It's tough to nail down what exactly qualifies someone as a "superstar" in the NBA. Such an endeavor might best be approached using the same logic that US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart employed while defining obscenity back in 1964—you'll know it when you see it.
Not that such an ethos would make characterizing basketball superstardom any easier. The label itself implies a certain combination of on-court productivity and overall notoriety as measured on an undisclosed (read: imaginary) sliding scale.
Leaning too heavily on one or the other can jeopardize one's candidacy. For instance, Dwyane Wade soaks up plenty of limelight by way of playing for the defending champion Miami Heat next to reigning MVP LeBron James and is prone to spectacular play from time to time. But age, injuries and a changing role have all conspired to depress D-Wade's overall productivity and limit his typical ceiling to that of a "mere" All-Star.
The same goes for fellow Eastern Conference All-Star starter Kevin Garnett, who can dominate in fits and spurts, particularly on the defensive end, but at the age of 36, is hardly the all-encompassing force of old.
On the other end of the spectrum are youngsters like James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry—budding All-Stars who produce in spectacular fashion but won't truly join the ranks of the league's elite until they lead their respective teams to big wins in meaningful moments.
As for the NBA's most consequential stars, let's have a look at how the 10 best have graded out through the first half of the 2012-13 NBA season.
For his myriad of gifts, LeBron James has never been considered a scorer, per se.
But he does a phenomenal job of putting the ball in the basket. This season, he's doing so more efficiently than he ever has. He's scoring 26.3 points (fourth-best in the NBA) on a career-low 18.5 attempts per game while posting career highs in field-goal percentage (.551) and three-point percentage (.400). He's also done a marvelous job therein of stretching more of his long twos into more valuable threes (per Hoopdata).
The only real knocks on James are that he's getting to the free-throw line less frequently than he has since his rookie season, converting just 73.4 percent of them. Nonetheless, it's tough to fault the guy's scoring exploits, especially considering how dominant of a post-up presence he's become.
Oh, and LeBron's still a spectacular passer. He's 10th in the NBA with seven assists, the plurality of which (2.6 per game) lead directly to shots at the rim.
Thankfully for hoops heads, LeBron's alley-oop partnership with Dwyane Wade remains alive and well after the latter underwent offseason knee surgery. Admittedly, though, James has taken on a larger share of the finishes between the two.
In any case, it speaks volumes of LeBron's mindset as a player that, when he scored his 20,000th point and registered his 5,000th assist in the same game against the Golden State Warriors in January, James pointed to the second of those as the more fulfilling. He's a floor general first and foremost and has done a remarkable job of serving in that role this season.
More time spent near the basket has resulted in more rebounds for LeBron. He's averaging a career-high/team-best 8.1 caroms corralled per contest and is cleaning up a greater share of misses (12.6 percent) than he ever has.
The fact that James is leading the Heat in rebounding doesn't necessarily speak well of Miami's play in that regard or Chris Bosh's as the team's primary big man. But the accomplishment is a worthwhile one nonetheless for the best player on the planet.
What makes LeBron such an outstanding talent now compared to when he first came into the league, though, is his defense. The Heat have employed James as the nominal power forward in their small-ball lineups plenty this season, and he's delivered by shutting down opponents of all shapes and sizes. He's shut down guards and wings on the perimeter, bodied up against sturdy forwards in the middle and used his superior quickness, length, athleticism and timing to front and fluster centers at times.
It's tough to grant Defensive Player of the Year honors to a guy whose team has slipped from fourth to 11th in defensive efficiency between seasons, but if versatility counts, then LeBron deserves serious consideration.
Star Power: A+++
Anyone who still thinks LeBron can't handle the heat of the spotlight hasn't seen him play this season. Most of his best games have come on the biggest stages and in front of the most eyes. He scored 26 points on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists in the season opener against the Boston Celtics, outshone Kevin Durant in a Finals rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder (29-8-9), fell three rebounds shy of a triple-double in a historic blowout win over the Warriors and scored a season-high 39 points (to go along with seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals) to will the Heat to a road trip-concluding win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The guy doesn't run from big moments; he wholeheartedly embraces them and uses them to elevate his game.
He's well on his way to capturing a fourth MVP trophy in five seasons and his team is on track to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. What else could you ask of LeBron?
Scoring has always been Kevin Durant's forte, and this year, he's doing it like never before. He leads the NBA in that department at 29.5 points per game, just a hair in front of Kobe Bryant in the race for the scoring title.
But that's practically routine for the Durantula; he's finished tops in scoring in each of the past three seasons.
What's more impressive, though, is the way in which Durant is filling it up this season. His current shooting percentages—51.6 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from three, 90.9 percent from the free-throw line—would be not only career highs, but also good enough to make him the sixth member of the vaunted 50-40-90 Club alongside the likes of Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, to name a few.
Throw in his developing post game, and Durant is quickly building a case for himself as one of the NBA's all-time great scorers, at the tender age of 24, no less.
Passing has never been KD's skill, though he's clearly grown as a passer in his sixth NBA season. As SI.com's Rob Mahoney broke down this past November, Durant is doing a much better job of reading and reacting to ball pressure as well as distributing the ball off of dribble drives.
The results have certainly shown up in the box score. He's contributing a career-high 4.2 assists per game this season, buoyed in part by his first triple-double as a pro.
Durant still has a ways to go before he can even sniff LeBron's jock in this regard. That being said, KD's ability, as OKC's top scoring threat, to draw defensive attention and find the open man has made him that much more valuable to the Thunder's title-contending operation on the offensive end.
Strange as it may seem, KD's rebounding is actually down a bit this season by nearly every measure. However, for someone with such a slender frame, Durant does a solid job of competing for caroms beyond his area, thanks in no small part to his incredible length and leaping ability.
It's almost uncanny how Durant's development as a player has come to mirror LeBron's, particularly on the defensive end. Once a non-factor on that side of the floor, KD has since established himself as a pesky on-ball defender and disruptive force in help situations. He ranks among the top 20 in the league in steals, checks in 22nd in blocks and, according to 82games.com, has limited opposing small forwards to a minuscule Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 8.0.
Again, it's on defense that Durant uses his length, leaping ability and quick feet to the most devastating effect. He may well be an All-Defensive performer as is, but might just find himself in the running as the Defensive Player of the Year someday if he can add some meat to his bony body.
Star Power: A++
Durant has been on a tear all season long, to the point that he's once again causing folks around the league to question LeBron's MVP hegemony. His career-high 52-point outburst against the Dallas Mavericks on January 18 marked his fifth 40-point performance since mid-December.
His Thunder came up short against LeBron's Heat during the Christmas Day rematch, but Durant actually outshone his friend/rival with 33 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
And, like LeBron, Durant tallied arguably his most impressive performance of the season against the Lakers. KD scored 42 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. He played with a new-found fire and intensity in his most recent trip to the Staples Center—a blowout win for OKC.
If LeBron is No. 1 among all ballers, then Durant is a deserving 1A. His continued growth this season, when combined with his youth, portends all-time greatness in the years to come for the OKC superstar.
Like most things related to Russell Westbrook, the guard's scoring exploits have fallen prey to the whims of Good Russ and Bad Russ. His scoring is down from 23.6 points last season to 23 points now, as are his shooting percentages.
But by the same token, Westbrook is taking fewer long twos and mid-range shots (i.e., the least efficient looks in the game) and shooting a career-high 33.9 percent from three.
And Westbrook's scoring average is still good enough to put him sixth in the NBA in that regard. Surely a guy who "shoots too much" could do worse.
The most encouraging development in Westbrook's game has been his return to point guard duties. That is, Russ is averaging a career-high 8.3 assists per game and has helped out on 40.9 percent of his teammates' makes. Better yet, according to Hoopdata, Westbrook's 3.9 assists at the rim per game are the fourth-most of any player in the NBA.
The Thunder are not a great passing squad, and Westbrook isn't exactly the second coming of Magic Johnson. That being said, Russ has done a bang-up job of passing more and turning the ball over less, all of which has helped to fuel the league's most efficient offensive outfit.
Being as long, energetic and breathtakingly athletic as Westbrook is lends itself to good rebounding numbers for a guard. Westbrook is tops among point guards with 5.3 rebounds per game and 1.6 offensive boards per game. He's checked in with double-digit rebounding numbers on four occasions, though he's yet to string together a triple-double.
All told, it's good to see a hustling guard like Westbrook chasing down loose balls and vigorously crashing the boards. Like most things, rebounding is a team effort for the Thunder, and Westbrook has done more than his fair share in that regard.
How it is that Westbrook has allowed his defense to slip since coming into the NBA remains one of the great mysteries among today's superstars.
Russ remains as athletic as ever, but seems to have gotten away from the defensive principles that Ben Howland instilled during Westbrook's collegiate days at UCLA. He's allowing opposing guards to register PERs above the league average and has been caught out of position on defense on far too many occasions.
Most notably during OKC's season-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Even so, Westbrook ranks fifth in the league in steals at just under two per game and still has all the requisite tools to star on that end. The question is, when will he put them all (back) together?
Star Power: A+
Highlight-reel dunks? Check.
Flashy passes? Check.
Scoring outbursts? Check. He's topped the 30-point mark 10 times this season, including during each of his past four games.
Good Russ or Bad Russ, Westbrook brings the "Wow Factor" from night to night with the sorts of plays that leave fans on the edges of their respective seats.
In James Harden's absence, Westbrook has picked up the slack as a distributor while making his case as something more than just an All-Star sidekick for Kevin Durant.
The Los Angeles Clippers don't ask Chris Paul to score all that often, but he's fared remarkably well when the need has arisen. His 17 points per game are the third-fewest of his career, though it's important to note that he's also playing less (a career-low 33.5 minutes) and shooting less (12.2 attempts) than usual.
Nonetheless, CP3 is shooting a strong 47.3 percent from the field along with a career-best 89.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Better yet, his efficiency actually improves in crunch time. According to 82games.com, Paul shoots 48.1 percent during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when neither team is ahead by more than five points. More impressively, CP3 is scoring an astounding 51.6 points per 48 minutes of crunch time.
Which is to say, Chris Paul sure knows how to pick his spots.
Paul is widely regarded as the best point guard on planet Earth for a reason: The guy can lead a team, run an offense and deliver the ball on target.
That goes well beyond his 9.7 assists (the second-most in the NBA) and his assist percentage (an astronomical 46.4 percent), though those things certainly count. Consider that more than 68 percent of his assists have resulted in either shots at the rim (the most efficient in basketball) or three-point baskets (the second-most efficient in basketball).
It certainly helps that Paul is surrounded by such a wealth of weapons. Still, only a distributor of his acumen can organize them into a cohesive whole as well as CP3 does.
For a little guy playing next to giants like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul does well enough to clean the glass. He ranks among the top 20 point guards in rebounding rate (per Hoopdata) and does a solid job of sneaking in for loose balls amongst the trees.
Point guards who are menaces on the defensive end are few and far between, if only because it's difficult to find players who A) have the energy to lock down opponents on the perimeter and run an offense and B) can stay in front of (much less disrupt) the plethora of quick, athletic floor generals in today's NBA.
Chris Paul just so happens to be one of the chosen few. A deceptive athlete, Paul has limited opposing point guards to a PER of 11.8 this season (per 82games.com) and is on pace for his fifth steals crown in six seasons.
Star Power: A++
Even on a star-studded team amidst the glitz and glamour of LA—and playing in the shadow of the dysfunctional Lakers—Chris Paul has managed to stand out from the crowd as the best player in town. He may not be the one on the receiving end of those pinpoint passes and panic-inducing lobs, but Paul is still in charge of the operation and plays the part well.
He lends legitimacy to Lob City as potentially more than just a regular season aberration, and always does so with humility. That may not make CP3 a favorite of the tabloids, though it's hardly detracted from a fine season.
Chris Paul came to LA to turn the Clippers into a contender in the Western Conference and has, thus far, succeeded beyond the franchise's wildest dreams. That in itself is enough to earn him outstanding marks.
Contrary to popular belief (and Kia), there's more to Blake Griffin's game than just jumping and dunking.
Now into his third year as a pro, Griffin has developed an unconventional yet curiously effective face-up/post-up game that puts his quickness, athleticism, strength and ball-handling ability to good use. The moves may not always be pretty—heck, sometimes they look downright clumsy—but the ball winds up in the basket more often than not, and isn't that what counts?
The bigger issue with Blake, and what Kia got all too right, is his shooting, particularly from the free-throw line. He's back to hitting freebies at a rate (.643) that more closely mirrors that of his rookie year (.642), but still leaves him well below that of a star expected to attack the basket. If the Clippers are to contend, they'll need Griffin to be something more than a liability at the foul line in crunch time.
Blake Griffin remains criminally underrated as a facilitator, if only because he plays next to the best in that regard in Chris Paul. According to Hoopdata, Griffin ranks eighth in assist rate among power forwards who average at least 15 minutes per game. He also has racked up six or more assists on seven separate occasions this season.
It certainly helps Griffin's cause as a passer to be surrounded by such a deep stable of scoring threats. Nonetheless, the credit is all Blake's for not only handling double-teams in the post, but also finding the open man on the perimeter when the time comes to give up the ball.
The biggest area of concern for Griffin has been on the boards. The Clippers rank 10th in rebound rate despite the fact that Blake's crashing the boards at new career-low rates, be they measured in percentages or raw totals.
Which is odd, to say the least. The Clips aren't all that much bigger now than they were, with Lamar Odom as the primary reserve up front. Odom's done an excellent job on the glass, reeling in 5.8 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game, and DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes have been solid.
But there would still seem to be room for Griffin to contribute more to this end.
To Blake's credit, though, he's racked up 16 double-doubles so far, including 10 of the 20-10 variety.
Blake Griffin isn't yet a lockdown on-ball defender and might never be a shot-blocking savant (in part because his arms aren't all that long...relatively speaking), but he's shown some intriguing signs of progress this season. He's done a much better job of using his quick feet and agility to disrupt and occasionally shut down perimeter players, and he is learning to leverage his size and strength to keep opposing bigs out of the paint.
Strange as it may seem for a guy whose overall game is predicated so heavily on breathtaking feats of power and athleticism, Griffin must become a more disciplined and more grounded player to become a reliable force on the defensive end.
Star Power: A+++
Can Blake Griffin still dunk?
All things considered, the league's youngest superstar is doing quite well for himself. He's already a supremely productive player, his game is steadily developing and his team owns the second-best record in the NBA.
And have I mentioned those dunks of his?
Kobe Bryant's scoring has tailed off as of late. He's averaging 29.2 points on 31.7 percent shooting from the field over his past three games, which has dropped him behind Kevin Durant in the NBA scoring race. His shooting numbers are back closer to career-average levels.
Maybe Kobe's getting tired, what from carrying the Los Angeles Lakers' scoring load all season and now defending the opponent's best perimeter player. Maybe everyone else has figured out how to defend Kobe in Mike D'Antoni's scheme.
Whatever the case may be, Kobe's current regression to the mean hardly detracts from the fact that he's scoring upwards of 29 points per game at the age of 34.
Kobe tried his hand at playing some point guard earlier this season, with mixed results. He posted a triple-double against the Houston Rockets back in November and has strung together another 16 games with six or more assists.
Not bad for a guy who supposedly doesn't pass. Granted, Bryant's still a bit too prone to launching Hail Mary-esque jumpers than Lakers fans would like, but the guy deserves some credit for playing more pick-and-roll basketball than ever before and doing so relatively well despite having only a menial rapport with Dwight Howard.
On the one hand, Kobe's rebounding numbers are at their lowest levels since his second season as a pro. On the other hand, he plays with a pair of double-double machines in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
You can excuse the guy, then, for spending less time sacrificing his body on the boards.
Kobe watchers have been crowing for some time about how he's been racking up All-Defensive nods based on a long-expired reputation as a menace on the perimeter.
Now it appears as though the general perception of Bryant's game is finally catching up to those long-standing criticisms. He's done a poor job of communicating, particularly on pick-and-rolls, and has left far too many guards and wings wide open for three-point looks
To Kobe's credit, he's had to expend an inordinate amount of energy on the offensive end, and he's now being ground to a fine powder while guarding top perimeter plays and covering Steve Nash's behind.
But it's the "small things"—the slow rotations, the miscommunication, the non-contests—that have made Kobe's defensive downfall so jarring at times in 2012-13.
Star Power: A
Despite the Lakers' struggles, people still pay premium prices to see Kobe play, and for good reason. He's always a threat to get hot and get the Lakers back in a game with a series of ridiculous shots, if not explode for 40 points (which he's done four times this season).
Now into his 17th season, Bryant is a master of his craft and remains a good bet to take over at any given moment, especially with his teammates continuing to stumble.
As good as Kobe's been, it's tough to give him anything better than a "B" overall. His team is already well out of the Western Conference playoff picture and is falling fast. Bryant can only do so much to drag them out of the doldrums, but with all of this star power, there's no doubt that Kobe should be doing a better job of rallying the troops for a midseason run.
Yes, Dwight Howard is scoring on 58.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, and yes, he has dominated on the offensive end at times since joining the Lakers.
But Howard's hit a humbling 50.4 percent of his free throws so far and is shooting (10.4 attempts) and scoring (17.1 points) at his lowest levels since his first two years in the NBA.
Of course, there are a number of factors at play here. He doesn't get the ball as much as he used to now that he's playing next to ball-dominant guards like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Head coach Mike D'Antoni has done a decidedly poor job of integrating Howard into the offense, be it in isolation post-ups or pick-and-rolls. Howard's back still isn't healthy, and might've been better served had he taken more time to return to the court.
Still, getting shots as a big man requires effort and activity, and when watching the Lakers, it's tough to shake the feeling that Howard just isn't bringing it on that end of the floor, night in and night out.
It's not Dwight's job to spread the wealth, especially with his usage rate down to 20.2 percent from 26.1 percent last season. But Howard's butterfingers (16.2 percent turnover rate, 3.2 giveaways per game) have obscured the passing talents of a player who patterned his game after Magic Johnson's, once upon a time.
For all his faults and inconsistencies this season, Dwight still leads the league in rebounds (12.3) and, according to Hoopdata, ranks third in rebounding rate, behind only the injured duo of Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love.
Not bad for a guy coming off of major back surgery who has yet to set down proper roots with his new team.
Such productivity speaks to the depth of Howard's true talent. The fact that Dwight can clean the glass as well as he has despite his current physical condition and apparent lack of passion and intensity makes you wonder what he could and would do if he were fully engaged.
Everything Dwight's done this season has been characterized by occasional dominance, including his play on the defensive end. At times he's looked like a three-time Defensive Player of the Year—challenging shots (2.5 blocks), protecting the paint, covering his teammates' mistakes and hedging perfectly on pick-and-rolls while barking out instructions.
But far too often he's been content to settle for slow, lazy and haphazard defense. He's fouling more than he ever has, which isn't a surprise given how prone he's been to reaching with his arms rather than moving his feet.
Again, there's no easy way to split up blame between his physical ailments, his new situation and his perceived deficit of motivation, though the reality remains that he just hasn't been the All-World defensive force that fans have come to expect.
Star Power: C
His productivity has been inconsistent, to say the least, and the combination of the "Dwightmare" and his current downturn in LA has decimated his Q rating. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that even former Lakers role player Robert Horry has implored Howard to smile less, even though his pearly whites (and his willingness to show them off) had helped him to become one of the NBA's most likable stars.
For better or worse, Dwight's still an All-Star talent putting up All-Star numbers on a team full of All-Stars.
But that team is losing, Howard's bristling and the prospect of him carrying the Lakers into a post-Kobe future now seems like anything but a guarantee.
Carmelo Anthony is a natural-born scorer and has been doing just that better than he ever has this season. His current average (29.2 points) and three-point percentage (.420) both represent career bests, and he's been carrying the load for a New York Knicks team that's looked, at times, like a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
It certainly helps Carmelo's case that he's traded in some of those aggravating long twos for close-range shots and three-point attempts (per Hoopdata) and that he's adapted so well to alternating between the roles of post-up power forward and spot-up shooter on the wing.
Expect 'Melo's scoring numbers to continue to creep upward once Raymond Felton returns to the Knicks lineup. Such should leave him with fewer other responsibilities to fulfill, and thus, more time and energy to spend on putting the ball through the hoop.
Which is still what he does best.
On the surface, Carmelo's stats would suggest that he's more of a ball hog now than he's ever been. His assist numbers across the board are down, even though he currently leads the NBA in usage rate. His 21.9 field-goal attempts per game are none too flattering in this regard, either.
But in this case, the numbers, while not lying, don't provide a complete picture of 'Melo's play as a facilitator. If the NBA kept track of "hockey assists" (i.e., passes that lead to passes that lead to assists), Anthony would likely be the league leader. He's done a fantastic job of passing the ball out of the post to the likes of Felton and Jason Kidd, who've been quick to swing it around the perimeter to any one of New York's plethora of shooters.
And when Anthony's been above the break, he too has enjoyed more than just a passing fancy with, well, passing.
Strangely enough, Carmelo's rebounding numbers are actually down this season—at their lowest point since his sophomore season—despite his spending a bit more time next to the basket. Similarly, the Knicks have fallen from merely middle-of-the-pack last season down into the bottom third of the league this season in total rebounding percentage.
To be sure, cleaning the glass is a job best delegated to the likes of Tyson Chandler and Ronnie Brewer, whose skills as scorers and facilitators are far more limited.
Still, you'd think 'Melo, at his size (6'8", upwards of 230 pounds) and with his knack for the ball, would get his hands on more than six boards per game.
Anthony might never be an ace defender, but he's at least playing with some effort and intensity on that end this season. He's used his quickness and deceptive athleticism to his advantage against bigger, stronger forwards and has been relieved from having to chase wings around the floor as he once did.
Frankly, Carmelo need only not detract from his team's efforts to be considered a credit to the Knicks defense. Obviously, that's not a particularly high bar on the whole, though it's one that Anthony's had difficulty meeting in years past.
Star Power: A
Anthony's adapted quite well to being Bernard King 2.0 in terms of productivity as well as his flair for the spotlight at Madison Square Garden. He's topped the 40-point plateau on three occasions (two victories) and, like a certain star in Los Angeles, has a tendency to go on long, impressive scoring runs, particularly from beyond the arc.
Cheerio jokes aside, Anthony's finally playing like an honest-to-goodness MVP in his 10th season as a pro. He's doing what he does best (scoring) on a team that's within striking distance of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Most impressively, he and the Knicks have managed to erase the memory of Linsanity in a half-season's time.
Don't call it a comeback, but Tim Duncan looks like a legitimate scoring threat again. The longtime San Antonio Spurs star is scoring 20.8 points per 36 minutes on 50.5 percent shooting from the field while playing his best ball in years. He's putting his full repertoire to good use—from post-ups and face-ups down low to bank shots, hook shots and flat-footed looks out to 20 feet.
It certainly helps Timmy's case that he's doing all this for the third-most efficient offense in the NBA.
Passing has always been a part of the Big Fundamental's arsenal, and it's his ability to facilitate that really makes the Spurs offense hum. He's averaging a solid, if unspectacular, 2.8 helpers per game while keeping his turnover totals relatively low for a player of his size.
It's tough to grasp the full scope of Duncan's productivity without considering that at the age of 36, he's playing a modest 30.2 minutes per game. That's more than the career-low 28.2 minutes he contributed nightly last season, but still leaves him as one of the NBA's most lightly used stars.
As such, many of his numbers, including those in the rebounding column, are best considered in terms of rate. For instance, Timmy's averaging 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes and pulling down 18.8 percent of missed shots while on the floor.
Those are strong indicators for a guy who doesn't quite dominate like he once did. Even so, Duncan is as consistent of a double-double guy as there is in the NBA today, even in his 16th season as a pro.
Along similar lines, Duncan is building a case for himself as perhaps the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He's fourth in the league in blocks, anchors the NBA's fourth-stingiest defense (as measured by defensive efficiency) and leads all players in defensive rating, with the Spurs yielding just 94 points per 100 possessions played with Timmy.
Star Power: C
Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have garnered plenty of publicity for defying Father Time this season, but only Tim Duncan has done it for an upper-echelon team. He's lifted the Spurs to spectacular record of 33-11, just a half-game back of the top spot in the Western Conference.
The Boston Celtics need Rajon Rondo to score (they're 20th in offensive efficiency), but the seventh-year point guard has thus far seemed reluctant to step up his game in that regard. His field-goal percentage (.487) is outstanding for his position, but Rondo's herky-jerky jump shot remains a crimp in his game, to the extent that he's been less aggressive with regard to attacking the paint.
Rondo may be unselfish to a fault by nature, but the so-so C's would probably be better off if he didn't pass up so many easy looks in deference to his teammates.
On the other hand, can you really fault a guy like Rondo for racking up so many helpers? He's on track for his second assist title in as many seasons and has set up more than 50 percent of the baskets the C's have scored when he's on the floor.
Then again, that's all well and good so long as Rondo's surrounded by scorers, which he isn't. And keep in mind, no league assist leader has taken a team to the NBA Finals since Jason Kidd with the New Jersey Nets in 2003, and none has won a championship since Magic Johnson with the Lakers in 1987.
Three triple-doubles this season alone speak to just how phenomenal of a rebounder Rajon Rondo is for his position. He's always a threat to sneak into the paint to snag a carom among the trees, thanks in no small part to his massive mitts.
In fact, Rondo is the Celtics' fourth-leading rebounder, with his 5.1 boards checking in behind only Kevin Garnett's 7.0, Jared Sullinger's 6.0 and Paul Pierce's 5.7.
Like so many point guards, Rondo is much more effective as a help defender and turnover instigator than he is as an on-ball menace. Opposing point guards have put together a slightly below-average PER of 14.8 against him, and the C's defense gives up slightly fewer points per 48 minutes when he's off the court (per 82games.com).
On the plus side, Rondo ranks among the top 10 in steals and is as good as anyone in the league at converting a turnover on one end into a made basket on the other. Furthermore, the C's have given up just 91.2 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor since Avery Bradley, his backcourt partner-in-crime, returned to the lineup.
Star Power: C+
Stardom is hardly Rondo's strong suit. He's a known introvert who prefers passing over shooting and is, at best, the third-biggest name on his own team, behind Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Not that Rajon hasn't done his fair share to refresh YouTube's store of NBA highlights from night to night. He also made (some) headlines this season for his pursuit of Magic Johnson's all-time double-digit assist streak.
Though he probably garnered more attention for inciting the fight that brought that streak to an end.
This was supposed to be Rondo's MVP-caliber season. No Ray Allen and a revamped roster meant more responsibility for the 26-year-old.
So far, the results have been far from stellar. His C's have stumbled into the eighth seed in the East and, at times, has left wanting those looking for him to lead like a superstar.