Updated NBA Superstar Rankings: Is LeBron James Untouchable?
Disappointed that I didn't provide a spoiler alert before that sentence? You shouldn't be, because it's pretty obvious that the Miami Heat forward is going to be holding down the No. 1 spot.
I'd use a spoiler alert if I was going to be sharing information that wasn't exactly common knowledge, like what will be happening in the upcoming Game of Thrones season. And I've read the books, so don't tempt me by forgetting to read the injured players slide and then asking why Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony isn't one of the top 20 stars.
A more relevant question than where LeBron falls in this edition would deal with his staying power. Is King James untouchable in that lofty first position?
Additionally, where do the rest of the best players in the league fall, and how have they risen or slipped since last week's edition?
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current through Sunday, March 17.
As a quick housekeeping note, injured players are not considered for the superstar power rankings. If a player is out for a prolonged period of time, he's automatically ineligible for the next 20 slides.
Therefore, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum will not be appearing, although they would certainly make the cut if healthy.
20. Ty Lawson (Previous Ranking: No. 19)
Team: Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, 17.78 PER
Ty Lawson isn't putting up monstrous numbers at the moment, which is why you'll see four new additions to the rankings jumping him in the order. However, he's playing such efficient basketball and leading the Denver Nuggets to plenty of victories, which is why he's not dropping out entirely.
Even after his 4-of-12 outing against the monstrous defense of the Memphis Grizzlies, Lawson is shooting 56.9 percent from the field. Going 12-of-17 against the injury-ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves tends to help with that.
Lawson is also minimizing the turnovers rather well. With the exception of that aforementioned contest with the Wolves, in which he coughed it up four times, Lawson has recorded zero, one or two turnovers in four of the past five games.
19. Paul Pierce (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Boston Celtics
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 steals, 18.84 PER
Does Paul Pierce get bonus points for being able to stay healthy?
Not exactly, but it is nice to see at least one person wearing a Boston Celtics jersey avoiding the injury imp. With Kevin Garnett down and Rajon Rondo out for the season, the C's can't afford to lose The Truth.
While Pierce's scoring numbers have been down a bit lately, he's more than making up for it with his output in other areas. Plus, he's shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from downtown on his past five attempts, so he's been rather efficient when he does decide to let it fly.
Pierce has been serving as a primary ball-handler with more frequency for Boston, and the results have been positive. His turnover numbers are staying the same, and the assists are trending upward.
18. Deron Williams (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.0 steals, 18.94 PER
Well, well. Look at what a healthy Deron Williams can do.
The All-Star break has done wonders for D-Will, as the Brooklyn Nets point guard is as close to healthy as he's been in quite some time. All of a sudden, the former member of the Utah Jazz is doing what we expected when he signed that max contract.
Williams is posting gaudy scoring and assist totals on a more regular basis, and he's doing so while making more shots than ever. Over his past five games, D-Will has knocked down 49.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, 42.9 percent of his three-pointers and 76 percent of the freebies.
17. John Wall (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Washington Wizards
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, 18.64 PER
John Wall hasn't been around for a large part of the 2012-13 campaign, but he's left an indelible effort on the Washington Wizards' turnaround efforts. Lately, he's been showing no signs of the fact that he's still working to get back into playing shape.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is now looking like a No. 1 overall pick. Over his past five games, Wall has averaged a stellar double-double—21.8 points and 10.0 assists per game—and he's also shooting remarkably efficient percentages.
Wall's 60.6 percent shooting from the field is impressive enough, but how about that three-point shooting? The young point guard has made five of his past six attempts, including a 3-of-3 outing against the New Orleans Hornets that might have been accompanied by flying pigs.
16. Joakim Noah (Previous Ranking: No. 15)
Team: Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.2 blocks, 1.2 steals, 17.96 PER
While Joakim Noah is still playing efficient basketball, he just hasn't been that involved in the Chicago Bulls offense lately.
He might be attacking the boards relentlessly, averaging 13 rebounds per game over the past five contests, but plays haven't ended through the Florida product lately. He's scoring only 11.4 points per game, and his 2.6 dimes per contest are well shy of his season average.
Chicago's offense as a whole has been rather stagnant lately, and Noah's declining role has played a major part in that ineffectiveness.
15. Monta Ellis (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.0 steals, 16.46 PER
Monta Ellis, much like Brandon Jennings before him, has decided to change his style of play for the Milwaukee Bucks. Again like Jennings, he's been rather successful doing so.
The shooting guard hasn't been quite so willy-nilly with his shot selection, instead picking and choosing his spots more carefully while feeding his teammates when that opportunity presents itself.
Averaging 26.6 points and 7.6 assists per game on 49 percent shooting over a five-game stretch is impressive enough, but even that pales in comparison to Ellis' fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic. In that 12-minute stretch, he scored 25 points and single-handedly brought the Bucks back from a large deficit to victory.
14. Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 17)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.8 steals, 17.11 PER
Paul George's shot from inside the three-point arc has disappeared. Fortunately for him and the Indiana Pacers, everything else is still clicking.
Over his past five games, the breakout swingman has knocked down 15 of his 35 three-point attempts, and he's shooting 86.4 percent from the charity stripe on 4.4 attempts per contest. That's enough to make up for his putrid two-point shooting.
George has also contributed with his passing and work on the boards, topping out with 14 rebounds and eight assists against the Philadelphia 76ers.
13. Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 10)
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.0 steals, 19.91 PER
Al Horford's insane run of terror through the Association has come to a close, and the Atlanta Hawks are falling back to earth.
During the Florida product's past five games, Horford is "only" shooting 48.7 percent from the field. While he's averaging a double-double over that time, he's been less efficient than normal.
Before the past week, Horford's last game shooting below 50 percent came on February 8 against the New Orleans Hornets, when he scored 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. It took another 14 games for him to have another sub-.500 game.
Then he had two in a three-game stretch.
Horford is still playing great basketball, but therein lies the reason for his drop in the rankings.
12. Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: No. 14)
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.0 steals, 19.46 PER
Marc Gasol is having one of those stretches where he does a little of everything and a lot of nothing.
Over the Memphis Grizzlies' past five games, the 28-year-old versatile big man has averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. It should come as no surprise that the Grizz have been more successful during the games in which Gasol has produced more impressive stat lines.
It's a trend that has remained constant throughout the 2012-13 campaign.
In Memphis' wins, Gasol has averaged 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals on 50.1 percent shooting. However, in losses, the grizzly Spaniard has put up 13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals on 47.6 percent shooting.
Also, how many centers can do this?
11. Tim Duncan (Previous Ranking: No. 18)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.8 steals, 24.40 PER
Here comes vintage Tim Duncan once more.
After sitting out against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Big Fundamental turned in back-to-back throwback performances in just three nights.
First, he dropped 28 points, 19 rebounds, two assists and a block on 12-of-20 shooting from the field in a one-point victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Of course, Duncan wasn't content with just one stellar outing. In a six-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers—I know, it only counts as half of a great performance now—Duncan recorded 30 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and five blocks on 13-of-19 shooting.
10. Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 13)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 20.46 PER
Over the past week, Stephen Curry has had three fantastic showings and one lackluster one. Actually, lackluster is being a bit too kind, because Curry went just 2-of-13 from the field in a blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Unsurprisingly, that's the only game the Golden State Warriors have dropped. When Curry has been on, the Dubs have as well.
In those three victories, the sharpshooting, baby-faced assassin has averaged 28.7 points and 7.3 assists per game while shooting 32-of-57 from the field, 16-of-28 from downtown and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
That's the type of scoring production you love to get from your point guard.
9. David Lee (Previous Ranking: No. 11)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals, 19.44 PER
David Lee returned from a knee injury and nearly put up a triple-double, recording 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against the New York Knicks. Amazingly enough, he topped that in the very next game.
While the 29-year-old's line of 20 points, 15 rebounds and five assists might not seem all that much more impressive, Lee also shot nearly 23 percent better from the field and recorded three fewer turnovers. That's just yet another example of how triple-doubles are better indicators of uniqueness than incredible play.
Lee hasn't been able to reach those types of numbers since settling back into the swing of things with the Dubs, but he has remained a capable all-around player on offense who's a constant double-double threat.
8. Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 16)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 19.27 PER
It took a while for him to convince us that he could be elite again, but Dwight Howard is in that zone once more.
The number of shots he's taking is still inexplicable—how does D12 only get six shots up without Kobe Bryant in the lineup?—but he's doing everything else. And because of how often he's gotten fouled, Howard's scoring average over the past five games is still well above his season average.
Of course, that's slightly boosted by the disgusting 25-of-39 performance from the charity stripe against the Orlando Magic. Please note that his free-throw shooting is not what's being called disgusting, but rather the Magic's incessant and unnecessary fouling.
Averaging 16.4 points and 3.4 blocks per game over the past five contests is another great way to tell that D12 is back.
7. Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 6)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.8 steals, 23.79 PER
Russell Westbrook was on one hell of a hot streak, but his facilitating in particular has cooled off lately.
It's been nine games since the point guard last recorded at least 10 assists, and he's averaging just 5.9 dimes per game during March and 5.8 over his past five games. In addition to this drop in assists, Westbrook has also been turning the ball over more.
Over that same five-game stretch, the talented and dynamic floor general is averaging 3.4 turnovers per contest, which pushes his monthly average up to 3.0. He'd been improving throughout the season, so this type of regression might just be a blip on the radar.
Of course, Westbrook is still scoring at an elite level and helping lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory after victory, so he can't drop too far.
6. James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 9)
Team: Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.9 steals, 23.75 PER
James Harden is a walking, running, living, breathing, bearded example of why you can't only look at field-goal percentage to determine how efficiently a player is shooting the ball.
The 23-year-old shooting guard is an insanely efficient offensive player, but his field-goal percentage doesn't always reflect that. Let's take a look at his past five games.
In those contests, Harden has averaged 26.8 points on 43.8 percent shooting from the field. So obviously he's just a shot-chucker without a conscience. Right?
Harden has also attempted eight three-pointers per game, and he's drilled 52.5 percent of them. On top of that, he's shot 84.5 percent from the free-throw stripe while attempting a staggering 11.6 attempts per game.
All of that adds up to a true shooting percentage of 68.0. If Harden could maintain that percentage over the course of the season, he'd finish just ahead of Tyson Chandler for the No. 1 spot on the leaderboard.
5. Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 7)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.3 steals, 23.85 PER
While we were busy focusing on other superstars and drawing attention to Blake Griffin's flaws, we quietly allowed the Los Angeles Clippers power forward to become one of the absolute best players in the NBA.
He's also earned 9.5 win shares on the year (per Basketball-Reference.com). This time he finishes in sixth, trailing just LeBron, Durant, James Harden, CP3 and Russell Westbrook. Again, that's elite.
Griffin has consistently trended upward during the 2012-13 campaign, and his past five games have been no different. Over that stretch, he's averaged 19.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.6 steals per game on 58.2 percent shooting from the field.
4. Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.3 steals, 26.32 PER
The dominant Chris Paul we're used to seeing has shown up once again.
CP3 has always been known for his heady play on the court, leading to massive numbers in pretty much every category. Except turnovers, of course.
Over his past five games, Paul has averaged 18.8 points, 10.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He's also shot 57.6 from the field, knocked down 4.4 freebies per contest and turned it over just 1.4 times a game.
That last number in particular is just ridiculous. Except for his five-turnover outing against the Memphis Grizzlies, CP3 has coughed it up no more than once in four of his past five games.
3. Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.5 steals, 28.29 PER
While Kevin Durant has struggled with his passing and ball-handling lately, he's been quite the potent scorer.
His efficiency is starting to creep back up to the pre-All-Star-break level he set for himself, even if the volume isn't quite there. Durant is particularly thriving at the line, drawing the foul and converting the free throws with alarming frequency.
It almost seems like he's taking 10 charity shots each game and knocking down every one of them. Of course, that's not the case. He's only going 9.6-of-10.4 on average over the past five games.
Durant is still the second-best player in the world, but he's going to have to do more than just score and rebound in order to reclaim the No. 2 spot in the rankings.
2. Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.8 steals, 24.97 PER
LeBron James was the reason that the Miami Heat win streak got started, but Dwyane Wade has kept it alive—excluding his lackluster outing against the Boston Celtics.
The shooting guard has started to look like the 2006 version of himself, and the image has been rather scary for the rest of the Association. With Wade slashing to the basket, playing lockdown defense and terrorizing opposing teams with his diverse arsenal of skills, the Heat seem nearly unbeatable.
His passing in particular is on point. Including the streak-extending victory over the C's, Wade has put up at least six dimes in four of his past five games.
All the while he's showing that he can score in volume while limiting his missed shots, thanks in large part to a jumper that is most assuredly no longer broken.
1. LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.7 steals, 30.93 PER
LeBron James' numbers are down lately, but the Miami Heat are still winning, and he's built himself enough of a cushion that the No. 1 spot remains his.
Over his past five games, the reigning MVP has averaged 21.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 0.6 blocks and 1.4 steals on 44.7 percent shooting from the field, 21.4 percent shooting from downtown and 75.6 percent from the line. Please note that his 37-point outing against the Boston Celtics is not included in those numbers.
While those are great averages, they aren't quite LeBron numbers. We expect better from him, and we'll likely get it before the end of the 82-game campaign.
So, the original question posed dealt with whether or not James was untouchable.
At the moment, he appears to be close to it. Kobe Bryant held the No. 2 spot last week before injuries knocked him out and handed it to Dwyane Wade. Kevin Durant has been the only other player to claim the penultimate spot in the rankings throughout the 2012-13 campaign.
None of those guys are going to be able to match LeBron on a consistent basis, so it will take an injury or an unforeseeable stretch of uninspired play to force a change at the top. These are power rankings, so recent performances matter quite a bit, but they can't completely overshadow the body of work.
Even when LeBron isn't putting up MVP-caliber numbers, he still affects the game in a largely positive way. His defense, for example, is always stellar, and he can switch to guard almost any position on the court.
That's something you can't easily find in a box score.
I hesitate to call LeBron completely untouchable, but he's not exactly touchable either.