.
Deron Williams has found success in Brooklyn.
Deron Williams has put the entire borough of Brooklyn on his back.
Boy, that's a big combo of Beastie Boys hope and Jay-Z expectations.
Williams is the leader of the new-look Nets, averaging 17.0 points and 8.3 assists. While his scoring is down, the decrease is a result of declined shot attempts compared to last season.
His role as floor leader is paying off, as the Nets are one of the East's better teams. When healthy and at their potential, they could be in the mix come playoffs, but only with the leadership of Williams.
James Harden has learned that it can costs you wins to earn more money and stats.
Two of these statement are true, and one is false:
a. James Harden left a better team to earn a higher-paying contract and take on a bigger role.
b. Harden has better numbers and a higher paycheck with Houston than he had in Oklahoma City.
c. The Houston Rockets can win an NBA title with Harden as their best player.
It's not hard to tell which one is the lie.
But don't blame Harden. Which of us wouldn't have made the same move given the opportunity? Harden will score more points at the costs of wins, but it's not his intention to lose.
Overall, the bearded one is doing exactly what Houston expected him to do. But that doesn't mean the Rockets will be big winners with their current roster.
Russell Westbrook is part of the dynamic duo in Oklahoma City.
Russell Westbrook is making more of a name for himself now that James Harden is gone.
Before, it was Kevin Durant along with Westbrook and Harden. Now, it's simply Durant and Westbrook.
It may seem insignificant, but that's a huge distinction.
While he is still playing Robin to Duran't Batman, Westbrook is continuing to cement himself as one of the game's great guards. His scoring (20.8 points) and shooting percentage (41.5) are down this season, but his assists (8.7) are back up.
He is taking less shots this season, but firing more three-pointers than ever before, up over four attempts per game compared to last season's three.
The good news: Oklahoma City continues to win.
Dwyane Wade has battled early-season injuries.
There's been a lot of talk surrounding a decline in the play of Dwyane Wade.
Charles Barkley had this to say on TNT:
He’s starting to lose his athletic ability. He’s not the same guy. I got a look at him in person. He doesn’t explode anymore and he’s shooting a lot of fadeaway jumpers.
In response, LeBron James said Charles Barkley needed to shut up.
Sounds like high school drama to me.
I'm surprised Chris Bosh didn't post LeBron's comment on Facebook, only to have Eric Spoelstra "like" it and Ernie Johnson chime in with a "smh."
But does Barkley have a point? It's not ridiculous to say that any 30-year-old guard who has taken as much of a beating over the years as Wade has might be losing a step.
Whether or not he is losing athleticism, Wade is shooting the highest percentage of his career at 50.8 percent. His average of 19.4 points per game is a result of sharing with James, Bosh and now Ray Allen, in addition to early-season injury woes.
Overall, the Heat continue to win, even if Wade isn't having the same level of superstar effect.
Carmelo Anthony has New York on top of the East.
You know all about Carmelo Anthony this season: He is the most improved superstar who is still posting the same numbers that he always has.
And he is winning.
Coach Mike Woodson would have you believe that he is getting a better overall effort out of Anthony on both ends of the floor, but Carmelo's greatest asset remains his ability to score in isolation situations.
Either way, Anthony is scoring 27.9 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting while pulling down 6.4 rebounds per game. He's the clear-cut MVP on a team with the East's best record.
Things haven't worked out the way Dwight Howard had planned.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Howard:
We would like to set up a time to talk with you about your son. He seems to understand all the concepts, yet he is not applying himself. We believe it may be the other kids he is hanging around with.
While Howard's numbers aren't hideous, there has been a slight decline since joining the Lakers. Still, the league's best center is averaging 18.2 points on 57.9 percent shooting and 11.9 rebounds.
Defensively, he is averaging more personal fouls than any prior season, a sign of trying to do too much or being hung out to dry more often. Then again, his block totals (2.6) are higher than they have been since 2009-10.
His numbers deserve high marks in the grade book, and hint at a need for a greater role within the offense, but his overall grade can't ignore the losing that's taking place in Los Angeles.
It's fair to say that Howard might not have what it takes to shift the Lakers' narrative this season.
Not alone, at least.
Chris Paul has the made the Clippers one of the league's best.
This may be Chris Paul's best season to date.
Well, maybe not his best season, but his team's best season at the very least.
While Paul is still not touching his prime years with the New Orleans Hornets—seasons in which he averaged 20-plus points and 10-plus assists—he is winning.
On the court, CP3 displays the handles of a surgeon with just as much IQ.
The efficiency of his 47.2 percent shooting and better than 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio make Paul the most valuable player on the Pacific Division's first-place Clippers.
Derrick Rose has nothing in his grade book.
Derrick Rose is the kind of guy you root for. He is the rare combination of humble, hard-working and electric.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to show up yet.
The Chicago Bulls are buying him more and more time with each win. If Rose does eventually return this season, his team has given him the opportunity to reach the postseason and perhaps even advance.
The latest update from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau (via ESPN Chicago) is that Rose is "doing more and more," but he still has a ways to go before taking part in an actual practice:
We'll see. Once he starts doing more in practice then he'll be with us more, but right now the focus still has to be on his rehab and the things that he needs to do. He's got to do a lot of things off the court still. He's doing more and more on the court, which is encouraging, but he's still a ways away.
The league will benefit from having one of its bigger stars return to health, but the timetable for that development remains a mystery.
Kobe Bryant has done everything he can, but it hasn't been enough.
Is Kobe Bryant a more valuable player when his numbers indicate that he is less valuable?
Teacher, please define paradox again.
Bryant is having a great statistical year, laying out 29.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He is also shooting an efficient 47 percent from the floor, and is even taking on new, uncomfortable roles in a changing offensive system.
But how valuable can one of the game's all-time greats be when he can't figure out how to win, even when surrounded by more talent than ever?
Bryant calls a lot of the shots, directs traffic and leads the league in passive-aggressive media assaults against teammates.
So why is it that Bryant can't seem to lead this super-team to wins?
Well, because he doesn't know how to take a step back.
This Los Angeles team doesn't need Bryant to score nearly 30 points a game. They don't need the offense to run through his hands and his eyes. The 34-year-old needs to become a part of the system—not the entire system.
This means using more energy on the defensive end and becoming part of an offensive scheme that doesn't glorify his point total.
Stat lines don't make Bryant an MVP candidate. Being the guy who can place his team in a winning position does.
Right now, the Lakers aren't even a playoff team.
Kevin Durant continues to be one of the league's best.
The Internet is running out of kind words to say about Kevin Durant.
His Oklahoma City Thunder have the best record in the NBA. He is scoring 27.5 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting, hauling in 8.4 rebounds and dishing 4.2 assists
If LeBron James wasn't in the NBA, Durant would be the league's best player, hands down.
What makes him even more special is that he does it with a nice-guy persona that disguises his amazing level of competitiveness.
Will Durant ever become a villain in this league?
Hard to say, but for now, he is letting his game do the talking.
LeBron James is still king of the NBA.
There's a popular for-the-kids song by Drake entitled "Over."
It's ridiculous. The lyrics are absurd. The whole song offers bizarre ideologies.
But if LeBron James can make it his mantra, he will continue to win MVPs and titles.
The key hook: "What am I doing? What am I doing? Oh yeah, that's right, I'm doin' me, I'm doin' me. I'm living life right now, man, and this what I'mma do 'til it's over."
The MVP was his to lose when James stepped on the floor in October as the game's greatest player.
He hasn't disappointed, averaging 25.4 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists to boot. Heck, LeBron is even shooting the three-ball at a 42.4 percent clip.
James needs to keep doing what he's doing. Don't stress the small defensive lapses, and don't dwell on the rebounding issues of the rest of the team.
He needs to "do me"—or "do he"—whatever it is. Keep pressing, keep leading, keep following coach Spoelstra.
If he plays at his highest level, no team will beat the Miami Heat in a seven-game series come April.
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