Predicting the NBA Leader in Every Major Statistical Category for 2013-14
While the top NBA teams battle for 2014 playoff positioning throughout the year, the best players in the league will be jockeying for statistical crowns.
Winning the scoring title or rebounding race merits a measure of prominence in the basketball world, but the field-goal percentage and steals categories can be equally impressive.
Leading the NBA in a major statistics category is immensely demanding, as it requires consistency and perseverance over the course of a grueling 82-game campaign.
Which stars will post the best numbers in 2013-14? Who will win each category?
Field-Goal Percentage Contenders
Field Contender No. 3: J.J. Hickson
The 2013-14 Denver Nuggets could be the best squad J.J. Hickson has been a part of since his rookie and sophomore seasons in Cleveland with LeBron James, so he'll be surrounded with enough support to get favorable looks deep in the paint.
In his modest stretches of playing time, he'll be asked to do what he does best: rim-run, clean the boards and finish alley-oops. Once he gets a feel for playing alongside Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson, he'll enjoy plenty of 5-of-9 and 7-of-10 outings.
Prediction: 56.9 percent
Contender No. 2: DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan's high-flying finishes landed him in the top spot in the NBA in field-goal percentage for 2012-13, and he'll be right near the top again this season.
His role within the Los Angeles Clippers offense will increase, and his skills will expand, so he will probably finish a few percentage points shy of the league leader. A gradual increase in hook shots and contested bankers will prevent him from having astronomical numbers.
But don't worry, he's still going to do most of his work extremely close to the basket, including a healthy dose of rim-rocking crams.
Prediction: 58.8 percent
Runner-up: LeBron James
It's rare to see a player with so much swingman responsibility post elite field-goal marks.
But LeBron James is a rare player.
Earlier in his career, James' outside shooting was streaky and he lacked assertiveness in the post. Once he upgraded those areas, his percentage gradually rose. His conversion rate has improved significantly each season since 2006-07, and it's going to float upward again in 2013-14.
A sizable portion of close-range work will bump his percentage near 60.
Prediction: 59.6 percent
Field-Goal Percentage Leader: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Even if you're not ready to consider the Houston Rockets a title favorite, you have to admit Dwight Howard is surrounded by a dangerous, talented crew capable of putting up colossal numbers.
Howard has led the league in field-goal percentage just once in his career, but he's kept his mark above 57 percent every year since his sophomore season.
The Rockets supporting cast is a better version of what Dwight had in Orlando, mostly due to James Harden's excellence and the cast of young, dynamic role players including Chandler Parsons. Howard will have ample room to operate in the paint, and he'll have fun getting the ball early in transition.
After a couple of drama-filled, underwhelming campaigns, the big fella will eclipse 60 percent from the field for the third time in his career.
Prediction: 62.0 percent
Contender No. 3: Ryan Anderson
The arrival of Jrue Holiday will put a substantial dent in Ryan Anderson's production for the New Orleans Pelicans, and his three-pointers total will dip by nearly 30.
That's still good enough for fourth in the NBA. Anderson will edge out a group that includes the likes of Damian Lillard, J.J. Redick, Danny Green and James Harden.
Holiday will take away certain shot opportunities from Anderson, but he'll also create some high-percentage chances when he penetrates. Monty Williams will make sure to utilize Anderson's greatest talent and get him six-plus triple attempts per night.
Prediction: 186 three-pointers
Contender No 2: Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver is a veteran asset with a defined role, so the Atlanta Hawks will work hard to consistently find him long-range looks.
And in turn, Korver will bust his tail to get open and produce from behind the arc.
Several old faces are gone, and some new faces replaced them in the lineup. During a season of competitive transition, the Hawks will rely on Korver to work away from the ball and take care of business once he gets it.
Prediction: 197 three-pointers
Runner-up: Klay Thompson
Third-year shooting guard Klay Thompson has one of the most efficient shooting strokes of this generation, and there's almost nothing that can stop him from piling up 200-plus threes for the Golden State Warriors.
He owns a quick, fluid form and great instincts, which help him make the most of every offensive set. Thompson will become more savvy in the coming years, and his pull-up jump-shooting will also improve
The 2013 playoffs got the country talking about Thompson and Stephen Curry as the best pair of shooters in the world. In 2013-14, Thompson will help prove that it's absolutely true.
Prediction: 215 three-pointers
Three-Pointers Leader: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Stephen Curry should be able to flirt with his record 272 made three-pointers in 2013-14 and lead the Golden State Warriors to another exciting playoff run.
He's the poster boy of the NBA's increasingly perimeter-oriented identity, as his silky-smooth delivery and exceptional body control allow him to launch shots in almost any situation.
Curry is lethal as a catch-and-shoot threat and dribble-up tosser, and this versatility is what prevents foes from corralling him throughout the course of games. He weaves his way to optimal shooting spots and makes defenders pay for the slightest missteps.
The efficiency of Mark Jackson's entire offensive unit will help contribute to Curry's repeat performance in 2013-14. Newcomer Andre Iguodala will make it a priority to create for him, and Klay Thompson will do an even better job stretching defenses and dividing their attention.
Get ready for another mind-boggling year.
Prediction: 272 three-pointers
Contender No. 3: Tim Duncan
You don't become a future Hall of Famer without figuring out how to be at the right place at the right time.
San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan is an incredibly effective shot-blocker because he knows when to stay home to protect the rim. He realizes that the team needs him most deep in the paint, and he uses an elite sense of timing to thwart opponents' attacks.
Even if he plays 30 or fewer minutes each night, Duncan will swat 2.7 shots per contest.
Prediction: 2.7 blocks per game
Contender No. 2: Larry Sanders
Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders is quickly becoming an elite low-post defender. He doesn't rely as much on vertical explosiveness as he does his length and impeccable timing.
Even though Sanders has the tools and the willingness to be the league's top rejector, he might not earn enough playing time in a crowded frontcourt. With John Henson and Zaza Pachulia also patrolling the paint, Sanders may not see much of an uptick in playing time.
Expect him to eclipse his 2012-13 mark, but barely.
Prediction: 2.85 blocks per game
Runner-Up: Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka knows how to throw a good block party, and he'll certainly be in the mix to defend his shot-swatting crown.
However, his game on both ends of the floor has gradually become less dependent on explosiveness and agility and more on finesse and skill. It's based more on positioning and team cohesion rather than flying up to meet every shot attempt in the vicinity.
As a result, he won't match his 2012 and 2013 blocks statistics.
Prediction: 2.9 blocks per game
Blocks Leader: Javale McGee, Denver Nuggets
That's right, I'm picking Denver Nuggets center Javale McGee to leap from No. 8 to No. 1.
With 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes, he was a nightmare for opposing frontcourts in 2012-13. Unfortunately, he only played 18.1 minutes per night, which held him to 2.0 blocks and the eighth-best average in the league.
New head coach Brian Shaw will undoubtedly give McGee 27-32 minutes per game, and that will yield a career-year when it comes to rejections.
The 25-year-old is ready to be a consistently imposing force as a defender. Players with his length and vertical aptitude are extremely difficult to gauge for offensive attackers.
When he puts his massive wingspan and athleticism to work for 30 minutes, he should be able to flirt with 3.0 blocks and unseat Serge Ibaka.
Prediction: 3.0 blocks per game
Contender No. 3: Mike Conley
One of the most unsung defensive heroes in the NBA is Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who has been an elite pickpocket the past three seasons.
His instincts, timing and great hands allow him to pressure opposing guards unlike anyone else on his squad. When he was on the bench in 2012-13, the Grizzlies allowed 8.1 more points per 100 possessions than they did when he was playing, according to 82games.com.
Prediction: 2.0 steals per game
Contender No. 2: Kemba Walker
He won't see as dramatic an increase in 2013-14 as he did in 2012-13, but Charlotte Bobcats floor general Kemba Walker will still make a noticeable climb up the steals ladder.
His per-36-minute rate went up 0.8 steals from his rookie to sophomore seasons, and he's bound to progress even more entering his third campaign.
If he only increases by 0.3, that's still 2.3 takeaways per night, right on the heels of the game's best.
Prediction: 2.3 steals per game
Runner-up: Ricky Rubio
Minnesota Timberwolves star Ricky Rubio is just 22 years old as he embarks on his third pro season, so he's primed to improve in almost every area.
He grabbed more steals per minute than Chris Paul in 2012-13, and he's bound to give the steals king a run for his money again.
Rubio will see more playing time and cause more turnovers than he did last year, yet he'll narrowly miss the steals crown once again.
Prediction: 2.53 steals per game
Steals Leader: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
While he's always been adept at forcing turnovers, Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul is at that perfect stage in his career when he's a cagey veteran and still in top form physically.
If his playing time is anywhere from 33-35 minutes per game, he'll have a great chance to nab 2.5 steals or more per game, something he's done three other times in his career. His rate of thievery has gone up each of the past four seasons, so he'll likely equal or exceed his 2012-13 clip.
Due to the highlight-reel nature of our sports society, CP3 is viewed primarily as a lob-tosser or clutch shooter. But he doesn't just control the complexion of the game solely on offense. His ability to disrupt opposing backcourts is a valuable element of L.A.'s success.
Look for him to out-steal Ricky Rubio by a hair for the second season in a row. Rubio may be the defender of the future, but Paul is still the man of the hour.
Prediction: 2.55 steals per game
Contender No. 3: DeMarcus Cousins
For Sacramento Kings prodigy DeMarcus Cousins, the questions have always been more about his mental approach rather than his physical capabilities.
He could potentially get paid a truckload of cash in the 2014 offseason, so I anticipate him being dialed in and competing every night. As the undisputed alpha dog in Sac-town, he will assert himself in all phases of the game and post career-highs in several categories.
Cousins will match his rebounding mark from two years ago.
Prediction: 11.0 rebounds per game
Contender No. 2: Nikola Vucevic
One of the most gifted youngsters on the glass is Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic. He earned a featured role during his sophomore season, averaging the second-most boards in the league and routinely registering double-doubles.
In 2013-14, he will grab even more rebounds, yet he'll drop one spot in the rankings.
How will that happen?
Prediction: 12.4 rebounds per game
Runner-up: Dwight Howard
Vucevic will be bumped off the runner-up slot simply because Dwight Howard and Kevin Love are monsters when healthy.
The Houston Rockets' new anchor has posted more than 13 boards per game five times in his career, and he'll nearly do it again, even with the presence of Omer Asik in the lineup.
Don't forget how dominant Howard is when he gets in a groove. He won't produce like he did in his prime in Orlando, but he's still the best center in the NBA.
Prediction: 12.6 rebounds per game
Rebounding Leader: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Provided he can stay on the court long enough for us to notice, Kevin Love will run away with the rebounding title.
The Minnesota Timberwolves would love to see him play 70-plus games because they can pencil in 13-15 rebounds each contest. Love is a master at positioning and timing, and he relentlessly crashes the glass every single time down the floor.
His offensive rebounding numbers have dipped the past two seasons, but his overall totals are still head and shoulders above the rest of the league outside Dwight Howard.
It's a bit greedy to ask for career-best stats from Kevin Love this year. We'll just have to settle for a measly 14 boards per game.
Prediction: 14.0 rebounds per game
Contender No. 3: Jrue Holiday
At 23 years old, New Orleans Pelicans newcomer Jrue Holiday is already armed with the tools to be an elite point guard. He's primed to be a fixture in the dime-dropping rankings.
His smooth skills and veteran-iike poise allow him to attack as a dual-threat quarterback. Holiday can create offense for himself or his comrades on any given play, and that creativity will be enhanced by new surroundings in New Orleans.
Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Tyreke Evans will all do some facilitating, but it won't stop Holiday from dishing a mountain of assists.
Prediction: 8.4 assists per game
Contender No. 2: Rajon Rondo
For the first time in his career, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo isn't going to battle alongside Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce. And for the first time since 2007, Kevin Garnett is out of the picture.
There's no way it won't hurt his assist numbers, especially with the squad that's in place now.
Boston's mediocre roster will prevent Rondo from racking up the assists, and it will turn him into more of a shooter for the time being.
I'm not saying he won't make some sensational plays and have some brilliant passing performances, but his assist statistics will come back to earth.
Prediction: 9.4 assists per game
Runner-up: Deron Williams
Healthy ankles and an upgraded roster will catapult Deron Williams back into the elite point guard mix.
His first couple of seasons with the Nets organization have been challenging and frustrating at times, but the arrival of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry will boost his assist totals in no time.
He doesn't project to return to the prime Utah Jazz days, but you might be surprised how close he gets.
Prediction: 9.7 assists per game
Assists Leader: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
The resources are all there for Chris Paul to assert himself as the league's top point man.
If CP3 properly executes Doc River's offense and the role players mesh, the Los Angeles Clippers will be an upper-echelon club. One of the major side effects of this title contention is a spike in assists.
A couple of sharp-shooting wings join the fold, as shooting guard J.J. Redick and small forward Jared Dudley seek to turn Paul's passes into points from beyond the arc.
On the interior, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will continue to make strides and convert more of their post-ups and early-offense opportunities.
Don't be surprised if Paul returns to double-digit assists. This is a title-contending group that's deeper, more efficient and more talented than anything CP3 has worked with before.
Prediction: 10.5 assists per game
Contender No. 3: LeBron James
If Dwyane Wade's health wasn't so precarious, or the Miami Heat got more production from the center and point guard spots, LeBron James wouldn't be on this list.
But they need him to light up the scoreboard, and he will oblige.
There are just too many ways for him to break down opponents, as he can foil even the best defenders in the league. Whether it's a post-up, dribble pull-up or a slash to the rim, James finds a way to toss a favorable shot attempt.
Prediction: 27.5 points per game
Contender No. 2: Kobe Bryant
Once Kobe Bryant returns from his Achilles rehab, the Los Angeles Lakers will lean on him for heavy production as they fight for respectability.
Most of the roster is either too young or too old to pose a threat, so Kobe will be the one who consistently generates scoring chances. Steve Nash will facilitate superbly for a 39-year-old, and Pau Gasol will hold his own in the post, but they can't afford to let Kobe tally any less than 27 points per night.
And Bryant will have no problem meeting the quota.
Prediction: 27.9 points per game
Runner-up: Carmelo Anthony
The 2012-13 scoring champion will be near the top again, as Carmelo Anthony tries to carry the New York Knicks past their Eastern Conference adversaries.
No matter what team he's on, he'll always be a gunner, taking a high volume of shots from the wing and post in order to keep his club afloat.
His 2013-14 output should look similar to last season's, even with the addition of Andrea Bargnani and a filly-recovered Amar'e Stoudemire. Anthony will still hoist 20 or more shots per game.
Melo's fall to the No. 2 spot is less about himself and more about the resurgence of Kevin Durant.
Prediction: 28.8 points per game
Scoring Leader: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Even if combo guard Reggie Jackson or wing Jeremy Lamb step up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant will be in good position to win his fourth scoring title.
Much like his rival in South Beach, Durant is becoming more savvy and skilled in the finer points of offense. No matter what the circumstance is, he finds the most efficient way to put the ball in the bucket.
With Kevin Martin shuttling off to Minnesota, Scott Brooks will call on Durant to stabilize the Thunder attack more often.
His mid-range and close-range effectiveness have noticeably improved the last couple seasons, as he's a better slasher and a more dangerous shot-maker in traffic. And his long-range game hasn't lost any of its sharpness.
It's time for Durant to reclaim his status as the world's best scorer.
Prediction: 30.0 points per game