Updated NBA Superstar Rankings: Can Kobe Bryant's Playoff Push Shake It Up?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistApril 2, 2013

Updated NBA Superstar Rankings: Can Kobe Bryant's Playoff Push Shake It Up?

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    There's a lot going on in the NBA during the stretch run, but now that the glamorous winning streaks of the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets have ended, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have risen to the front of our basketball minds. 

    The Lakers were supposed to be competing for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference, or at least so we thought coming into the 2012-13 campaign. But now they're struggling to even claim the No. 8 spot and have a shot at upsetting the actual top seed. 

    To absolutely no one's surprise, Kobe has been at the forefront of this charge. Has it been enough to truly shake up the updated version of the player power rankings? 

    This isn't just about the Lakers, though.

    How have the other studs shifted around since last week's rankings as we draw nearer to the finish line of this 82-game marathon? 

    Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are current through Monday, April 1. 

Injured Players

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    As a quick housekeeping note, injured players are not considered for the superstar power rankings. If a player is out for a prolonged period, he's automatically ineligible for the next 20 slides.

    Therefore, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah and Andrew Bynum will not be appearing, although they would certainly make the cut if healthy.

20. Kyrie Irving (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 21

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals, 22.39 PER

    Well it didn't take long for Kyrie Irving to pick up where he left off after missing three weeks to let his shoulder heal. 

    In a 10-point loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Irving took advantage of Greivis Vasquez's defensive deficiencies, finishing with 31 points, six assists and three turnovers in only 29 minutes of action. He wasn't able to lead his team to a win, but the Cavs aren't exactly contenders either. 

    Irving sat out against the Atlanta Hawks as a precaution, but he should use the rest of the season to reassert himself as an elite point guard. 

    With only one recent game under his belt, stellar as it may have been, the Duke product can't debut at a higher spot than this one. Fear not, though, as he'll surely work his way back up into or near the top 10. 

19. Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 13)

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.3 steals, 22.88 PER

    Is it possible that a switch clicked off in Blake Griffin's mind? 

    Lately, the 24-year-old power forward has seemed disengaged. He hasn't looked to shoot the ball much, and he's hid from it at times, particularly as the final buzzer draws nearer. Its been rather inexplicable, especially in games against other playoff contenders. 

    Over his last five games, Griffin has averaged 14.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.4 blocks and 0.2 steals per contest while shooting 39.4 percent from the field. 

    Those are not superstar numbers, yet Griffin is still most assuredly a superstar. Like I said, it's been inexplicable. 

    Another week like this, and Griffin won't be able to see his picture when he checks out these weekly rankings. 

18. DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: C

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.5 steals, 20.20 PER

    His lackluster, foul-plagued outing against the Philadelphia 76ers notwithstanding, DeMarcus Cousins has been starting to drop the ball through the net with alarming frequency. 

    Over the past five outings, Boogie is hitting 52.6 percent of his shots from the field, a far cry better than his 46.3 percent mark over the course of the 2012-13 campaign. 

    He's also been a terror on the boards, particularly against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers when he outdueled Luis Scola and Dwight Howard for a combined 25 rebounds. 

17. Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 14)

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.1 steals, 20.01 PER

    Unfortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, a stomach illness kept the team's best player sidelined for each of the two contests leading up to a 102-94 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

    Al Horford returned to showcase his talents in front of a Philips Arena crowd, recording 16 points, six rebounds, an assist and a block before fouling out with 29 minutes under his belt. It was a relatively mediocre performance, but that's understandable given the rust and possible lingering effects of that stomach bug. 

    Going forward, Horford will live up to his previously lofty ranking, but with only one lackluster game played in the last three outings, he has to drop a bit. 

16. Paul Pierce (Previous Ranking: No. 17)

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: SF

    Age: 35

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 19.11 PER

    Paul Pierce is the latest victim of the injury bug that preys upon the Boston Celtics, but he's expected to return on April 3, leaving him out for just a single game. That's not enough to drop him into the injured-player section. 

    Let's not knock him for missing a game with an ankle injury, either. This veteran small forward has been leaving it all on the court lately as he tries to ensure that the C's stay afloat among the Eastern Conference playoff teams. 

    Averaging 9.4 rebounds per game over his last five outings, the Truth has been everywhere on the court. Sometimes, though, he's tried to do a bit too much, as the 4.2 turnovers per contest over the same period haven't exactly been beneficial to Boston's cause. 

15. John Wall (Previous Ranking: No. 20)

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    Team: Washington Wizards 

    Position: PG

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.4 steals, 20.24 PER

    John Wall's new and improved shooting stroke from the outside hasn't been quite so improved lately, but he's coupling that with an incredible ability to get to the basket and draw contact. For that reason, Wall has maintained his top-flight efficiency while shooting only 42.1 percent from the field over his last five games. 

    Although his passing numbers are a bit down due to two lackluster outputs in the assist departments, Wall's turnovers are also plummeting. During that same span, he's coughed it up just 2.2 times per contest. 

    It's no longer ridiculous to suggest that Washington could make the playoffs in 2014, and that's mostly due to the efforts of this former No. 1 pick. 

14. Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: PF

    Age: 34

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.7 steals, 20.11 PER

    The highlight of Dirk Nowitzki's week was almost certainly the sky-high three-pointer he drained in the waning seconds of a two-point victory against the Chicago Bulls, but let's not allow one single shot to define the week of excellence. 

    That was the finishing stroke on the masterpiece the German painted that night. He finished with 35 points and seven rebounds on 14-of-17 shooting from the field, proving once and for all that it was possible to individually torch Chicago's defense. 

    That was as hot as Dirk got during the week, although he's definitely a bit overheated due to that fantastic beard he's grown as the Dallas Mavericks continue to push toward .500. 

13. Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 15)

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.8 steals, 17.21 PER

    A sprained finger ligament has affected Paul George's shooting, but he's starting to round back into form. Going into Monday night's inter-conference clash with the Los Angeles Clippers, the dynamic swingman had shot at least 50 percent from the field in each of his past two outings. 

    The beautiful thing about this burgeoning superstar, though, continues to be his ability to affect the outcome in so many ways. 

    He crashes the boards with ferocity, dishes the ball out in transition and half-court sets without even the tiniest bit of hesitation or discrimination and plays fantastic defense. 

    That final contribution might get overlooked quite often, but it won't be here. 

12. Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 12)

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 20.92 PER

    Everything that Stephen Curry can do on a basketball court has been put on display over the past three games. 

    First, he overcame subpar shooting nights against both the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers by averaging 11 dimes per game and crashing the boards far more than most guards. Then he torched Damian Lillard for 39 points on just 22 shots, dropping seven of his 12 attempts from behind the three-point arc. 

    Over his past five games, the Davidson product is now averaging 4.4 made three-pointers per game while shooting 45.8 percent from downtown. 

    He's just an offensive machine, even if his defense is still subpar and improving at a glacial rate. 

11. Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 9)

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.8 steals, 22.86 PER

    It's going to take more than this from Carmelo Anthony if he hopes to return to the top-five spot he once occupied in these rankings. 

    Melo is still one of the league's best scorers, but he's been relying more on his ability to loft up 30 attempts per game than his actual skill lately. The 28-year-old forward might be averaging 27 points per contest during his last five outings, but he's also shooting a decidedly un-Melo-like 40.5 percent from the field.

    He's not making up for this bout of inaccuracy with his free-throw shooting, barely exceeding his seasonal average over the same span, and his three-point shooting has declined as well. 

    Anthony has rebounded at a high level, but that's not enough to carry him through this tough stretch. 

10. James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 2.8 beards, 4.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.9 steals, 23.52 PER

    James Harden was dangerously close to dropping into the injured-player section that so many stars have occupied throughout this tumultuous season.  But since he was a game-time decision on Monday night and has a great chance to suit up on Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, I'm giving him a pass. 

    Unfortunately for the bearded shooting guard, though, that means he's in for a bit of a drop in the rankings. 

    With two missed games and two ugly performances since the last set of rankings, Harden leaves me no choice. 

    When he played, Harden averaged only 14.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 9-of-33 from the field. That's not going to get it done when so many studs are clambering for a top spot. 

9. Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 8)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.9 steals, 23.85 PER

    A sprained finger kept Tony Parker from embarrassing the Miami Heat on a night in which both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade rested. It also prevented him from properly navigating the Memphis Grizzlies' suffocating defense. 

    Even before those two outings, though, Parker hasn't quite been himself. 

    During the games prior to that, the San Antonio Spurs floor general was dishing out dimes with less frequency, coughing up the ball more and struggling a bit on the defensive end of the court. 

    This might just be the wear and tear of the season weighing on Parker a bit, particularly because he's carried such a large responsibility when healthy during the 2012-13 campaign. 

8. Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 11)

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 19.35 PER

    So Dwight Howard is back. 

    That much is clear after the Los Angeles Lakers center put together one hell of a five-game streak. He averaged 19.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 3.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 71.2 percent from the field. 

    Topping 70 percent is impressive when a player is averaging five shots per game. But doing so when taking 10.4 attempts each contest? 

    That's beyond impressive. 

    Now if only Dwight could solve the resurgent free-throw woes. Over the same time frame, the big man has made only 21 of his 48 freebies—if you can call them that when Howard is the one at the stripe.

7. Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 6)

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.8 steals, 23.47 PER

    February and March have easily been Russell Westbrook's best months of the 2012-13 campaign, but the dynamic point guard slipped a bit as April drew closer and closer on his calendar. 

    Over his past five games, Westbrook has averaged 20.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 0.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest while shooting 43.6 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from downtown and 73.8 percent at the charity stripe. 

    Those are great numbers, but they're a bit below the standards that Westbrook has set for himself. He's been able to get various parts of his game going, but the whole package hasn't been simultaneously humming for a little while. 

6. Kobe Bryant (Previous Ranking: No. 10)

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 34

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 22.91 PER

    Kobe Bryant only came in at No. 10 in last week's rankings because he'd missed time due to his sprained ankle. Now that he's healthy and playing at a high level once more, it's only natural that he returns to a more lofty spot in the rankings. 

    The Mamba hasn't been particularly efficient from the field lately, connecting on just 41.6 percent of his shots from the field over the Lakers' past five outings, but he's more than made up for the clangs off the iron with his work at the charity stripe. 

    Bryant has driven to the basket with reckless abandon, especially for someone with 34 years under the belt. Highlighted by an 18-of-20 performance from the foul line against the Milwaukee Bucks, Bryant has shot 78.3 percent on his free throws while taking 12 per game. 

    Couple that with his incredible passing—7.6 dimes per contest with a high of 14 against the Sacramento Kings—and it should come as no surprise that the Mamba has struck his way up the superstar leaderboard. 

5. Tim Duncan (Previous Ranking: No. 7)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 36

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.8 steals, 24.67 PER

    Although Tim Duncan needed to sit out against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, the Big Fundamental has just continued to pull a reverse Bryce Harper and prove that age simply isn't always an issue in sports. 

    Is there anything this man can't do? 

    First, he embarrassed Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and the rest of the Denver Nuggets frontcourt for 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks on just 18 shots. Then, as an encore, he took down Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers by recording 34 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks on 12-of-19 shooting from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 outing at the charity stripe. 

    He plays elite defense, passes the ball superbly and scores efficiently. And lately, he's even been staying on the court for well over 30 minutes per game. 

4. Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.9 steals, 24.16 PER

    Dwyane Wade has only played in two of the Miami Heat's last three games, and he's failed to reach his typical level out on the court for the defending champions. The shooting guard has averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, one block and four steals per game during those two performances, shooting over 50 percent in both. 

    While those are good numbers, they aren't great. They're certainly not more impressive than what Tim Duncan has done over a similar time frame. 

    So, you might ask, why does Wade still rank ahead of Duncan? 

    That's the beauty of power rankings. They aren't solely based on recent performances, and they aren't entirely dependent on the full body of work. It's a mix of the two, which is why I'm not going to completely disagree with you if you felt like switching the order of these two studs in your own personal rankings. 

    For me, Wade's overall 2012-13 campaign afforded him enough leeway that Duncan wasn't quite able to close the gap. 

3. Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points 3.7 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.4 steals, 26.41 PER

    Good Chris Paul is back, and it looks like he's here to stay, even if he struggled early against the Indiana Pacers in a Monday night game played too late to be incorporated into these rankings. 

    While acting as a terror in man-to-man situations and jumping into passing lanes like he's telepathically connected to the other team's ball-handler, CP3 has been amazing to watch. The Association's top floor general has averaged 22.2 points and 8.8 assists per contest over his past five games, and he's shot over 50 percent from the field. 

    Moreover, Paul is actually blocking shots!

    CP3's rejections don't actually have much impact on the proceedings, but they're so unique that I'm going to focus on them for a second. 

    In a 101-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets and 2005 draft buddy Deron Williams, Paul actually swatted away two shots. Per Basketball-Reference's game finder, that's the third time he's done so in his career, and the first such occurrence since 2009. 

    CP3 has actually blocked at least one shot in only 44 games during his illustrious career, and two of those occurred within a recent four-game stretch that started with the two-block outing. Believe it or not, that's just the second time Paul has ever rejected three shots in a four-game span.

    The first came back in December 2009 when he blocked two shots in back-to-back games.

2. Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.4 steals, 28.03 PER

    Kevin Durant's shooting stroke is just locked and loaded right now. 

    Over his past five games, dating back to a 25-point outing against the Orlando Magic, Durant has averaged 27 points per game. But it's not just about how many points he's scoring. That's obviously a key factor, but the 24-year-old's jaw-dropping efficiency is what's truly impressive. 

    During that stretch, Durant has seemingly locked up his 50/40/90 pursuit. There's still a chance a massive slump could blow it all up, but at this point, it just seems more likely that the Durantula will break Wilt Chamberlain's single-game scoring record.

    The small forward has shot 55.7 percent from the field, and he's selected his three-pointers with more and more care. That's resulted in a 61.5 percent mark from the outside, although he's taking only 2.6 attempts per game. 

    Durant has excelled even more at the free-throw line. And that's a place he's spent a lot of time lately, as he's made 39 of his past 42 attempts, good for 92.9 percent. 

    It's too soon to start talking about next year's inevitable 55/50/90 quest, right?

1. LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.7 steals, 31.44 PER

    I've just about run out of ways to describe how great LeBron James has been during the 2012-13 season.*

    So how about this one? 

    The 28-year-old Miami Heat forward had a PER of 31.32 when he held down this top spot in last week's rankings. That's a historically high mark, as Wilt Chamberlain's 31.82 remains the gold standard 40 years after he dominated the league.

    Although he sat out against the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron didn't just maintain that sky-high PER. Scratch that. His thermosphere-high PER.

    He raised it to 31.44.

    How good can this guy get? 

    *That's not even remotely true. I can do this all day.