We've officially reached the "garbage-time" portion of the 2012-13 NBA regular season. With just two weeks left on the schedule, teams up and down the standings have taken to sitting their best players.
For different reasons, of course. Those at the top, like the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, are keen to rest their superstars before embarking on deep, grueling playoff runs. Those at the bottom, meanwhile, are playing up injuries in order to lose games and, in turn, improve their chances of coming up aces in the NBA draft lottery.
All of which makes grading and ranking the NBA's top superstars more of a chore than usual. Now, in addition to evaluating the best of the best, it's incumbent upon yours truly to keep track of who's sitting when and whether those DNPs should keep a given guy off this list.
Don't cry for me, though, Argentina. Instead, read on to see which players were healthy enough—and whose teams still needed them to compete—to stick among the top 10.
Stats from the Week That Was: 14.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 27.3% from the field, 28.6% from three, 4.5 free-throw attempts and 2.0 turnovers in 34.7 minutes (two games)
A sore left foot landed James Harden on the shelf for each of the Houston Rockets' last two games—both wins for Space City. Harden should be back in action relatively soon, though the Rockets figure to play it safe with their star shooting guard so as to ensure his participation in the team's first postseason appearance since 2009.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (No. 4)
Stats from the Week That Was: 16.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 44.1% from the field, 0% from three, 4.8 free-throw attempts and 2.0 turnovers in 33.5 minutes (five games)
Blake Griffin hasn't missed any games for the Los Angeles Clippers since early February, though a swollen left calf could change that. If Griffin's subpar play during the Clips' recent 1-4 stretch is any indication, the injury has already taken a significant toll on the high-flying phenom and may well ground him during the playoffs if L.A. isn't careful.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (No. 10)
Stats from the Week That Was: 29.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 62.1% from the field, 45.5% from three, 4.7 free-throw attempts and 2.0 turnovers in 35.3 minutes (three games)
It's about time Dirk Nowitzki made it onto this list. The future Hall of Famer is looking more and more like his old self now that he's nearly six months removed from season-shortening knee surgery. Nowitzki has scored in double figures in each of his last 14 games, with an average of 20.9 points and shooting splits of .558/.477/.932 in that span.
Better yet, the Dallas Mavericks have won 10 of those 14 games to move firmly into the mix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Current Grade: B+ (87 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Stats from the Week That Was: 24.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 3.0 blocks, 55.8% from the field, 6.3 free-throw attempts and 2.7 turnovers in 34.5 minutes (three games)
I told you Tim Duncan would be back. The Big Fundamental sat out the San Antonio Spurs' 92-90 road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, but had been playing some brilliant, vintage Duncan ball prior to that point. In fact, since the All-Star break, Timmy has tallied 12 double-doubles in 18 games.
Not bad for a 36-year-old who's all but given up in the losing battle with gravity.
Current Grade: B+ (89 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Stats from the Week That Was: 28.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 47.5% from the field, 42.9% from three, 4.5 free-throw attempts and 3.0 turnovers in 41.5 minutes (two games)
Apparently, Stephen Curry didn't care for all the attention Damian Lillard's been getting. Curry overshadowed Lillard's 16 points and eight assists—and then some—with a 39-point, six-assist explosion during the Golden State Warriors' 125-98 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on March 30.
That marked Steph's third 30-point performance in his last six games, during which time Curry has climbed to seventh in the NBA in scoring.
Current Grade: A- (90 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (No. 8)
Stats from the Week That Was: 20.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 41.9% from the field, 42.9% from three, 10.0 free-throw attempts and 3.7 turnovers in 31.5 minutes (three games)
It's easy to fixate on Russell Westbrook's poor shooting percentages or his high turnover tallies when you forget/ignore all of the other great things he does on the court.
Like score, or pass, or rebound, or serve as a pest on the defensive end. Those skills were all on full display during the Oklahoma City Thunder's 109-99 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on March 30. Westbrook racked up a triple-double (23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) to go along with three steals and a block.
Not to mention the role Russ played in limiting Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings to a combined 17 points on 6-of-30 shooting from the field.
Current Grade: A- (91 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (No. 9)
Stats from the Week That Was: 19.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 43.8% from the field, 25.0% from three, 5.8 free-throw attempts and 3.0 turnovers in 35.4 minutes (four games)
The San Antonio Spurs have gone just 3-3 since Tony Parker returned from an ankle-related hiatus, though he can hardly be blamed for his team's recent run of rough luck. Parker's averaged 20.7 points and 7.2 assists in those six games.
Not bad for a guy who spent three weeks on the shelf. Now, if only the Spurs could find a way to keep Manu Ginobili healthy...
Current Grade: A (93 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (No. 5)
Stats from the Week That Was: 31.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 45.5% from the field, 44.4% from three, 7.4 free-throw attempts and 2.4 turnovers in 36.0 minutes (five games)
Don't look now, but the New York Knicks are the hottest team in the NBA and Carmelo Anthony is leading the way. Anthony popped off for a career-high-tying 50 points on 18-of-26 shooting (7-of-10 from downtown) to propel the Knicks to consecutive win No. 9 against a LeBron-and-Wade-less Miami Heat squad, 102-90.
Say what you want about 'Melo doing his work without James hounding him all night. But scoring 50 points in an NBA game is no easy feat and merits recognition all the same.
That is, unless it comes against the Charlotte Bobcats. Then you can consider attaching an asterisk to it.
Current Grade: 94 Percent
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (No. 7)
Stats from the Week That Was: 26.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 41.1% from the field, 21.4% from three, 12.3 free-throw attempts and 4.3 turnovers in 40.6 minutes (three games)
Does Kobe Bryant feel pain anymore? Better yet, has he ever felt it?
The guy just keeps on truckin', irrespective of a sprained ankle, bone spurs in his foot or any number of maladies that result from playing well over 50,000 minutes in the NBA.
That sort of toughness and longevity has its perks, like, say, establishing an impeccable legacy. Kobe's legend continued to grow this past week when he officially usurped Wilt Chamberlain for the No. 4 spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list in a win over the Sacramento Kings.
Chances are, Kobe won't care quite as much about hitting all these milestones if the season doesn't end with the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.
Current Grade: A (95 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (No. 6)
Stats from the Week That Was: 18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 44.9% from the field, 29.4% from three, 5.8 free-throw attempts and 2.8 turnovers in 34.1 minutes (five games)
Chris Paul's done his darndest to keep the Los Angeles Clippers afloat with Chauncey Billups sidelined by a groin injury and Blake Griffin fighting through a swollen calf.
The burden, though, has clearly taken its toll on the All-Star point guard. CP3's shot just 34.1 percent from the field over his last three games, all of which have resulted in losses for the Clips. L.A.'s depth is great and all, but it won't amount to much unless it shows up to support Paul come playoff time.
Current Grade: A (97 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (No. 3)
Stats from the Week That Was: 28.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 56.3% from the field, 57.1% from three, 9.7 free-throw attempts and 2.7 turnovers in 36.7 minutes (three games)
We all know that Kevin Durant isn't winning the NBA MVP this season, so why not take a moment for some KD Trivia?
For instance, only once this season has Durant tallied as many shots as points—19 apiece during a 30-point win over the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 24. To find a game in which KD shot more than he scored, you'd have to go all the way back to March 20, 2012, when he scored 18 points on 22 shots in a 97-90 loss to the Utah Jazz.
In other words, the dude's about as efficient a scorer as you'll see in the NBA.
Current Grade: A+ (103 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (No. 2)
Stats from the Week That Was: 34.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 2.0 blocks, 64.9% from the field, 60.0% from three, 8.0 free-throw attempts and 3.5 turnovers in 36.1 minutes (two games)
There's a distinct possibility that LeBron James won't be on this list next week. James sat out the Miami Heat's two most recent games with "tightness" in his right hamstring (per ESPN.com) and could conceivably miss more time now that his team is within sniffing distance of securing the best record in the NBA.
But until Erik Spoelstra decides to sit LeBron wholesale, expect to see the presumptive MVP featured prominently here for his spectacular grades on the season.
Current Grade: A++ (110 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A++ (No. 1)