There's been quite a bit of shuffling among the NBA's top 10 superstars since last we convened. One forced his way into the rankings, which means another had to cede his seat at the table, if only temporarily.
The holdovers were plenty busy staking out new spots in relation to one another, as well. In fact, only three players are now where they were last week, and only one saw nary a change in the marks on his report card.
So, before we barrel into March (i.e. the final full month on the NBA calendar), be sure to familiarize yourself with what's new among the Who's Who of basketball's best.
No offense to Kyrie Irving or anything, but we simply had to make room in the rankings for James Harden. Irving's 20-point fourth-quarter outburst against the New Orleans Hornets on national TV was proof enough of the guard's budding superstardom.
Against lesser competition, anyway.
Kyrie's contributions against the Miami Heat (17 points, five assists) were decidedly less impressive, especially considering that he missed his final four attempts as the Cleveland Cavaliers frittered away a late lead in Miami.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (10)
Blake Griffin's play was rather pedestrian (by his standards) over the last week, though the numbers aren't entirely his fault. He played a mere 29 minutes during a 26-point blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs and logged another 32 minutes as the Los Angeles Clippers crushed the Utah Jazz.
Still, as encouraging as it was to see Blake hit 7-of-8 from the free-throw line immediately after the All-Star break, there's something to be said about the spanking he took against the Spurs from a geriatric Tim Duncan and the frequently flimsy Tiago Splitter.
Griffin's ongoing struggles against lengthy defenders figure to cap his potential until he diversifies his already deceptively effective post game and starts to knock down mid-range jumpers with Karl Malone-like regularity.
Current Grade: B (85 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (7)
I'll admit, James Harden's debut on this list was long overdue. The performances he put on during the last full week of February more than merited his inclusion this time around.
Sure, the 22-point, five-rebound, four-assist performance against the Brooklyn Nets was nice, as was the line of 27-4-6 with three steals, albeit in a shocking fall-from-ahead loss to the Washington Wizards.
But Harden made it impossible to leave him outside of the top 10 with the way he burned the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 20th. The Beard poured in 16 points in the fourth quarter to lead his Houston Rockets back from a 14-point deficit and on their way to a 122-119 win over his old 'mates. All told, Harden racked a career-high 46 points on an impressive 14-of-19 shooting from the field (7-of-8 from three) and 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, along with eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block in 44 minutes.
After a pair of duds against OKC, it was about time Harden turned in a "screw you!" game of any magnitude, and boy, did this one register on the Richter Scale.
Current Grade: B+ (87 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Still, James Harden has some work to do before he can truly say he's surpassed OKC's two remaining superstars in stature.
Russell Westbrook nearly notched a triple-double of his own in that loss to Houston, with 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, albeit with a demerit for his seven turnovers. Westbrook was decidedly more effective against the Minnesota Timberwolves, whom he torched for a season-high 37 points (on 13-of-22 from the field), seven rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a block.
Westbrook's raw numbers against the Chicago Bulls (23 points, three assists, one rebound, one steal) weren't nearly as impressive, though considering the Thunder won by a full 30 points, they didn't need to be.
Current Grade: B+ (88 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (9)
This last week wasn't the best of Carmelo Anthony's career, to say the least. First, he got spanked on both ends of the floor by Paul George, who scored 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting and held 'Melo to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting in a 125-91 whitewashing of the New York Knicks by the Indiana Pacers.
Then, Anthony missed a pair of three-pointers in the clutch and was essentially played to a draw by Rudy Gay in a two-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The Knicks finally got off the schneid with a 99-93 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, wherein Anthony dropped 29 points. But even that showing was anything but spotless for Anthony; he shot 6-of-18 from the field and, at one point, took the liberty of smacking Spencer Hawes upside the head.
Not exactly what you'd hope to see from a true team leader.
Current Grade: B+ (89 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (6)
Dwyane Wade appears to be enjoying life as LeBron James' "sidekick" just fine, thanks. He turned in three performances of 20 points or more during a busy week for the Miami Heat, including a 33-point outburst against the Sixers during which he shot a stunning 14-of-18 from the field.
And though Wade "failed" to top the 20-point plateau in a blowout of the Chicago Bulls, he didn't exactly allow his energy to lay fallow. Rather, he stuffed the stat sheet with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks in addition to his 17 points on the way to a game-best rating of plus-23.
Current Grade: A- (92 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (8)
It'd be one thing for Chris Paul to tally 15 points and 10 assists in one game. Such numbers would constitute a slightly below-average performance, given his season-long stats of 16.2 points and 9.4 assists per night.
It's another thing, though, for Paul to register 15 points and 10 assists combined between two games in a week. CP3's 11-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist evening against the Utah Jazz was plenty effective, considering how the Los Angeles Clippers wound up with a 13-point win.
But it was Paul's prior output—a four-point, three-assist dud opposite Tony Parker—that was more disconcerting. The Clips needed Paul to replicate his prior efforts against the San Antonio Spurs, where he averaged 14.5 points and 10 assists.
Instead, he came out like a man exhausted from All-Star weekend. Paul was in foul trouble all night, had as many turnovers as assists and was summarily upstaged by Parker on the other end (more on that later).
Current Grade: A (94 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (3)
Mark Cuban, of all people, should know better than to awaken a sleeping Mamba. Sure, Cuban's comments concerning the words "Kobe Bryant" and "amnesty" were harmless, hypothetical and clearly taken out of context.
But he should understand that offering bulletin-board material of any sort to the Mamba is a risky proposition. Bryant made Cuban eat his words when he went off for 38 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and one block in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a pivotal 103-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 24.
Not that Kobe hadn't already been on a roll. He'd just blown up for 40 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in a 111-107 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Perhaps, then, the Mamba was already wide awake when he came across Cuban's remarks.
Current Grade: A (97 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (4)
In an alternate universe in which LeBron James and Kevin Durant don't exist, Tony Parker would be the MVP. His numbers (21.1 points on 53.6 percent shooting from the field, 37.9 percent from three, 7.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game) are excellent. He's the best player on and the focal point of the team with the best record in the NBA, the 45-13 San Antonio Spurs.
And last week, Parker turned in a pair of 30-point performances, one of which (31 points on 12-of-16 shooting, seven assists) came in stark contrast to a forgettable evening from Chris Paul, the NBA's presumed "Point God."
But...well, LeBron and Durant do exist. It'd take something along the lines of divine intervention to clear enough space between those two to allow Parker to waltz to the NBA's top individual honor.
Current Grade: A (99 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (5)
Statistically speaking, Kevin Durant's week was rather LeBron-like. He averaged 20.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, eight assists and 1.3 blocks during a three-game stretch, two of which resulted in wins for the Thunder.
In the lone loss, a 122-119 thriller against the Houston Rockets, KD registered the second triple-double of his career (16 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), though it wasn't quite enough to put OKC over the top.
It wasn't the most efficient week of scoring for Durant (he shot 19-of-49 from the field during those three games), but for a guy who's taken on more responsibilities as a facilitator and rebounder, KD's still better than alright.
To say the least.
Current Grade: A+ (104 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (2)
By LeBron James' own standards, last week was decidedly ho-hum. His line? Just 23.5 points per game on 59 percent shooting from the field with 7.8 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 2.3 steals.
Oh, and a 4-0 record for his Miami Heat on the week.
As spectacular as those numbers are on their own, what's more remarkable is that, for LeBron, they constitute business as usual. It takes a truly special player operating on another plane of basketball existence to make the extraordinary seem patently mundane.
LeBron is doing just that, which is precisely why it would behoove all fans of the NBA to enjoy this masterclass run while it lasts.
Current Grade: A++ (110 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A++ (1)