Stock Up, Stock Down for Top 25 NBA Stars Entering Training Camp

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

Stock Up, Stock Down for Top 25 NBA Stars Entering Training Camp

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    I bet you didn't know that the NBA was so similar to Wall Street. 

    Fortunately, evaluating stocks of NBA stars is fraught with a little less financial peril than handling actual companies' stocks. But it's still a tough process, especially going into training camp when everyone is trying to figure out just what we can expect to see during the 2013-14 season. 

    Nevertheless, that's exactly what I'll be doing for each of the league's top 25 stars. 

    Before you dive into the following slides, please note that this article is not featuring the league's 25 best players. There's a big difference between the 25 biggest stars and the 25 best players, as public perception doesn't factor into the latter. 

    With that firmly in mind, it's time to start trading and shorting evaluating and analyzing these players.

LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 20.4 PER

    Everything is set up for LaMarcus Aldridge to enjoy the best season of his already impressive NBA career. 

    Coming off a year in which he threatened the vaunted 20/10 mark on a nightly basis, Aldridge is gaining a few teammates who will make his basketball life a lot easier. Robin Lopez will take defensive pressure off the 28-year-old power forward, and C.J. McCollum, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and the other bench additions all ensure that the second unit can actually play quality minutes this year. 

    That means Aldridge won't be counted on for such major minutes each and every night. He also won't have to carry the frontcourt on the less glamorous end of the court. Both those changes point toward a more efficient offensive—and defensive—season as the Rip City standout attempts to carry his team into the postseason. 

    It's hard for Aldridge to rise any higher up in the power forward rankings, but the overall ones are a different story. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Carmelo Anthony

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER

    How can Carmelo Anthony get better? 

    Well, it's tough because he's already such a fantastic player. Few scorers could carry a burden like 'Melo does for the New York Knicks, and it's a role he'll continue to fill throughout the 2013-14 season. 

    But the forward could still stand to exert some more energy on defense while involving his teammates with more frequency. Given the need to find another quality scorer on the Knicks roster, I'm expecting 'Melo to set a career high in assists as he seeks to get his teammates into the scoring column more than ever before. 

    The defense might be a different story. But if Anthony is truly willing to buckle down and exert himself on that end, the Knicks will have a much higher ceiling. 

    Anthony's stock certainly isn't falling, but there haven't been signs that it will rise quite yet. That could change, but for now I'm remaining ambivalent. 

    Verdict: No change

Chris Bosh

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks, 20.0 PER

    Chris Bosh really is the third wheel. 

    Although he enjoyed the most efficient season of his career during the Miami Heat's second run to a title in two years with a personal-best 53.5 percent shooting from the field, he also showed that he wasn't up to the challenge of being the No. 2 guy anymore. 

    When Dwyane Wade was struggling throughout the postseason, Bosh had a chance to step up.

    He didn't. 

    Instead, the opposite happened, as the 29-year-old big man averaged 12.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Wade's decline was more dramatic, but Bosh's failure to excel forced LeBron James into "Cleveland mode" just as much as the 2-guard did. 

    Can he ever again be that go-to guy like he was in Toronto? Just the fact that we have to ask that question makes this a pretty easy determination. 

    Verdict: Stock down

Kobe Bryant

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 35

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.0 PER

    Kobe Bryant

    Go to a bar and say those two words. Then sit back and watch what happens. Arguments will ensue, and you may even have provoked a bar fight (don't blame that on me, though). 

    The Mamba just evokes those type of feelings, and he will this season more than ever before as we struggle to figure out just how good the legendary 2-guard will be when he returns from his Achilles injury. 

    On one hand, the precedent isn't promising. Veteran players typically have trouble recovering from such severe injuries, and since Kobe is already 35, the clock is ticking relentlessly down to the end of his days as a near-MVP-level contributor. 

    But on the other hand, it's Kobe. 

    We're talking about a guy who calmly drilled two clutch free throws after he ruptured his Achilles. He isn't some mere mortal fighting to regain his effectiveness, and his accelerated recovery timetable has been nothing short of impressive. 

    For now, I have to temper the expectations, but this could very easily change about a week into the 2013-14 campaign. 

    Verdict: Stock down

Stephen Curry

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.3 PER

    How is Stephen Curry still only 25 years old? 

    This young point guard is only now emerging as a superstar—he may not even have reached that status yet in some people's books—and he's already established himself as the NBA's premier shooter. Quite frankly, the season he just submitted is the greatest shooting display of all time. 

    You can throw out the names of whoever you want: Jerry West, Pete Maravich, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, etc. 

    I don't care which one you name. I'll still take Curry's 2012-13 over any of them. And it's not like he's hit his prime yet, as he'll be shooting to break his own single-season record this year. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Tim Duncan

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 37

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, 24.4 PER

    Don't view the missed bunny in the 2013 NBA Finals as a sign that the decline is finally upon us. 

    The only thing that will change for Tim Duncan is the amount of time he spends on the court. The rest of his game will be scarily consistent, although I maintain that he'll challenge for the league lead in blocks per game now that he's spending even more time right around the rim. 

    I mean, just look at how The Big Fundamental's per-36 numbers from this past season compare to those from his MVP-winning 2002-03 campaign: 


    Primary takeaway: Tim Duncan is not human. 

    Verdict: No change

Kevin Durant

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER

    It's really not fair that a 24-year-old is this good at basketball. 

    Kevin Durant just joined Larry Bird as one of only two players in NBA history to compete for a scoring title (within five points per game of the leader, by my subjective definition) while shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from behind the arc and 90 percent from the charity stripe. 

    That's insane, and KD is still getting better. A lot better. 

    The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has grown more efficient each and every season as the go-to guy, and it's scary to think what the future could hold. Is there a chance that he becomes the NBA's first 52/42/92 entrant? 

    Plus, Durant's facilitating and defense are only improving as well. He's becoming more than just a scorer, and that's the best possible news for his MVP candidacy. Given the award voters' desire for storylines, don't count out Durant in the race to dethrone LeBron James this year. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Marc Gasol

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Marc Gasol

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks, 19.5 PER

    Someone on the Memphis Grizzlies has to become more of a go-to scorer now that Rudy Gay is long gone. That was a problem after the midseason trade sent him to the Toronto Raptors, and the points have to come from somewhere. 

    Marc Gasol has already established himself as a premier defender. Winning Defensive Player of the Year tends to do that, you know. Now it's time for him to become more than just a well-rounded player on offense. 

    The Spanish center's passes are things of beauty, but he often looks off shots that he should be taking. His usage rate should be climbing higher than 19.2, per Basketball-Reference, especially as he continues growing more comfortable in the offensive system. 

    He experienced a jump from 16.9 in 2010-11 to 19.1 in 2011-12. Now, after an uptick of only 0.1 last year, expect another big leap in usage rate. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Paul George

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Paul George was just named the NBA's Most Improved Player, so it's pretty obvious that his stock is on the rise. 

    In just one year, the swingman effectively replaced Danny Granger (who was the reigning scoring champion for the Indiana Pacers), established himself as a two-way stud, made the All-Star team, was named to the All-NBA team and squared off with LeBron James fairly successfully in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    Oh, and he's 23 years old with plenty of flaws in his game to work on. 

    This season, expect George to cut back on the silly turnovers, improve his mid-range shooting, become more of a consistent post defender and emerge as a stronger leader for the Pacers. If all that happens, we'll be talking about the Fresno State product as an MVP challenger. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Blake Griffin

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 22.4 PER

    Blake Griffin is not overrated during the regular season. 

    He's a fantastic power forward who can contribute to the offense on a regular basis, and he's emerging by the year as an increasingly solid defensive player. Griffin obviously has a lot of work to do on that end, but at least he's taking little steps across the board. 

    It's his playoff performance that has me worried. 

    During the Los Angeles Clippers' early exit against the Memphis Grizzlies, Blake failed to show up. He was intimidated by Zach Randolph from the start and finished the series averaging 13.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on 45.3 percent shooting from the field. 

    He deserves the lion's share of the blame for L.A.'s postseason disappearance. 

    Verdict: Stock down

James Harden

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 23.0 PER

    During his first season with the Houston Rockets, James Harden didn't have the luxury of playing alongside Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook. For the first time in his career, he was the unquestioned No. 1 option, and he thrived in that role. 

    Throughout NBA history, though, the results haven't been that positive when a player takes on so much more responsibility. It takes a year to fully adjust, and that speaks well to Harden's chances for more improvement in 2013-14. 

    He should have more energy to expend on the defensive end of the court, meaning that his point-preventing prowess will be awful but not unspeakably awful. He'll also get even more efficient offensively, which is a terrifying prospect for the rest of the Western Conference. 

    Oh, and he gets some guy named Dwight Howard to help him shoulder the load now. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Roy Hibbert

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.6 blocks, 17.3 PER

    Roy Hibbert was terrible during the first half of the 2012-13 NBA season. Even if you expanded the circumference of the rim to such an extent that it resembled a hula hoop, he may still have had trouble shooting 40 percent from the field. 

    But the Georgetown product steadily gained more confidence. 

    He was much better following the All-Star break; then he looked nothing short of dominant throughout the postseason. During the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, he deterred just about everyone from attacking the rim while he was on the court, and he showed flashes of some future greatness in the mid-range-shooting department. 

    Hibbert is definitely on the rise, and he'll begin the 2013-14 campaign in such strong fashion that he'll leave no doubt he belongs in the true upper echelon of centers. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Dwight Howard

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks, 19.4 PER 

    How many people outside of Houston still root for Dwight Howard? 

    He's been a public-relations nightmare for the last few season. First there was the feud with Stan Van Gundy, then the drawn-out Dwightmare that resulted in him wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. That didn't work out so well, and the Dwightmare Part 2 wasn't much better. 

    In just about a calendar year, Dwight ruined his public perception, and now he's fighting an uphill battle to regain it with that goofy personality and omnipresent ear-to-ear grin. 

    But it's not all about perception. 

    Thanks to his back injury, Howard took a step backward while wearing purple and gold. He wasn't as impactful on the defensive end, and he was more limited offensively. This could easily change while playing alongside a team that seems perfectly tailored to his immense talent, but there's no guarantee. 

    Until he proves himself, Dwight has made us ask questions before we assume positive results. 

    Verdict: Stock down

Kyrie Irving

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 21

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 21.4 PER

    Kyrie Irving is a full year younger than anyone else featured in this article. 

    Think about that for a second. 

    He's a bona fide superstar, and he's still only 21 years old. He has two years of NBA experience, and he's unquestionably on the rise toward the top of the point guard rankings. 

    Thinking that his stock is anything but on the rise would be foolish, as Irving isn't even close to reaching his full potential. His shot can get more consistent, he can make better passing decisions and his defense has nowhere to go but up. 

    This is as easy as it gets. 

    Verdict: Stock up

LeBron James

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER

    It literally doesn't get any better than that picture.

    LeBron James officially reached the top of the world when he posed with the "I don't give a single [you know what]" expression plastered on his face while clutching the Finals MVP and Larry O'Brien trophies in his hands. 

    In the last two years, LeBron has won two titles, two Finals MVPs, two regular-season MVPs and an Olympic gold medal. How exactly does one's stock go up any more after that? 

    LeBron isn't slipping. Not even close. If anything, he might be getting even better after submitting a season that has to be up there with any campaign produced by any player in any year of NBA history. 

    But until he proves that he has another gear—one that we can't even fathom at the moment—I can't predict that his stock will go up any higher than it already is. 

    Verdict: No change

Kevin Love

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: PF

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Kevin Love's 2012-13 campaign was rough. 

    When he wasn't suffering from an injury and wearing a suit on the sideline, the league's top power forward (when healthy) couldn't find his rhythm. At all. He shot 35.2 percent from the field and a putrid 21.7 percent from behind the three-point arc. 


    But according to Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press, Love is now in the best shape of his playing career, leaving him poised for one heck of a bounceback season. It's something that I'll have to see take shape on the court before I truly believe it, but it's a positive sign that all news has been optimistic this offseason. 

    For now, count Love as another one of those guys who could go in either direction. 

    Verdict: No change

Dirk Nowitzki

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: PF

    Age: 35

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.8 PER

    Dirk Nowitzki will not decline this year. But on the surface level, it will end up looking like he does. 

    While that one-legged flamingo fadeaway should prove immune to the grasp of Father Time, it's Nowitzki's energy level that has me worried. He's going to be forced into expending more energy than ever on defense thanks to the porosity of his new backcourt and the lack of a consistent interior defender. 

    While Brandan Wright has become a great shot-blocker, he has a long way to go before he becomes a standout defender. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Wright allowed 0.86 points per possession last year, a mark beaten by 168 qualified players throughout the league. 

    Unless the big man becomes more of a rim-protector than a shot-swatter, Nowitzki will have too much defensive responsibility to worry about, and that'll hinder him on the other side of the court as well. 

    Verdict: Stock down

Tony Parker

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 31

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 23.0 PER

    As Tony Parker's career with the San Antonio Spurs has progressed, he's received more and more responsibility. Last year, this was clearly his team, and he was up there in the MVP race before an ankle injury derailed that hunt. 

    Now Parker is ready to put together another campaign that leaves him challenging for the "league's best point guard" title. He's only gaining more of a standout role in Gregg Popovich's system, especially now that Manu Ginobili is clearly on the decline and Tim Duncan is yet another year older. 

    The French floor general has become one of the most cerebral players in basketball. He sees everything quite well on both ends of the court, and he still has the athleticism necessary to make what he sees developing into a reality. 

    Thirty-one-year-old point guards have generally started to take a step backward throughout NBA history, but Parker will prove to be the exception. The delayed start to his high levels of involvement give him more shelf life, and his style of play isn't conducive to an early decline. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Chris Paul

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.4 PER

    Chris Paul has been the league's best point guard for a few years now, but his grip on the title is starting to slip away. 

    It's not because CP3 is starting to decline, but rather because the rest of the floor generals are beginning to catch up to him. I mean, just look at how many featured players in this article play at the 1.

    So that you don't have to count, I'll just go ahead and tell you that it's nine of the 25. Seeing as one-fifth of 25 is five, that's a surprisingly high percentage. 

    Paul was a fantastic playoff performer during the Los Angeles Clippers' first-round exit, and he in no way deserves to be the scapegoat. He'll prove that this year with yet another outstanding campaign, but I can't help but say his stock—not his level of play, but his stock—is on the decline because he's no longer untouchable. 

    Verdict: Stock down

Rajon Rondo

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    Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 11.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.1 PER

    The fundamental makeup of the Boston Celtics has changed, and it's uncertain how Rajon Rondo's game will progress along with it. From where I sit, there are two possibilities: 

    1. Rondo could struggle to make an impact now that he isn't playing alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Without them hitting shots, his passing won't look as good, and his scoring won't be threatening enough to scare defenses. 
    2. Rondo will emerge as an even bigger superstar, proving that he didn't need KG or The Truth to be a standout point guard. He'll become even more of a dual-threat point guard and help the C's exceed the diminished expectations. 

    While I'm leaning toward the latter, we still don't have evidence to prove what will happen over the course of the season. So for now, Rondo remains an unknown commodity, though that will quickly change as the 2013-14 season gets started. 

    This point guard is one of the players I'm most excited to watch, solely to see which route he takes. 

    Verdict: No change

Derrick Rose

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: N/A

    So, let's see. 

    The following quotes were all spoken by Derrick Rose to Slam Magazine's Adam Figman. First, on his strength: 

    With me, I was always kind of strong, but the way that I play, I hit tricky lay-ups and all of that stuff because going to the hole in my neighborhood, they don't call any fouls, so I was just used to hitting all types of shots. Now this year, I got a little more strength behind me, so I think going to the hole, taking those shots, I'll be able to finish a lot stronger this year. There should be a lot more and-1s, hopefully.

    And since that's not enough, how about a little on his athleticism as well: 

    I think I'm a lot quicker, a lot more explosive, and I think I'm gonna go this year without that many nagging injuries, just trying to prevent it by stretching and doing all the things I have to do to take care of my body. When you first come in the League and you're talented and you're athletic, you don't care about stretching or anything. You just kind of go out there and overlook that stuff. But now it's my sixth year, so you really have to look at that and take that more seriously so I can prevent all of the little injuries.

    But it won't matter if he can't shoot. Whoops, so much for that: 

    I've been shooting a lot. A lot. Especially during the ['12-13] season, I'd go out there before games and shoot up a lot of shots. Now you add lifting weights and you're shooting almost every day, your shot becomes easier, and your confidence grows, and with shooting, there's nothing like confidence. So I think I'm gonna be a great shooter next year.

    And just for good measure, the former MVP told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, "The only thing that has changed in my game is the confidence. My confidence grew as a player. You'll see that when I play."

    All right, D-Rose. You've convinced me. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Dwyane Wade

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 24.0 PER

    Dwyane Wade is another one of those players with a declining stock but not a declining level of play. 

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Even though the 2-guard's role is changing, that's not a reflection on his status as a truly elite player. He's still a part of that holy trinity of shooting guards that also includes James Harden and Kobe Bryant. 

    Wade is becoming less of an individual defender and more of a player who fits into the team's schemes. That depresses his own personal stats, but it makes him more effective in the long run. 

    Offensively, he's taken a clear backseat to LeBron James, but he's coupling the decline in volume with a remarkable increase in efficiency. 

    Wade is changing. Not getting worse. I can't say that enough. 

    However, when you're viewed as a premier superstar, being the beta dog (isn't that what would come after the alpha dog?) doesn't do much for your stock. 

    Verdict: Stock down

John Wall

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.8 PER

    It's a rare feat for a point guard to average 20 points and 10 assists per game over the course of an entire season. In fact, only eight players have done so in basketball history while qualifying for the scoring title: 

    • Michael Adams
    • Tiny Archibald
    • Tim Hardaway
    • Kevin Johnson (three times)
    • Magic Johnson (three times)
    • Chris Paul (twice)
    • Oscar Robertson (five times)
    • Isiah Thomas (four times)

    Well, it's not entirely inconceivable that John Wall could join the exclusive club in 2013-14. 

    After last year's All-Star break, the Washington Wizards point guard averaged 20.7 points and 7.8 assists per game, and his scoring average was steadily climbing. In April, he put up 23.9 points per contest. 

    There's no doubt that Wall has the scoring talent necessary, especially if his jumper has improved. But now that the offensive talent around him has been upgraded—and Wall has averaged 8.0 dimes per game throughout his career while playing alongside lackluster teammates—he could challenge for the passing part as well. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Russell Westbrook

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.9 PER

    It's hard to remember now, but when Russell Westbrook came out of UCLA, he was a shooting guard by trade, attempting to convert over to the lead-guard position. 

    At first, things were difficult, but Westbrook has steadily improved each and every year of his impressive—and young—career.

    The shooting efficiency has gotten better, and last year saw him become a much more confident passer. The looks he created for his teammates were ones he wasn't capable of making in previous years. 

    That's why I have little doubt that the 24-year-old floor general—another scarily young superstar—will continue on his upward trajectory. The torn meniscus against the Houston Rockets was a big setback, but the former Bruin has been remarkably resilient thus far. He had never missed a single game before that unfortunate collision with Patrick Beverley. 

    Let's hope he's back to his dynamic ways from Day 1. 

    Verdict: Stock up

Deron Williams

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 29

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.3 PER

    Deron Williams is in quite the interesting situation. 

    While he regained his All-NBA form after the All-Star break let his nagging injuries heal a little bit, he's now faced with a jarringly different starting lineup. Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are back, but they're now joined by both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. 

    How will D-Will react to this infusion of offensive talent? 

    Will he continue functioning as a go-to scorer and limit everyone else's impact, or will he start to take a step back and become a distributor first and foremost? It will be hard for his ego to take a lesser scoring role, but averaging something like 12 dimes per game is best for the Brooklyn Nets. 

    Williams is still only 29 years old. He has plenty of quality years left in the tank, and he's talented enough that he can adapt without skipping a beat. 

    Nets fans, have confidence that your point guard is about to submit one heck of a season. He'll be right back in the thick of the race to be the league's best floor general by the end of the year. 

    Verdict: Stock up