NBA Star Stock Watch: Which Players Are Ascending and Which Are Deteriorating

Michael PinaFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2013

NBA Star Stock Watch: Which Players Are Ascending and Which Are Deteriorating

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    The NBA's handful of legitimate superstars are often taken for granted. They're a tiny sect of elite players (basketball's proverbial one percent) who are so consistently extraordinary that we sometimes forget they're human.

    Believe it or not, they make mistakes and are even capable of stringing two quarters of poor play together (though these instances are rare). 

    The process of becoming a superstar isn't a short one, and several of the league's current best players (most notably James Harden and Stephen Curry) were left off the list because part of what allows an All-Star to elevate himself towards that higher tier of excellence is consistency played out over more than one year.

    Being a true superstar involves making those around you better while impacting both ends of the court on various levels.

    Here's a ranking of the league's current superstars based on their bodies of work this season. Each player's current stock status is judged from what he's done in his last 10 games.

10. Russell Westbrook

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    Stock Trending: Down

    Russell Westbrook has struggled with his shot lately, specifically from behind the three-point line.

    Not the best long distance sniper to begin with, he's shooting just 32.2 percent on three-pointers on 3.6 attempts per game. His scoring is slightly down from his season average, but he's getting to the free-throw line more than normal.

    One of his particularly impressive performances came on March 15 against the Orlando Magic, when Westbrook scored 23 points with six rebounds, six assists and, most importantly, zero turnovers.

9. Carmelo Anthony

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    Stock Trending: Up

    Carmelo Anthony's last eight quarters of basketball have been dominant on the offensive end. He's scored 90 points (seriously, 90 points) in 81 minutes, making 35-of-53 shots.

    Both performances resulted in wins for the New York Knicks.

    In his last 10 games, Anthony is rebounding the ball well (7.2 per game) and, as you may already have guessed, scoring a lights-out 31.4 points per game.

    Strictly in terms of shooting the ball, Anthony currently finds himself in a zone players rarely enter.

8. Dwight Howard

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    Stock Trending: Up

    Even though this season has been a major disappointment for Dwight Howard and his new team, his impact has been undeniable when he is healthy. (When Howard sits this season, the Los Angeles Lakers allow 111.7 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 109.8 points per 100 possessions when he plays, per 82games.com.)

    In his last 10 games, Howard is averaging 17.7 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.1 steals. Those are dominant numbers, the type we expect to regularly see from the game's best center.

    With each new game holding more meaning than the last, Howard's played phenomenal basketball of late, slapping together a 25-point, 16-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 27 and absolutely obliterating DeMarcus Cousins' Sacramento Kings with 24 points, 15 rebounds and a game-saving block on the final play (one of his five).

    The Lakers might not make the playoffs, but if they do and Howard is playing this well, nobody will enjoy staring them down.

7. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Stock Trending: Up

    The real Dirk Nowitzki appears to be back, and words can't accurately describe how much the world of basketball has missed him.

    Last week, we saw two historic performances that both resulted in Maverick victories: a 33-point bomb dropped on the sluggish Los Angeles Clippers and 35 points (on 82.4 percent shooting) in a come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Bulls.

    Unfortunately, Nowitzki had a poor 11-point outing against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 2, a game that may have ended Dallas' shot at the playoffs. But one bad game doesn't disrupt all the good will Nowitzki's resurgence has meant to the city of Dallas.

    In his last 10 games, Nowitzki is making an insane 57.1 percent of his shots from the floor, including 50 percent of his three-pointers and 83.3 percent of his free throws. He's still got it. Thank goodness.

6. Dwyane Wade

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    Stock Trending: Neutral

    Wade's recent numbers are slightly worse than those of Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas and Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green, but that's more of a shout out to them than a jab at Miami's second-best player.

    Wade had 19.2 points on 14.7 shots, 5.6 assists and a couple rebounds per game during the final leg of a historic win streak. Those numbers are below his season averages, but the sample size we're going from is too small to make too huge a deal out of it.

    (Side note: It probably won't register any more than a tiny scarlet letter on his Hall of Fame career, but Wade's inability to develop a three-point shot is a bit jarring. A small reminder hit me after noticing he's shooting 16.7 percent on just 0.6 attempts from deep in his last 10 games. And for the season, he's shot 23.6 percent on 55 total three-point attempts above the break.)

5. Kobe Bryant

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    Stock Trending: Neutral

    It always feels like Kobe Bryant is playing otherworldly basketball whenever the Los Angeles Lakers win. After all, had it not been for their unforeseen struggles, Bryant would be a dark-horse MVP candidate, a fully ripe all-time great who somehow found a way to save the day one last time.

    But despite the triple-double in L.A.'s crucial home victory over the Dallas Mavericks on April 2, Bryant's numbers in his last 10 games haven't been very efficient.

    He's scoring 23.9 points per game while recording 7.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds, which is obviously fantastic. But he's shooting 39.1 percent from the floor, 22.9 percent from behind the three-point line (on nearly five attempts per game!) and playing the type of lackadaisical defense that costs his team an undetermined number of baskets.

4. Tim Duncan

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    Stock Trending: Up

    Yes, Tim Duncan is still playing out of his mind. His last 10 games have arguably embodied his finest stretch of the season, with his points-per-game average up 4.6 from his season average and his rebounds per game up 1.9.

    For the season, Duncan is shooting 50.4 percent from the floor, but over his last 10 games, he's up at 54.2 percent on 2.7 more attempts (and nearly five more minutes).

    He scored 34 points (including the game-winner) and grabbed 11 rebounds in 32 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 29. Duncan also had a 19-point, 16-rebound effort against the Utah Jazz a week earlier and a 28-point, 19-rebound explosion against the desperate Dallas Mavericks on March 14.

    This man will never die. 

3. Chris Paul

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    Stock Trending: Down

    The Los Angeles Clippers are crash landing into the playoffs. And Chris Paul appears to be taking the news personally, getting to the free-throw line and drawing more fouls per game than his season average over the past 10 games. 

    (Paul accounted for 48.4 percent of every made Clippers free throw when he was on the court, according to 82games.com. That's kind of crazy.)

    But as splendid as Paul plays, sometimes it isn't enough—like the 33-point, five-assist losing effort against the Dallas Mavericks on March 26.

    And when he doesn't play well, the Clippers have almost no chance at winning. Look at that 2-of-10 performance against the Sacramento Kings on March 19, or him going 2-of-12 against the Indiana Pacers on April 1. 

    Chris Paul is his team's only hope at turning its ship around. And when he isn't playing like the third-best player in the world, the Clippers struggle. 

2. Kevin Durant

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    Stock Trending: Neutral

    Durant isn't as good as LeBron James, but he's perhaps the only player alive talented enough to demand a regular statistical comparison.

    Over his past 10 games, Durant is averaging less than one fewer point than James (on one less shot), and he's shooting 50.8 percent from the floor to James' 56.4 percent.

    If James had never been born, Durant would own the NBA. That's how good he is.

    The Thunder are 7-3 in their last 10 games, which seems almost disappointing given the fact that they aren't resting any players, a strategy that's been embraced by the league's other two legitimate title contenders: the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat.

    According to NBA.com/Stats, Oklahoma City has averaged 113.7 points per 100 possessions in the 101 minutes during their last 10 games when Durant has been on the bench, an ostensibly meaningful number. But probably not so much in reality.

    The sample size is far too small, and even though Oklahoma City averaged over eight fewer points per 100 possessions with him playing, a situation in which its bench simply pummeled an opponent's bench for a long stretch of time is entirely possible.

    (The Thunder are currently four games back of Miami for the league's overall best record, something they'd prefer to have should there be a rematch of last year's NBA Finals.)

1. LeBron James

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    Stock Trending: Up

    He's currently day-to-day after sitting out Miami's last few games with a sore hamstring, but in the last 10 when he's taken the floor, LeBron James has averaged a league-high 29.6 points on 59.3 percent shooting (42.5 percent from behind the three-point line).

    James is doing all that with 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game—a number that would rank fifth in the league if compared to the season's leaders.

    Things really get serious when you look at how James' team plays when he's on the court. In his last 10 games, Miami has scored 115.1 points per 100 possessions while allowing 97.5, according to NBA.com/Stats (media only).

    Also, James accounts for over 40 percent of the assists that occur when he's on the floor.

    Those numbers are good enough to solidify an MVP campaign, and that's exactly what they've done. This guy is just so good right now, it's scary. The trending arrow is pointing up until further notice in deference to his all-around ridiculousness.

     

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