Updated Report Card Grades for Every NBA Superstar After the All-Star Break
At long last, the 2013 NBA All-Star Game has come and gone, which means we can get back to more important business. Like, say, ranking the league's best and brightest superstars based on grades that are (more or less) arbitrary.
But if there's anything Mike D'Antoni's actually done right since taking over as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, it's characterizing these midseason scrimmages as "god-awful" exhibitions of basketball.
As entertaining as it was to see the top players on the planet share a court together, watching them resume their duties with their respective squads over the final 30-plus games of the 2012-13 season figures to be vastly more interesting.
There are All-NBA spots to be decided, an MVP award to be handed out (probably to LeBron James) and a Larry O'Brien Trophy still to be seized. With that in mind, let's have a look at how the NBA's top 10 shakes out after All-Star weekend.
10. Kyrie Irving
One could make a pretty convincing case that Kyrie Irving deserved to move up on this list.
Since we last convened, Irving turned in three 20-plus-point performances, won the Three-Point Contest with a scorching-hot second-round score of 23, chipped in 15 points and four rebounds during his first All-Star Game and did this to poor Brandon Knight.
All of which points to a player who will more than likely be the best point guard in the NBA before too long.
Still, there's no ignoring the 2-of-15 flop he posted in a 96-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs just prior to the All-Star break. Had Irving been even a smidgen more effective from the field, his Cleveland Cavaliers might well have come away with their second victory in as many weeks over a top-two team in the Western Conference
Current Grade: B (85)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (10)
9. Russell Westbrook
The internal struggle between Good Russ and Bad Russ continues. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost their last two games prior the All-Star break, with Westbrook playing into both sides of the equation each time.
He tallied more turnovers (seven) than assists (five) in a 15-point loss at the Utah Jazz. He totaled another six giveaways amid a 7-of-19 shooting performance in a 10-point defeat to the Miami Heat that was much worse than the final score would suggest.
Not to discount Russ' 26 points and 10 assists against Miami, or his 22 points in Salt Lake City.
Fair or not, Westbrook's every move is bound to be dissected under a more powerful microscope than ever before now that the Thunder are moving into the second half of a title-contending season without James Harden.
If OKC is ever to emerge from the West and overcome the bugaboo that is Miami, it'll need Russ to shade more toward good than bad going forward.
Current Grade: B (86 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (9)
8. Dwyane Wade
Sure, the All-Star Game doesn't mean much, but Dwyane Wade acquitted himself well nonetheless.
The nine-time participant tallied 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting with seven assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks, albeit in a loss for the Eastern Conference. Wade did a little bit of everything in Houston, in addition to captaining the East during All-Star Saturday.
More importantly, Wade scored 20 points or more six times during the seven-game winning streak Miami strung together heading into the All-Star break. Granted, that type of play was easily overshadowed by LeBron's run of 30-point, 60-percent performances, though it was no less crucial to the Heat's success.
Current Grade: B+ (87 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (9)
7. Blake Griffin
Chris Paul is still easily the MVP of the Los Angeles Clippers, though Blake Griffin's play of late has served to strengthen the foundation upon which this team will ultimately achieve success.
In his last four games (all wins for the Clips), Griffin has averaged 19.8 points (on 64.7 percent shooting), 10.5 rebounds, four assists, 1.8 steals and one block in just over 32 minutes per outing
Blake was particularly impressive in his latest meaningful outing, when he scored most of his 22 points in the first half to propel the Clippers to a commanding 125-101 win over the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Griffin's 9-of-11 showing during the All-Star Game was to be expected of a guy whose high-flying game is tailor-made for such festivities. And now that the rest of L.A.'s roster is rounding into shape, look for Griffin and the Clips to settle into a solid groove to finish out their push for a top-three seed in the West.
Current Grade: B+ (88 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (7)
6. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony had himself quite the evening on Sunday.
He led the East in scoring (26 points) and rebounding (12 boards) while playing in a spot-up-shooting role similar to the one he thrived in during the 2012 London Olympics with Team USA.
He certainly needed the reprieve too.
His New York Knicks dropped three of four games coming into the weekend, the last of which featured a 5-of-24 performance from 'Melo in a 92-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Anthony will have his shot at redemption on Feb. 22, when the Knicks pay a visit to the Air Canada Centre.
Current Grade: A- (91 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (4)
5. Tony Parker
His struggles in the Skills Challenge aside, Tony Parker has been at the top of his game for most of February.
Over his last four games, Parker has amassed astonishing averages of 28.8 points (on 55.4 percent shooting), 8.5 assists and four rebounds in just under 35 minutes.
Oh, and the San Antonio Spurs still own the best record in the NBA by a comfortable margin, so there's that.
Parker may not be the MVP, but at this point, it'd be a travesty if he didn't garner some measure of consideration.
Current Grade: A (93 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (5)
4. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant sure does like to show off in the All-Star Game, doesn't he? Eight assists, two steals and a pair of blocks on LeBron James were proof enough of the Black Mamba's place in the game's lore.
As if his four All-Star MVPs didn't make a strong enough case.
Now, rather than passing and defending against the best of the best in a playground-style game on national TV every night, Bryant will have to do his darndest to translate his point guard-like efforts into wins with the Los Angeles Lakers.
No easy task, considering how their turbulent 2012-13 season grew somber with the passing of legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss the morning after the All-Star Game.
Current Grade: A (95 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (3)
3. Chris Paul
Chris Paul's back. Coincidentally (or not), so too are the Clippers' hopes of winning the West.
Since a rocky first game back from knee trouble, Paul has led his Clips to four consecutive wins, in which he's averaged 20 points, 10.5 assists and 3.5 steals while shooting 60 percent from the field.
And that's not counting how big of a winner CP3 was in Houston over the weekend.
He captained the West to an overall win during All-Star Saturday night before doing the same during the actual game on Sunday. Paul came away with All-Star MVP honors after tallying 20 points and a game-high 15 assists, many of which were the end products of lobs.
Which, of course, is to be expected at the All-Star Game.
Current Grade: A (98 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (6)
2. Kevin Durant
At first glance, Kevin Durant's recent run of play would suggest that he should be far closer to LeBron James in the MVP race than he is at present.
He poured in 33 points against the Utah Jazz, piled up 40 points without sitting before fouling out against the Miami Heat and kept his roll going with a game-high 30 points against the Eastern Conference in Houston.
Trouble is, only one of those three (the All-Star Game) turned out in favor of Durant's team. The first two were both blowout losses that set OKC back in the race for the best record in the West.
KD tallied technical fouls in each to tie DeMarcus Cousins for the rather dubious league lead and nearly started a scuffle in Salt Lake City. It's all well and good that Durant is playing with an edge now, but he'd do well to not get carried away with this heel turn of his, lest he injure his team's title hopes in the process.
Current Grade: A+ (101 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (2)
1. LeBron James
LeBron James' historic streak of games with 30 points on 60-plus percent shooting may be long gone (even longer after his 7-of-18 showing during the All-Star Game), but the Miami Heat's seven-game winning streak is alive and well.
So too is James' own candidacy for a fourth MVP trophy in five years.
LeBron came within one made shot of extending that run while scoring a season-high-tying 39 points (on 14-of-24 from the field) to lead the Heat to a 110-100 win over the Thunder in Round 2 of this season's NBA Finals rematch.
And with the phenomenal numbers LeBron's posted to this point (27.3 points, 56.5 percent shooting, 42.4 percent from three, 8.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals), there's no need to shed any tears for a guy who's still far and away the best basketball player on the planet right now.
Even after getting blocked by a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant twice in Houston.
Current Grade: A++ (110 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (1)