How Each Top NBA Superstar Has Improved His Game This Season
Stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant continue to refine their skills each and every season, making subtle tweaks that help enhance the complexity and diversity of their games.
The NBA's preeminent players, like James and Durant, have earned the right to be labeled "superstars" because they don't settle even when they've reached a point of individual dominance.
With top-flight stars separating themselves from the pack, we're going to take a look at how each of the NBA's premier players have improved during the 2012-13 campaign.
Note: All stats accurate as of Monday, January 7.
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Improvement: Footwork in the lane
Carmelo Anthony is having the best season of his career to date, averaging 29.3 points per game (up seven points from 2011-12) thanks to 47.7 percent shooting from the field and a stellar 43.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Anthony's improved efficiency and shot selection can be attributed to several factors, but perhaps the most notable one is his improved footwork around the basket.
With a strong combination of power and agility, Anthony has been able to get to the rim at will, and he's even shown an improved post game—one that has resulted in 50 percent shooting in the paint, per NBA.com.
Now that he's dedicated to spending more time in the post and the paint, Anthony has the league's most lethal and diverse repertoire of inside-outside shots, and it's all thanks to some nifty footwork that complements his quick release beautifully.
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Improvement: Shot selection and consistency
It sounds crazy, but the most noticeable improvement in Kobe Bryant's game is the rate at which he's converting on a wide range of shots.
According to NBA.com, Bryant has three spots on the floor which he prefers over all others. Those three would be the restricted area (66 percent shooting), mid-range (47 percent shooting) and three-pointers above the break (36 percent shooting).
Given that he's is scoring a league-high 30.5 points per game, it would feel safe to deduce that Kobe is taking more shots than ever, right?
Wrong. Kobe is averaging 20.3 field-goal attempts per game, which is only the sixth-highest mark of his career.
In addition, Bryant's true shooting percentage is at an all-time high of 59.2 percent, per Basketball-Reference, while his offensive rating has also hit a new high of 117.
Kobe's 48.1 percent conversion rate from the field is also a career-high, and his mark of 35.9 percent shooting from three is the fourth-best of his 17-year career.
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Improvement: All-around defense
Chris Paul is having an MVP-caliber season, leading the Los Angeles Clippers behind averages of 17 points and 9.3 assists per game.
Paul's killer crossover and elite court-vision make his game as aesthetically pleasing as any, but it's the point guard's defense that has improved markedly throughout the 2012-13 season.
According to Basketball-Reference, Paul's defensive rating (defined as "an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions") is at a career-low mark of 100, while his steal percentage has ticked up to 4.1 percent.
Paul currently accounts for 36 percent of all of the Clippers' steals, per NBA.com, and has been a significant part of the team's defensive revival, one that has them ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating (100.3 points allowed per 100 possessions).
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Kevin Durant is on his way to finishing the season shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line, but his flawless shooting stroke is old news by now.
In a interesting development, Durant is dishing the rock at rates we simply haven't seen before from the 6'9'' sharpshooter.
According to Basketball-Reference, Durant's assist percentage has climbed nearly two points from last season, up to 19.4.
In addition, Durant is averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game (3.8 per 36 minutes), leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Western Conference's best winning percentage (.788).
Durant will rarely, if ever, be criticized for not passing the ball, but it shows that the 24-year-old is mature well beyond his years, deferring to teammates when he could be dominating the ball en route to a fourth-straight scoring title.
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Improvement: Three-point shot
Remember when defenders were overwhelmed trying to stop LeBron James' high-post, low-post and mid-range game?
Now that James has a consistent three-point shot to add to his arsenal, opponents have been left virtually helpless, as the reigning MVP has used his improved stroke to help him score 20 or more points in every game so far this season.
James is converting on a career-high 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts, which ranks 20th in the NBA. By comparison, LeBron's previous high in three-point percentage was 36.2 percent in 2011-12.
Not to be overlooked, LeBron is also posting career-highs in effective field-goal percentage (58.2 percent) and true shooting percentage (61.7 percent), according to Basketball-Reference.