The injury bug has once again come home to haunt the elite of the elite in the NBA. This week's top 10 edition has been witness to some reshuffling, including the debut of another young stud in the wake of the misfortune that's befallen the league's top crop since our last conference.
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker have all endured recent run-ins with their own corporeal limits, though only one has suffered to such an extent that he need be omitted from the superstar rankings for the time being.
And for those wondering why Kyrie Irving didn't simply slip back into the top 10, keep in mind that he played but one game this past week, in which his Cleveland Cavaliers blew a 22-point lead to the New York Knicks, who were absent Carmelo Anthony for the comeback.
So who's out? Who's in? And how did everyone's grades shake out this time around?
The report card has all the answers you're looking for...and then some.
Rest assured, Tony Parker will be back on this list at some point. Parker is expected to be sidelined for most of March with a grade 2 sprain in his left ankle, leaving the San Antonio Spurs without their MVP for much of the stretch run.
Prior to suffering the injury against the Sacramento Kings, Parker had been putting together one of the finest offensive seasons of his too-often-underrated career. He'd averaged 21 points and 7.6 assists while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three.
Parker was particularly prolific in February, when he strung together a month-long line of 26.1 points, 8.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals while shooting 54 percent from the field.
Assuming Parker plays anywhere near the level he reached pre-injury upon his return, he'll be back in the top 10 in no time.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (3)
Stephen Curry may not be a "bona fide" superstar just yet, but he's done more than enough in the past week to announce his imminent arrival. In his last five games, Curry is averaging a robust 34.6 points, 7.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals while shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 54.2 percent from three and 91.7 percent from the line.
But those numbers serve as merely the outline of a much more impressive story. That run includes three games of 30 or more points, including Steph's now-legendary 54-point breakout at Madison Square Garden on February 27. To call Curry red-hot in that game is to belittle the notion of temperature and spice, as the sweet-shooting guard out of Davidson knocked down 11-of-13 tries from beyond the arc.
Steph's week was far from perfect, though. As impressive as Curry's scoring kick was, he was also plagued by turnovers (4.8 per game) and, more importantly, his Golden State Warriors lost four of their five outings.
True superstars will their teams to victory more often than not, and until Curry's best efforts pay real dividends for the Warriors, he'll have to count, in part, on the injuries of others to sneak his way into a list like this.
Current Grade: B (85 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Another week, another string of solid showings for Blake Griffin. The soon-to-be-24-year-old phenom neared 20-10 territory to close out February and open up March, with 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds to go along with 4.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in four games—three from which the Los Angeles Clippers emerged victorious.
Griffin did particularly well to recover from Serge Ibaka's shot to his "man zone" and help the Clippers climb all the way back from a 19-point deficit in what ultimately amounted to a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Griffin came away with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block against his hometown team.
But lest we obsess over numbers and lose sight of what often sets superstars apart from their peers (i.e. their ability to make fans and peers alike go "ooh" and "aah" from night to night), have a look at a couple of Griffin's more impressive dunks from the week that was.
Current Grade: B+ (87 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (10)
Few guards in the game today balance scoring and facilitating quite as well as James Harden does. This past week provided plenty of pitch-perfect examples as to how Harden's ability to create for himself and others has set him up to be one of the best players in the NBA for years to come.
In the three games since he made his debut in this particular top 10, Harden has turned in three games of at least 21 points and seven assists. Two of those ended victoriously for the Houston Rockets, while a third was undone by a miraculous shot from Monta Ellis at the buzzer.
Throw in his 10 free-throw attempts per contest in that span, and it's clear the Beard has plenty of staying power among even the most elite of his peers.
Current Grade: B+ (88 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (9)
Carmelo Anthony might well go the way of Tony Parker (at least as far as this list is concerned) if his knee proves to be a prolonged problem. Anthony pulled up lame during the New York Knicks' 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 4 after having already asked out on account of existing discomfort in his right knee (via ESPN).
Not that 'Melo didn't do plenty prior to that unfortunate turn of events to solidify his spot in the rankings. He tipped off the week with a trio of 30-point outings, including a 35-point, eight-assist showing on the winning side of Steph Curry's monstrous moment at MSG.
The numbers themselves might've been enough to move 'Melo up a spot or two. But his second-half fade against the Miami Heat, the success his team enjoyed in his absence in Cleveland and his uncertain playing status have since rendered Anthony a safer pick to stay put at No. 7, if not slide back a smidgen in the weeks to come.
Current Grade: B+ (89 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (7)
Russell Westbrook still takes a ton of guff for scoring, even though he's one of the premier perimeter point producers in the NBA today.
Though, truth be told, a week like the one Westbrook just had should help to lay that particular criticism to rest for a bit. In four games (three wins for OKC), Russ averaged 33.3 points on 51.7 percent shooting from the field along with 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals. Better yet, the oft-out-of-control Westbrook turned the ball over just 1.8 times per game in that span.
Not bad for a guy who's supposedly a detriment to his team and a "cramper" of Kevin Durant's style.
Current Grade: A- (91 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (8)
I want to personally apologize to Dwyane Wade for having ever doubted his efficacy as a top-five-caliber player in the NBA, even at the tender age of 31.
Wade's been on nothing short of on a roll throughout the Heat's franchise-record 15-game winning streak. In that span, Wade has strung together a line of 24.5 points (on 54.7 percent shooting), 6.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game.
The man now known (to some) as WoW (short for "Way of Wade") has been even more productive over his last four, with 28.3 points, 8.3 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting a staggering 61.4 percent from the floor.
But because he shares a spotlight with the incomparable LeBron James, Wade and his efforts are inevitably prone to being overshadowed, though such is hardly a slight considering how great Dwyane's MVP pal has been this season.
Current Grade: A (94 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (6)
Chris Paul can enjoy being the "hands down" best point guard in basketball for the time being, until Tony Parker returns to challenge him.
To CP3's credit, he's done plenty on his own of late to merit such distinction. He's averaged 11 assists and two steals over his last four while turning in two 20-plus-point performances and leading the Los Angeles Clippers to three wins in that time.
Paul was particularly impressive during the Clips' 99-91 win over the Eastern Conference-contending Indiana Pacers. As he so often does, Paul turned on the afterburners in crunch time, scoring LA's last eight points of the game to seal a noteworthy road victory.
CP3 was also instrumental in leading the Clips all the way back from a 19-point deficit against the Thunder, though even he didn't have the gas to keep OKC from walking away with the "W" in the end.
Current Grade: A (95 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (5)
The scoring tear continues for Kobe Bryant, who's topped the 30-point plateau in each of his last three games and would have a streak of six going if not for a "measly" 29-point night in Denver.
Bryant's assist "binge" seems to have cooled considerably, with 11 in his last three games combined since dropping nine dimes in a loss to the Nuggets. But, in Kobe's defense, Steve Nash has been playing much better ball in the Los Angeles Lakers' backcourt and, as such, the onus doesn't fall quite as hard on Bryant anymore to pick up the slack.
Surely "Vino" deserves some bonus points for playing through pain. Bryant re-injured his already-ailing right elbow in a 122-105 loss to the Thunder on March 5, though even Kobe's inability to hold his follow-through couldn't keep him from piling up 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field (11-of-12 from the free-throw line).
Current Grade: A (98 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (4)
It turns out that Kevin Durant really can do everything. He kicked off his week with a triple-double at the expense of the New Orleans Hornets (18 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in just 27 minutes!
And to think, that wasn't even the best KD had to offer. He went on to stuff the stat sheet against the Nuggets (25 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals), the Clippers (35 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals) and the Lakers (26 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, three blocks)—all while helping the Thunder to narrow the gap (however slightly) between themselves and the Spurs in the race for first place out West.
Durant will have ample opportunity to further strengthen his own impenetrable case as the NBA's second banana this coming week, with trips to Madison Square Garden and San Antonio on the docket.
Current Grade: A+ (104 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (2)
LeBron James has certainly had more efficient weeks than the one that just passed.
Frankly, that statement isn't exactly a fair one to make, given the remarkable run James had through the month of February. Moreover, shooting 51.3 percent from the field (37.5 percent from three) is hardly anything to be ashamed of.
Especially when accompanied by a jaw-dropping line of, say, 26.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Or, in other words, how LeBron bridged the gap between February and March. So long as he keeps raising the bar and the Miami Heat continue to rack up wins, James should have no trouble cruising to his fourth MVP in five seasons.
Current Grade: A++ (110 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A++ (1)