1 New Year's Resolution for NBA's Top 10 Stars

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2012

1 New Year's Resolution for NBA's Top 10 Stars

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    If 2012 was any indication, 2013 is going to be a great year for the NBA and its stars.

    The new year will present an opportunity for the NBA's most prominent figures to tweak their games and accomplish personal goals, but in the end they're all searching for basketball immortality, which comes in the form of the Larry O'Brien trophy.

    With so much on the line in 2013, it's time to take a look at some personalized New Year's resolutions for the NBA's top 10 stars.

    Note: All stats accurate as of Thursday, December 27.

10. Blake Griffin

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    Resolution: Shed the slam dunk stereotype

    Blake Griffin is adored by fans for his breathtaking aerial displays that have resulted in posterizations of various NBA players, but the fact remains that Griffin is more than the one-dimensional dunker he's made out to be.

    What many fans fail to realize is that Griffin has polished his mid-range jumper quite a bit, giving him one of the league's most diverse inside-outside games.

    Griffin is shooting 53.8 percent on shots between 10-15 feet, up from 27.7 percent last season, and he is converting on 41 percent of his looks from 16-23 feet, up from 37 percent in 2011-12, per Hoopdata.

    On a Los Angeles Clippers squad that's looking like a credible threat to the Oklahoma City Thunder out West, Griffin will be an integral part of any title hopes his team wishes to turn into reality in the new year.

9. Russell Westbrook

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    Resolution: Improve shot selection

    Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is having a terrific season, but he hasn't been able to shed some frustrating habits.

    At this point in Westbrook's career, it's clear what you're going to get from the flashy point guard. He will take questionable shots throughout the course of a game, but Westbrook's overall production is steady enough that it's become acceptable to overlook his flaws.

    The big problem with Westbrook's game is that he often takes it upon himself to right his team's wrongs, insisting on carrying a full offensive load when he has three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant by his side to carry some of the load.

    Westbrook is averaging more field-goal attempts per game than Durant (18.4 to 17.4) and is hitting on just 40.1 percent of them (compared to 52.1 percent for Durant).

    Efficiency has to become the name of the game for Westbrook in 2013, something Durant has already pinpointed as a component of greatness.

8. Dwight Howard

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    Resolution: Get back to 100 percent

    If you've watched the Los Angeles Lakers at all throughout the first two months of the season, then you're aware that Dwight Howard hasn't been his usual self.

    Howard underwent back surgery last spring, and some of the lingering effects of that surgery have hindered his trademark explosiveness in his short time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Howard discussed the lasting effects of the surgery in an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today:

    "Tingling in my legs all the way down to my feet," Howard said as he described his current state. "There's times when sometimes I really can't even feel my feet. (The doctors) said that's going to happen. It takes at least nine months for you to get strength back in your legs and all that stuff. So I'm still in that process."

    The three-time Defensive Player of the Year was brought in to stabilize the Lakers defense, but so far his effect in the middle has been negligible.

    On an aging Lakers team that's already been hurt by injuries, Howard's recovery is key to any title aspirations his new team may have.

7. Rajon Rondo

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    Resolution: Flaunt improved jump shot

    Rajon Rondo is the NBA's most creative passer, but his jump shot has quietly improved over the last two seasons.

    Rondo's 44-point outburst against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals opened eyes, and it was that performance that showed how lethal Rondo can be when he takes jumpers with confidence.

    The book on Rondo is that he's not a strong shooter beyond 15 feet, and while that was once true, it's simply no longer the case.

    Point guards consistently give Rondo space as they fear his dribble-drive and disrespect his jumper, but the fact remains that Rondo is knocking down shots from 16-23 feet at a 57 percent clip this season, per Hoopdata.

6. Kevin Love

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    Resolution: Lead Timberwolves to playoffs

    Kevin Love may very well end up leading the league in rebounds by season's end, but that should be a secondary goal for the Minnesota Timberwolves forward.

    The Timberwolves haven't qualified for the playoffs since the 2003-04 season when Flip Saunders' squad made a run to the Western Conference Finals before ultimately falling to a Los Angeles Laker team led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

    Love and a host of diverse role players have the Timberwolves sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference.

    Any Minnesota run to the playoffs will be contingent on Love and fellow star Ricky Rubio returning to the form they flashed in 2011-12, as well as limited improvement from teams like Denver, Utah, Portland and Houston.

    If Love can find a way to sneak the Timberwolves into the playoffs, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make some noise.

5. Carmelo Anthony

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    Resolution: Lead the Knicks to an Eastern Conference title

    Carmelo Anthony's postseason tribulations have been well-documented, but 2013 feels like the year that 'Melo and the Knicks may finally turn regular season success into postseason hardware.

    It's no secret that Anthony has come up small when the lights have shined brightest, as Howard Beck of The New York Times reminds us:

    In nine postseasons, Anthony is 16-36 — the worst record among active players with at least 50 playoff games. He has won a first-round series only once, in 2009. Since then, he has lost 11 of 13 playoff games.

    The Knicks are off to a strong 21-8 start, and everything we've seen thus far has indicated that the they may finally have the veteran pieces surrounding Anthony to compete in the postseason.

    Winning a playoff series or two would be nice, but all of Anthony's regular season success will be for naught if he can't propel the Knicks into the conversation of the NBA's elite.

4. Chris Paul

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    Resolution: Lead the Clippers to a Western Conference title

    Through two months of the season it's clear that the Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in Tinseltown.

    The Los Angeles Lakers are picking things up, having won five of their last six contests, but the Clippers have one-upped them, winning a league-high 14 straight games.

    Chris Paul has been the leader of the Clippers' resurgence, averaging 16 points and 9.5 assists per game, using his court vision and remarkable basketball IQ to lead the league's eighth-highest scoring offense.

    Now that Paul and the Clippers have established that they're the best team in LA, it's time for them to prove that they're the kings of the Western Conference.

    Getting past the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies won't be easy, but the Clippers are proving it's doable with Paul at the helm.

3. Kobe Bryant

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    Resolution: Win scoring title

    Would it be more accurate to say that Kobe's resolution should be to capture title No. 6?

    Perhaps, but that's not exactly the most realistic goal 29 games into the season.

    Although the Lakers are starting to turn it on with Steve Nash and Pau Gasol now healthy, it's not yet reasonable to think that a title is within reach.

    However, that story may be different in a few months.

    For now, Bryant leads the NBA in scoring with 30.2 points per game, and he's shown no signs of slowing down, even at 34 years old.

    With Steve Nash by his side, Kobe has assumed less of a ball-handling role and more a pure scoring one, giving the Lakers offense more balance.

    Nash's adept ability in running the pick-and-roll gives the Lakers an added dimension, one that is benefiting Kobe, and his numbers, immensely.

    While Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony may have something to say about Kobe capturing his third scoring title, the Black Mamba will not back down without a fight.

2. Kevin Durant

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    Resolution: Capture MVP and finish with a 50-40-90 line

    The goals listed for Kevin Durant are lofty, but they're also frighteningly realistic. Durant is having a career-year, scoring 28.1 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting (43 percent from beyond the arc).

    Durant has been efficient at a level we simply haven't seen from him before, posting a PER of 28.3, two points above his 2011-12 efficiency.

    What's scarier is that Durant's true shooting percentage continues to climb, as he's currently sitting at a career-high mark of 65.3 percent.

    Shooting over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line, Durant has a shot to become one of only six players in NBA history to join the esteemed 50-40-90 club.

    If the Oklahoma Thunder sharpshooter sustains this production through the spring, he can expect some new and shiny hardware to be present on his mantle as his team makes a push towards the NBA Finals.

1. LeBron James

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    Resolution: Repeat as NBA Champion

    It's pretty simple for LeBron James: This season will be a failure if he doesn't win a second consecutive NBA title.

    Coming off of a year in which he was showered with every accolade imaginable, James and the Miami Heat appear to be on the title fast-track, starting the season 20-6 behind James' 25.6 points, 6.9 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game.

    While a fourth MVP trophy would be nice, it doesn't compare to what a second straight title wold do for LeBron's legacy.

    Compared to the game's greats, LeBron's rings (or lack thereof) will always be a hotly debated topic, so his ability to pile up championships as he enters his prime will be crucial to his legacy.