Grading the Top 25 NBA Superstars' 2012 Calendar Year

Brendan Bowers@@BowersCLEContributor IIDecember 31, 2012

Grading the Top 25 NBA Superstars' 2012 Calendar Year

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    In grading the top 25 NBA superstars in the calendar year 2012, performances from both last season and this season were evaluated. NBA postseason play was considered, but the Olympics were not.

    It didn't feel right grading Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum because of the substantial time they missed. Steve Nash was left off the list for the same reason.

    Only five players earned an "A grade" or better.

    Here's the complete list.

25. Deron Williams: C-

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    Maybe I'm grading Deron Williams unfairly because I've come to expect much more than what I saw in 2012.

    Or maybe I'm not.

    Williams was an All-Star last season and averaged 21 points per game. But his team also lost a staggering number of games while he shot a career-low 40.7 percent from the field. Through 29 games this season, he's shot slightly worse at 40.2 percent.

    Williams is also connecting on a career-low 29 percent of his attempts from three-point range while averaging only 16.6 points. That average would be his lowest season-long output since the 2006-07 campaign.

24. Dwight Howard: C-

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    It wasn't all smiles for Dwight Howard in 2012.

    He was extremely productive last season, scoring 20.6 points and grabbing 14.5 rebounds in 54 games with the Orlando Magic.

    His divorce with Orlando, however, was so messy that I'm sure 2012 is a year Howard would prefer to forget.

    Through 30 games with the Lakers, who lost a lot early but seem to have turned it around, he's averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds.

    Let's hope 2013 can be better for Howard.

23. Joe Johnson: C

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    Joe Johnson averaged 18.8 points for the Atlanta Hawks last season and was named an All-Star. Since joining the Brooklyn Nets, he has averaged 16.8 points.

    Fair or not, however, I'm holding the fact that his old Hawks team appears to be better off without him against Johnson.

    I'm also dinging the perennial All-Star for a slight decline in field-goal percentage, assists, rebounds and points this season compared to his career averages.

    Maybe if the Nets had maintained their winning November pace I'd look more favorably on Johnson's calendar-year performance.

    They didn't, though, and just got their coach fired instead—all of which factored into Johnson's grade.

22. Zach Randolph: B-

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    An injury in early January kept Zach Randolph out of all but 28 games last season. As a result, he finished out the 2011-12 regular season averaging a pedestrian 11.6 points a game.

    Since late October, however, Randolph has done everything in his power to improve upon his year-long grade.

    He's back up among the league's elite. He's second in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 12.4 per game, and leads the league in in double-doubles with 21 through Sunday, while scoring 16.9 points a game.

21. Tim Duncan: B

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    Tim Duncan was thought to be on the decline as the 2012 calendar year began.

    After being named an All-Star every year from 2000 to 2011, he did not make the Western Conference team this past February.

    Through 31 games to begin the 2012-13 campaign, however, Duncan has improved his numbers in every major statistical category from a season ago.

    He is averaging 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

    This past postseason he helped his San Antonio Spurs advance to the Western Conference finals. This season he has his team looking like a threat to return.

20. Paul Pierce: B

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    Paul Pierce finished just shy of his 22-point career average for the 2012 calendar year.

    His 19.9 points per game through 31 games this season, however, are still good for 11th in the NBA as of Sunday. He also finished this past regular season among the top 15 scorers at 19.4 points.

    Pierce helped his Boston Celtics push the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, which also can't be overlooked, even if it doesn't appear likely the Celtics will make a run like that again this summer.

19. Marc Gasol: B

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    Marc Gasol was an NBA All-Star for the first time during the 2012 calendar year.

    He also may have moved past his brother Pau in the family pecking order as the more productive player.

    The 14 points and approximately eight rebounds he's averaged through 2012 don't necessarily jump off the page, but Gasol has proved he belongs among the league's top centers.

    This season he's blended his talents with Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay to help his Memphis Grizzlies team get out to a 19-8 start through Sunday.

18. Chris Bosh: B

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    I was expecting big things from Chris Bosh when this season began.

    Playing the center position for the Miami Heat, I thought he would be a matchup problem every night lined up against slower bigs offensively.

    While that hasn't necessarily happened to the degree we might have expected, he's still an 18-point, eight-rebound guy through 27 games as of Sunday.

    That's certainly above-average, even while graded among the NBA's top stars.

    It's especially so considering that Bosh returned from injury during the 2012 playoffs to help his Heat team secure the NBA championship.

17. LaMarcus Aldridge: B

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    I'd like to see LaMarcus Aldridge average at least two more rebounds than he did during 2012. He should be a 20 and 10 double-double guy every night.

    Besides that, though, the 2012 All-Star has been extremely productive during this past calendar year.

    He's averaged more than 21 points and eight rebounds in 79 games over these past two NBA seasons.

    As soon as he and Damian Lillard are able to help the Portland Trail Blazers win at a higher rate, Aldridge will begin to get more attention for the work he's doing in Rip City.

16. Tyson Chandler: B

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    Tyson Chandler was an All-NBA player during the 2011-12 season.

    His averages of just more than 11 points and 10 rebounds for the calendar year are relatively quiet, but he's been a stabilizing force for the New York Knicks since his arrival.

    He's also a major reason defensively that the Knicks have been winning at the rate they have to open the 2012-13 campaign.

15. James Harden: B+

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    Through 29 games as a starter with the Houston Rockets through Sunday, James Harden is scoring 26 points per night, while also dishing out 5.2 assists and collecting 4.5 rebounds.

    He's closed out 2012 as impressively as any player in the league.

    But including 20 postseason appearances with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was only a starter for roughly 30 percent of his games this calendar year.

    Coming off the bench last season as the NBA's best sixth man, he averaged 10 fewer points than he does right now for the Rockets. 

    If Harden maintains his current pace, he'll be in "A territory" by the end of 2013. 

    In the meantime, Harden has made the most of his opportunities in earning a B+.

14. Stephen Curry: B+

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    Like Zach Randolph, Stephen Curry also had considerable ground to make up as the 2012-13 season began.

    He appeared in only 23 of the Warriors' 62 games played during the 2012 calendar year a season ago.

    Also like Randolph, Curry has done everything possible during his first 31 games this season to turn it around.

    The 20 points and 6.5 assists he's averaged through Sunday are both career highs. He's 10th in the NBA in scoring, and his 44 percent shooting from three-point territory is the league's sixth-best mark.

13. Blake Griffin: B+

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    Blake Griffin has developed into an all-around complement to Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers this season.

    His emergence since October as more than just an highlight-reel dunker has helped the Clippers to an NBA-best record of 25-6 through Sunday.

    Griffin has shot better than 54 percent from the field during 2012. He's also shown flashes of a post game that didn't previously exist.

    He was an All-Star in 2012 while averaging 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. This season he's at 17.8 and 8.8, respectively, for a team that is as balanced and deep as any in the league.

12. Carmelo Anthony: B+

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    To be clear, this is a grade for the entire calendar year.

    Last season wasn't necessarily Carmelo Anthony's finest hour. Since October, however, he's responded with an MVP-caliber performance.

    I'm grading Anthony at a C+ for his work last season and an A+ so far this year. That's how I arrived at the B+ average for 2012.

    With respect to this season, Anthony is the league's second-leading scorer at 28.5 per game.

    He is also the primary reason that the New York Knicks appear to be NBA title contenders heading into 2013.

11. David Lee: A-

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    We seem to notice David Lee more these days now that his Golden State Warriors are winning.

    Truth is, Lee's spent the entire 2012 calendar year averaging a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double.

    Through 31 games this season, he's registered a double-double 19 times. Last season he did the same 26 times during 2012.

    Lee is tied for fifth in rebounding, grabbing 11 per night, after finishing in the top 12 a season ago. 

    The 20.1 points he's averaging are good for ninth in the NBA.

10. Kyrie Irving: A-

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    The only knocks on Kyrie Irving are his defense and ability to avoid freak injuries.

    While the injuries may be out of his control, his defense will need to improve.

    Otherwise, however, Irving has been simply brilliant in 2012.

    The reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 19.7 points through his first 72 NBA games.

    This season he's averaging 22.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. Last season he averaged 18.5 and 5.4.

    Additionally, Irving has demonstrated a propensity for hitting big shots when his team needs them most.

9. Dwyane Wade: A-

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    For as much as we might think that Dwyane Wade has taken a step back this season, that's all relative.

    Last season Wade averaged 22 points per game for a team that won the NBA championship.

    This season, even though he's five points off his career average, he's still a 20-point-per-game scorer every time he steps on the floor.

    His individual production during 2012 might have been worth a "B-grade" had he not won his second NBA title this year.

    But he did.

8. Tony Parker: A-

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    We talk about the great young point guards in this league all the time.

    Swallowed up in that conversation, more often than not, is the 30-year-old Tony Parker. 

    All he has done in 2012 is average more than 18 points and seven assists per night.

    He was the best player on the second-best team in the Western Conference last season. And since October, he's helped his San Antonio Spurs pick up right where they left off.

    Because of Parker, they are a threat to win the NBA championship again in 2013.

7. Rajon Rondo: A-

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    Rajon Rondo seems to get blamed for everything that ails the Boston Celtics these days. I'm not sure how fair any of that really is, though.

    During 2012, all Rondo did was average a double-double for the year. He led the NBA in assists last season at 11.7 and is doing so again this year at 11.6.

    During the 2012 playoffs, he averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

    Maybe the Celtics aren't winning as much this season because Rondo isn't scoring enough. Or maybe they need a few more bigs who can rebound.

6. Kevin Love: A-

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    The hand injury that forced Kevin Love to miss nine games to start this season is all that's kept him from earning a higher grade in 2012.

    He posted a monster average of 26 points and 13.3 rebounds last season.

    In the process, he helped infuse hope into a Minnesota Timberwolves organization that has been traditionally awful.

    Battling through that injury to open the 2012-13 campaign, his scoring total has dipped to 19.1. This has been driven by a shooting percentage of 35.8 percent through 16 games.

    He's still grabbing 14.1 rebounds per game, though.

5. Russell Westbrook: A

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    Russell Westbrook proved that he is a major reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder won big in 2012.

    He's also proving to be a willing passer for anyone who doubted his ability to do that.

    Westbrook averaged 23.6 points per game during the regular season last year while eventually helping the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals.

    This season he's averaging the fifth-most assists in the NBA with a career-high rate of 8.7 per game.

4. Kobe Bryant: A

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    Kobe Bryant is closing out the 2012 calendar year by reminding everyone that he is still Kobe Bryant.

    He's leading the NBA in scoring through Sunday, averaging 30.1 points per game. This comes after averaging 27.9 points last season.

    At 34 years old, Bryant is in his 17th NBA season. Just when we may have thought he'd slow down, he proved this past year that he's still on that short list of best players in the NBA.

    If his Los Angeles Lakers can start winning soon, he might even win an MVP by season's end.

3. Chris Paul: A+

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    It's been a year-long process for Chris Paul in Los Angeles.

    Traded to the Clippers before the 2011-12 season, he quickly made them a playoff-caliber team.

    Since October, he's closed out 2012 by leading the Clippers to an NBA-best record through Sunday.

    He's averaged more than nine assists in 88 games in 2012. In the process, Paul has made all of his teammates around him better.

    The Clippers are NBA title contenders this season because of him. That, in itself, was a previously unimaginable accomplishment for anyone.

2. Kevin Durant: A+

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    There is only one player who had a better 2012 than Kevin Durant.

    That player's Heat team beat Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals.

    Through December of this season, however, Durant appears determined to have his team back on the NBA's biggest stage this summer.

    His stats have been crazy, as he averaging more than 28 points and eight rebounds a game.

    He'll only get better from here.

1. LeBron James: A+

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    LeBron James had maybe the best calendar year in NBA history.

    After his Miami Heat team fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, it had to be the best calendar year that James himself could have envisioned.

    He finished 2012 as an MVP and NBA champion.

    He led the Heat in points, rebounds and assists last season and is doing the same again through Sunday this season. His 25.9 points per game are fifth-best in the NBA.

    The 2013 NBA championship will go through James and the Heat once again, even if their record isn't what you'd expect in December.