Carmelo Anthony and 4 NBA Superstars Transcending Their Reputation in 2012-13

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2012

Carmelo Anthony and 4 NBA Superstars Transcending Their Reputation in 2012-13

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    Carmelo Anthony is one of a handful of NBA superstars currently transcending a long-held reputation in season 2012-13.

    With his New York Knicks establishing themselves as one of the league's premier teams, the immensely gifted Anthony is beginning to fulfill his potential as a genuine leader.

    Yet, he's certainly not the only one.

    Some of the league's other shining lights are also surpassing previous benchmarks, cementing their place among the NBA's very best.

    Through a variety of ways, these players have raised the standard of their play to a level we hadn't yet witnessed.

    While established greats such as Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan continue their sparkling play, the following stars are chasing hard, desperately striving to attain such an impeccable standard.

    While it's a tall order to ever be considered alongside those two, the players on this list are in the midst of challenging long-held perceptions and beliefs about their ability as players, and worthiness as champions.

    *All stats accurate as of Dec. 24.

Carmelo Anthony

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    There has never been a doubt over his talent or scoring prowess.

    However, Anthony's maturity and commitment to team success has been questioned at times, particularly during his transition from Denver to New York.

    Yet this season, there appears to have been a subtle shift in Anthony's approach. After a disappointing finish to 2011-12, the Knicks superstar watched his good friend LeBron James complete a simply breathtaking ascension to the game's pinnacle. Shrugging off immeasurable scrutiny, the game's best player redefined himself (and the game for that matter) to put together one of the greatest seasons ever witnessed.

    James' success appears to have resonated with Anthony, as he's returned from a successful Olympic campaign to lead New York to its best start since 1972-73.

    Physically superior than ever before, the 28-year-old is scoring in a plethora of ways, whilst relishing his starring role in the Knicks' dynamic start to the season.

    But it's the talk coming out of New York regarding Anthony's off-court persona that is the most encouraging.

    "He's been more vocal than he's been in the past years," J.R. Smith said according to ESPN.

    "He's a lot more focused," Tyson Chandler added.

    Meanwhile, a former New York great, Patrick Ewing, identified the 2012 Olympics as a turning point for the once-maligned star forward.

    “We all work hard, all players do. But when you’re around all those players, in that setting, and you see what kind of leaders they are, it helps you become more mature and a better leader,’’ Ewing said according to New York Daily News.

    It appears that 'Melo is finally reaching a standard befitting of his talent.

Kevin Durant

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    It was in the 1980's that Larry Bird first started the trend of using each offseason to add a new weapon to an already impressive armory. 

    A proven way to distinguish oneself from the competition, it was a method that was quickly adopted by the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and most recently, LeBron James.

    Now in 2012-13, it's clear Kevin Durant has done the same.

    The three-time NBA scoring champion is as lethal as they come offensively. However, in his five years in the league, Durant had never previously asserted himself at the defensive end.

    Until now.

    With the best defensive rating (99.3) of his NBA existence, the Thunder's superstar is recording career-best numbers in rebounds (8.4), blocks (1.3) and steals (1.5).

    Season 2012-13 also marks the first year that the Thunder's defensive rating has regressed when Durant heads to the bench, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Previously, Oklahoma City had always performed better defensively (statistically) with its superstar looking on from the sidelines.

    By becoming a better one-on-one defender and improving his work on the glass, Durant has evolved from a pure scorer into a devastating two-way player.

    It's a scary thought when you consider that he's only 24 years old.

James Harden

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    James Harden scrapes onto this list by the skin of his teeth, as the 23-year-old is only just beginning to be involved in the superstar conversation.

    Although he was the third piece of a star trio in Oklahoma City, there were many that doubted Harden's ability to be a star in his own right. His sixth man role, and subsequent play against opposing second units, clouded his superstar potential.

    However, since being traded to Houston, Harden has become the leader of a reemerging franchise, removing any doubt of his credibility as a star.

    Averaging 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists, Harden immediately justified Houston's faith in him by exploding for 82 points in his first two games as a Rocket.

    Since then, the shooting guard has led his team to a 14-12 record in a rugged Western Conference, relieving some of the intense pressure hanging over Jeremy Lin.

    Before his acquisition, Houston had struggled to break out of that dreaded, middle-of-the-road existence.

    Now, with Harden on board, it appears the Rockets have turned the corner.

Rajon Rondo

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    There was once a time in which opposing teams would run underneath almost every screen set for Rajon Rondo, knowing that he would rarely look to score from outside the paint.

    In 2012-13, that's no longer the case.

    Although he'll never shoot the ball like his former teammate Ray Allen, Rondo has significantly improved his shooting, to the point where he's a legitimate scoring threat from almost anywhere inside the arc.

    While he remains at his most dangerous when attacking the rim, the star point guard's numbers from mid range have dramatically improved. Last season, the Celtics' floor general shot 39 percent on his jumpers from 16-23 feet. This year, that number has rocketed up to 57 percent, while his overall field-goal percentage of 51.1 percent is a career high.

    By adding range to his shot and increasing his offensive repertoire, Rondo is holding the Celtics afloat this season, averaging 12.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and a league-leading 12.7 assists.

    After years of listening to statements beginning with "If only Rondo could shoot....," it's clear that Boston's leader is surpassing previous standards, intent on escaping his long-held "can't shoot" reputation.

Blake Griffin

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    Like Rondo, Blake Griffin has expanded his skill set on the offensive end in 2012-13, improving his shooting and back-to-the-basket game.

    Previously criticized for his reliance on explosive finishing at the rim, the Clippers' power forward has become more effective on the block by adding some spin and up-and-under post moves to his offensive play.

    Last season, Griffin shot 44.8 percent from 3-9 feet, 27.7 percent from 10-15 feet, and 37 percent from 16-23 feet. In season 2012-13, those numbers now sit at 53.6, 53.8 and 41.0.

    While his overall numbers are slightly down this season in comparison with his previous two, his field-goal attempt (14.1) and usage rate (23.7) numbers are at a career low due to the wealth of options his team now has.

    With the Clippers flying high, Griffin's days of scoring purely at the rim appear to be headed toward the safe confines of history.