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NBA Stars Who Are Exceeding the Hype in 2012-13

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2012

NBA Stars Who Are Exceeding the Hype in 2012-13

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    As most NBA players begin to reach a certain age, their overall skills start to slowly decline accordingly. Then you have the rare wonders who continue to produce at a high level in spite of their age. These are the players people remember for years to come and who stand out as special among the rest

    This season has been full of players who fit this mold. Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, at age 35, continues to be one of the premier scorers in the NBA. As of late, it's as though nothing can stop him and he will single-handedly carry Boston out of its funk.

    Similarly, Kobe Bryant remains among the best offensive threats in the league, and he is 34. Until he gets that sixth championship ring and ties the legendary Michael Jordan, he will refuse to slow down and will continue to produce at a high volume.

    Other ageless wonders are not necessarily producing as much as Pierce and Bryant, but are still posting respectable numbers as a whole. In terms of what we anticipated from them this season, they have far exceeded expectations.

No. 5: Jason Kidd, New York Knicks

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    2012-13 Stats: 8.2 PPG, .435% 3PT, 1.9 SPG

    When the Knicks brought Jason Kidd aboard last summer, it was when team management still thought Jeremy Lin would return as the starting point guard and that the future Hall of Famer would be his backup.

    Instead, Lin signed with the Houston Rockets and the Knicks brought in Raymond Felton to run the point. Thanks to injuries to Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire, head coach Mike Woodson inserted the 39-year-old Kidd into the lineup as the starting shooting guard.

    Granted, Kidd is not as strong of a scorer, passer or rebounder as he was in the prime of his career, but he has still played remarkably well. He has been absolutely deadly from three-point range, and his defense is a welcome addition into the rotation. In the absence of Shumpert, he continues to provide superb half-court defense that drives opposing players crazy.

    Oh, and let's not forget that he can still nail clutch shots with ease.

No. 4: Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012-13 Stats: 13.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, .428% FG, .375% 3PT

    At the start of the season, World Peace had been largely disappointing in his three years with the Los Angeles Lakers. Once a scoring threat who also provided incredible defense, he had averaged just 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals as a teammate of Kobe Bryant.

    However, once Mike Brown was fired and replaced with the fast-paced system of Mike D'Antoni, it was as though World Peace was a completely different type of player. The man has absolutely flourished as a shooter in this type of offense and has also shown an extra bounce in his step on defense.

    World Peace has also performed phenomenally over his past five games, posting 18.4 points, eight rebounds and 2.8 steals per contest. At age 33, he's playing like he's 23.

    The man's recent success is unlikely to last long term, as he is still a teammate of Kobe Bryant and must also share the ball with stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Just the same, it is nice to see some of the old Metta World Peace back in action after such a long layoff.

No. 3: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5 APG, 1.6 SPG, .471% FG, .374% 3PT

    Speaking of Bryant, does he even know the meaning of the phrase "slow down"? Even after hinting at his retirement date during the preseason, he continues to be one of the league's absolute best.

    Not only is Bryant leading the league in scoring, but he is also posting his highest field goal percentage since 2009 and his highest three-point percentage since 2008. Per usual, he has continued to play incredible defense.

    Bryant is 34 years old, and we all know that he won't be able to produce at this level forever. Just the same, he continues to demand the ball and clearly wants to take the hard shots that everyone else fears. He has gotten a bit trigger-happy his previous five games, shooting just 42 percent from the field, but the numbers over that stretch are eye-popping.

    The five-time champion has posted 31.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists in his past five contests. The shooting approach may be a bit selfish, but it's hard to hold it against Bryant when he is doing so well on both sides of the floor. He may be getting up there in years, but he continues to wow the fans in spite of that.

No. 2: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    2012-13 Stats: 21 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG, .444% FG, .391% 3PT

    There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the Boston Celtics got off to a slow start this season, and 35-year-old Pierce did as well. Up until recently, his field-goal percentage was oddly low for a scorer of his caliber, and it looked as though age was starting to catch up with him.

    Then he scored 40 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 19, and the rest is history.

    Look at it this way. If the league MVP was named based on performance over their previous five games, Pierce would be a definite front-runner. Since December 14, when the Celtics lost to the Houston Rockets, he has been absolutely incredible.

    In those five games, Pierce has averaged 25.4 points, seven rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.4 steals. His percentages have been just as remarkable, with him shooting 55 percent from the field and 54 percent from long range.

    Yes, Pierce may be getting up there in years, but he has continued to play at a high level and make the fans cheer with what he does best, and that's score points. Hopefully his quick turnaround is a sign that things will start getting better for his Celtics, who could certainly use a pick-me-up.

No. 1: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    2012-13 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG, .497% FG

    Tim Duncan is 36 years old and over the past two seasons, it appeared that the dominant scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking seven-footer we fell in love with years ago was no longer at his best. Age was catching up with him, and he could thus no longer keep up with younger NBA centers and power forwards.

    In the two years preceding 2012-13, Duncan averaged just 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Last season also marked the first time in his career that he did not score 1,000 total points, though that could easily be due to 2011-12 being a lockout-shortened season.

    Today, the NBA season is not even two months old and Duncan has already scored 488 total points. Not only is his scoring up, but he has also grown more aggressive on defense. He is stretching the floor while also being an absolute force in the middle, and his San Antonio Spurs are naturally playing some of the best basketball in the league, standing 21-8 and third in the Western Conference.

    There is still a lot of season to go, and plenty of time for the aging Duncan to drift back down to Earth. As a fan of the four-time champ, I seriously hope that this new spark he's exhibiting is here to stay. Duncan is just too talented to finish his career as a declining, aging big man, and it is truly great to see him exceed everyone's expectations on such a grand scale.

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