NBA Superstars Who Still Need to Grow Their Game to Evolve
Very few NBA superstars arrive from the college campus as complete players. There is a learning curve, and even the greatest of all time take time to develop.
It's not often you find someone like Earvin Magic Johnson. He was not only the league's Rookie of the Year in 1979-80, but he led the Lakers to an NBA title and was named Finals MVP, all at the tender age of 20.
In most cases, young superstars establish a definitive aspect of their game early on and then spend the next three to five years trying to take their games to the next level. Some succeed, many do not.
There's a handful of very talented NBA stars who are quickly establishing themselves around the league. Players like Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday are making noise as point guards who control the tempo of a game and score with great frequency. They are the superstars of the future.
And then there are players who have arrived as superstars but still lack certain aspects to their game, such as a higher shooting percentage, better rebounding or assists.
Here are five superstars who still need to grow their game to evolve.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, Point Guard
Russell Westbrook is one of the most gifted athletes in the NBA. His raw talents were evident the first day he stepped onto the court at UCLA, and he's been a huge part of the Thunder's success.
And while the 24-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., continues to improve, there are aspects of his game that need taming and refining before he can truly be considered elite.
The biggest complaint in this All-Star's game has been his shot selection and the fact that he shoots at such a high volume. Westbrook is shooting just 41 percent from the floor this year. He's taking 18.5 shots per game, making 7.6 of them.
Westbrook was widely criticized during the NBA Finals last season for his shot selection and low scoring average. According to ABC analyst Magic Johnson, via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, Westbrook "had one of the worst performances for a point guard in the Finals that he'd seen, after the Heat built a 17-point lead in the first half of Game 2 en route to a 100-96 win, evening the series at 1-1."
Westbrook responded in typical fashion the next day, when he said: "I'm not making no adjustments, regardless of what anybody says. I'm going to play my game regardless of what happens."
This season is no different for Westbrook. He is one of the league's top point guards, but he is still shooting too much and turning the ball over 3.5 times per game.
Those are two troubling aspects of Russell Westbrook's game. But at 24, he is still maturing and will only get better. He averages 21.7 points and 8.7 assists, and he is a blur on the offensive side of the ball.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers, Power Forward
Maybe it's the small market that LaMarcus Aldridge plays in or the fact that his Portland Trail Blazers have not been much of a factor in recent seasons.
There's no questioning the fact that the 6'11", 240-pound power forward is an NBA superstar most teams would covet. But that hasn't stopped the criticism.
Portland head coach Terry Stotts came to the defense of his star player in a recent piece by Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:
"He's been doing everything that's been asked of him at both ends of the floor. And he's done it willingly and effectively. And it just bothers me when people throw darts at him, when they are disparaging. He doesn't deserve it. I don't think the criticisms are valid."
The biggest decline in Aldridge's game has been his shooting percentage, down to 47.5 from 51.2 percent a year ago. He's averaging 20.8 points per game this season, down slightly from last year's 21.7 and 21.8 the year before.
Aldridge averages 8.2 rebounds a game, another number that could be higher given his height and size.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves, Power Foward
The former UCLA standout has become a legitimate superstar in just a few short years.
He scores from inside and outside and is a ferocious rebounding forward who broke an NBA record with 31 points and 31 boards in a game against the New York Knicks in November 2010.
Still, there are elements of his game that keep Kevin Love reaching for more.
Love has suffered more in his shooting than anywhere else. Although averaging 18.3 points per game for Minnesota, Love is only connecting on 35.2 percent of his shots this year in 18 games.
Love's three-point shooting, at 21.7 percent, has been terrible.
This backtracking by Love comes on the heels of a breakout 2011-12 season in which he averaged 26 points on 44.8 percent shooting, including 37.2 percent from three-point range.
Love missed a month of this season after breaking his hand during the preseason. That, in turn, has contributed to his shooting regression.
Apparently, Minnesota management did not think enough of its superstar to offer him the maximum $80 million contract extension two summers ago. He can opt out of his current deal in two years.
Kevin Love needs more consistency to move up to that next level. He also needs playoff experience, and that may not happen in Minnesota.
Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, Power Forward
The biggest criticism leveled at Blake Griffin is that he only dunks the ball and has no outside shot. There's some truth to that, although Griffin has improved his jump shot this season.
Griffin has improved his free-throw shooting from an abysmal 52.1 percent last year to 62.1 percent this season. But where the 6'11" third-year pro from Oklahoma needs to improve to really take it the next level is with his jump shooting.
According to Hoopdata.com, Griffin has made strides with the jump shot, improving to 50 percent on attempts from 10-15 feet and 39 percent from 16-23 feet.
Griffin notes the continued criticism but doesn't buy it. He told ESPN.com's Arash Markazi:
"I hear things like all I do is dunk. I'm working on my overall game and working on small things to help our team and trying to play better defense and all that. As long as we're doing things like that, who cares what people say?"
Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks, Point Guard
Monta Ellis can sometimes look like the best point guard in the NBA and then disappears from sight.
He is a high-volume shooter who fluctuates between superb, spot-on performances and atrocious shooting nights in which he can't hit the side of a barn.
Although he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for Dec. 24-30, Ellis has been less-than stellar this year.
The 27-year-old is averaging 19.6 points per game, but he is shooting 40.4 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Ellis has never been a great long-range shooter, and that has hampered his overall game.
He had four seasons at Golden State where he averaged over 20 points per game, but his 4.5 assists per contest in his eight-year career has rendered him a second-tier star.