It's one thing to improve as an NBA player—it’s a whole other thing to change how you are viewed in the landscape of the league.
All of the players in these slides are performing at the highest level of their careers. But they aren’t just putting up better stats, they are changing the way the rest of the league acknowledges them.
Whether they were stuck behind another star, finally got the chance to prove themselves or are simply producing on a winning team instead of a losing one, these five stars—they are stars now—have re-written their place in the NBA landscape.
Previous M.O.—Average-to-above-average NBA point guard.
Re-written M.O.—All-Star point guard.
Remember when Jrue Holiday wanted a max contract?
Remember laughing when you first heard that?
Well, timing is everything.
If he were playing like he is now and wanted a max deal, it wouldn’t be so funny.
With Andre Iguodala out of town and Andrew Bynum injured again, Holiday stepped up and became the new star for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Holiday has nearly doubled his assists from last season to 8.9 per game, fourth best in the entire NBA. His point-per-game average has jumped to 19.3 from 13.5 per game last season. And every other significant per-game stat has improved as well.
Fresh off an All-Star selection, the four-year, $41 million deal he signed in the offseason now makes the Sixers look like bandits as the name Holiday can now be discussed among the top point guards in the league.
Previous M.O.—Underrated/stat-collecting forward for losing teams.
Re-written M.O.—All-Star forward for a winning team.
From underrated to overrated, back to underrated and then overpaid to now properly compensated, David Lee has been through it all.
Now he finds himself as the answer to the future trivia question “Who was the first member of the Golden State Warriors to make the All-Star game in the 21st century?”
You don’t need to be a Golden State Warriors fan to know how important that one is.
Lee’s numbers, 19.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game with a 51 shooting percentage, aren’t astronomically better than any previous year. But the difference is now he is putting up big numbers for a winning team.
Now he can be mentioned among the best forwards in the league as he is in the midst of another double-double season average for a team that looks like it will be making the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 years.
Previous M.O.—Danny Granger's protege.
Re-written M.O.—Danny Granger’s replacement.
For a team that is only three games behind the top of the Eastern Conference standings, no one really mentions that the Indiana Pacers are without their leading scorer from last season.
That’s because Paul George can now be called an All-Star.
Not only is he the leading scorer on a playoff-bound team, according to BasketballReference.com he ranks No. 1 in the NBA in defensive win shares this season.
So there is some good coming out of the fact that the Pacers are the 29th-ranked team in scoring offense. While they’re not scoring, at least no one is scoring against them either.
And his average of 17.6 points per game sounds a lot better when the team is only scoring 92.7 points per game.
George is now the leader of a team and is becoming a star that has his feet on the ground.
Yeaaaa the TMac comparisons is coo but it's too early for that.. Lemme be ME! The best way I can!— Paul George (@Paul_George24) February 6, 2013
Previous M.O.—Sixth man who hadn't quite lived up to his potential.
Re-written M.O.—Future All-Star.
The talent was always there. All O.J. Mayo needed was a chance.
Now that he is finally out of the Memphis Grizzlies' doghouse miscast as a sixth man, Mayo has transformed into one of the top shooting guards in the NBA.
With Dirk Nowitzki out for the better part of the season, Mayo became the No. 1 option for the Dallas Mavericks and thrived in that role.
Usually when a player gets an increase in minutes, he gets a decrease in percentages. See: Harden, James.
That’s not the case with Mayo.
In 10 more minutes a game from last season, his shooting percentage jumped from 41 to 47 percent.
He is attempting the most three-pointers in his career and is shooting them at a career-high percentage, 43. His assists (4.4) and steals (1.3) are the highest they’ve ever been, and even with Nowitzki back in the lineup, Mayo hasn’t missed a beat.
With the chance to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Mayo has likely made himself a rich man and a star wherever he ends up.
James Harden, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, is now playing closer to the sixth best player in the NBA this season. All thanks to the trade and a starring role with the Houston Rockets.
Even though his insanely high percentages from last season have dropped off with the increase in minutes played, his per-game averages—25.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists—make up for everything.
Not only has his point-per-game average gone up by nine points from the previous season, his assists are up by nearly two per game too. And this season, he isn’t passing the ball to a Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
Harden was not only named to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career this season, he is the now the No. 1 option on a team that is very much in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Thanks to the new location, instead of gunning for the best bench player award, Harden is now gunning for the best player in the league award.