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NBA "Superstars" : What it means and who they are


Recently there has been alot of discussion here on BSOTS comparing and contrasting the respective games of "star" players in the NBA. In addition to beloved Suns players such as Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, I'd like to  discuss other NBA greats, more specifically, I'd like to talk about what the term "Superstar" really means, and also who exactly those special NBA players are. They are part of an elite group, and by my definition, there are not alot of them. I do differentiate between a "star" and a "superstar.' The later term denotes a player who is a cut above (sometimes far above) the group of simply "great" players we know as stars. To be a "Superstar" a player must consistently dominate long stretches of games. This player possesses such ability that he often enters the pantheon of legends who make it into the Hall of Fame. I would say most Superstars do eventually become Hall of Famers -- that is how I view this special designation. I use it sparingly and a player must do alot to earn it. Currently in the NBA I see only eight players who fit the bill. There are a group of borderline players and past Superstars who have fallen out of the group. I will examine these players as well.

The Definition: An NBA Superstar is a player who dominates games, in one form or another, for long stretches of time on a fairly consistent basis. A Superstar raises the level of play of his team overall, and this being the case usually plays for a winning team.  He is also recognized as such a player by his peers and by the public at large.

 

Because my definition demands consistency, generally rookies and younger players do not break into this elite group. All time greats such as Magic, Bird or Jordan would be Superstars as rookies, but they are the exception and not the rule. If a player earns Superstar status, that does not mean that he maintains it automatically for the course of his career. Some players drop off dramatically in performance, and in these cases a player could "lose" his status. Once lost, he could then "regain" this status. There are other players, like Chris Paul who are a Superstar, but due to his current injury and significant lack of playing time this season fall off my list of current Superstars. This list is supposed to describe the NBA elite today in the "here and now." If and when he returns to his previous level he would regain that status. In addition, there are players like Steve Nash who were Superstars in past seasons who I have  lowered slightly in status from Superstar to All-star. Nash was a Superstar circa 2005-6 (in his prime) when he won two consecutive MVP Awards. He dominated the game not by scoring, but by controlling the tempo and distributing the ball like a mad genius. For that time, when he started there was no question who the best player on the floor was. Thanks to comments from Hawk I am currently reconsidering Nash's status and may update my list in the near future.

So, essentially I have six categories in which I can place any active NBA player. 1) Superstar (for the rare "elite"). 2) Star/All-star (these would be players who are "very good" and have been selected as All-Stars, but do not rise to  Superstar status). Examples would be players like Chris Bosh, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger or even Kevin Durant. In the case of Durant, I have not included him in the elite group of Superstars because a) he is young and is just now having his first truly great season. I do however fully expect him to become a Superstar next year if he continues to play at his current level and the Thunder continue to win. 3) Very Good . In this group I would include "glue guys" such as Marcus Camby, Shane Battier, who are exceptional in their specially defined roles, but who don't necessarily put up big gaudy numbers and who aren't generally recognized by the public or rewarded with "Star" status. Every great team needs these kinds of guys to win however. 4) Good. This category more than the others is probably open to the most disagreement and argument. Is Jared Dudley "very good" or just "good?." This would obviously be open to debate and I encourage your discussion. 5) Average. 6) Scrubs  I think these last two categories speak for them selves.  Steve Blake = Average.  Sasha Vujacic = Scrub.   

It is important to emphasize that this is not statistically based and therefore is not an exact science. I would expect to encounter disagreement on many players in the Very Good and Good categories, but much less disagreement when it comes to who the Superstars are. There may be a handful of players who are controversial in this regard. In any case, here are my list of Superstars, and then the next level of players who are All-Stars/Stars. The second group is not complete/exhaustive, so I welcome your recommendations and amendments.

 

The Superstars

1. LEBRON JAMES:  Is there any question any more who the best player in the NBA is? James is virtually a shoe-in to win his second consecutive NBA MVP Award and in the process guide his Cavs to the NBA's best record. He, more than any other player epitomizes the term domination in the context of the NBA competition. The scary thing is that he probably can still get better. Not only is James averaging a league leading 29.9 PTS per game, but he is shooting an amazing 50% from the field, which is almost a full five percentage pts higher than Superstar #2 Kobe Bryant, who is shooting 45.7%. When comparing James to Bryant I think the most important thing to look at is who they play with -- that is, who are their teammates. Kobe plays with what is widely considered the most talented roster in the League. James, in contrast, other than Shaq, (who just arrived this season) lacks even a single Star on his roster. He is the show. And he raises the level of play of his teammates. It is hard to image the Cavs being even .500 without James. With his 7.3 rebounds per game and 8.6 assists he comes close to averaging a triple-double. He is the epitome of the Superstar. 

2. KOBE BRYANT:  Though there is a big gap between James and Kobe right now the postseason could change this. If Bryant leads his Lakers to another Title, and if they were able to defeat James' Cavs, then Kobe would take over the number one spot again. For the time being he is without question number two. Not only is James beating Kobe in all three of the major statistical categories (Pts per game, Rebounds per game and Assists per game), but he is also shooting a much better percentage. Indeed, Kobe detractors (of which I am admittedly one) point out that Kobe takes too many shots in order to get his points. Unlike James, who is loved by his teammates, the same cannot necessarily be said for Kobe. While they undoubtedly respect him and defer to him, few observers who are aware of Lakers team culture would say Kobe is loved by his teammates. There is still a perception that Kobe is selfish, and his tendency to stray from the triangle and dominate the ball for long stretches make him not only the Black Mamba but the Black Hole of the NBA -- once the ball goes in it never comes out! But, Kobe is able to take over games single-handedly. He does dominate games, and he does it frequently. This is what makes him a Superstar. In addition to being the best closer in the game (coach Gentry recently called him the best closer of all time , and it would be hard to argue that) Kobe is perhaps the best at making difficult and contested shots (D-Wade is also excellent at this).  While Kobe isn't quite as athletic as he was a few years ago (now more of his pts come from jumpers than drives to the basket) he is still the most dangerous player in the closing seconds of a close game.

3. DWIGHT HOWARD: Like James Howard will only get better. He is the most dominant defensive player in the game today and controls the  paint like no other. His 2.7 blocked shoots per game average is almost a full block per game ahead of his closest competitors. His line of 18.5 pts pg, 13.1 rebounds pg and 2.7 blocks is simply awesome. Despite his poor FT shooting his field goal percentage of 60.8% is off the charts! Of course most of these shots are dunks. Last I checked he led the NBA in dunks. When he develops his offensive game by adding the mid-range jumper and perhaps an Akeem like spin-move he will be a true terror. As is it he is the number 3 Superstar in the NBA.

4. TIM DUNCAN:  Tim Duncan is undoubtedly the most quiet Superstar in the League. If you take a look at his career accomplishments Duncan is quite impressive: 12x NBA All-Star, 4x NBA Champion, 2x MVP, 3x Finals MVP etc..Despite his advancing age (in NBA standards 33 is old) his scoring hasn't dropped off over the last four years, and neither has his rebounding. This season he is averaging 18.3, 10.3 and 3.1 in Pts, Rbds, and Asts respectively. Many consider Duncan to be the greatest power-forward of All-Time.  Perhaps the best thing you can say about Duncan is that he is one of the most intelligent big men and intelligent players (in terms of basketball IQ) that has every played. He is excellent at making in-game adjustments and is equally efficient scoring around the rim or at burrying the mid-range jumper or his trade mark bankshots. He may be the best passing bigman the game has ever seen. His ability to dominate has more to do with how the Spurs offense flows through him than in his ability to score large chunks of points in short periods of time. He demands double teams from almost all opponents  and this is when he kills them by making the right decision and getting the ball out to the Spurs 3pt shooters.

5. DWAYNE WADE:  A dynamic offensive force. He grasped the Golden Ring and title of Superstar when he slayed the Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals. He is one of the few players who can take over a game at the offensive end and he does so enough to maintain Superstar status. Unfortunately, Wade lacks the roster around him to take his team back to the promised land. He needs an All-Star caliber player to compliment him. Jermaine O'Neal isn't quite enough. Will he stay in Miami or will he go? 

6. AMARE STOUDEMIRE:  As I have stated recently in several comments here on BSOTS Amare has just recently entered this elite group of players. I have just moved him up from eighth to sixth on my list. With his game last night against the Warriors in which he exhibited true Superstar domination and changed the course of the contest by a vicious dunk over Tolliver he initiated this upgrade. Previously I failed to mention his excellent FT shooting. He has excellent shooting touch for a power forward, especially one who possesses a true power game. It is an amazing combination! Both his performance against the Jazz last Friday and the Warriors yesterday were examples of true Superstar domination. His defense has also improved Ieaps and bounds and that is helping the Suns to evolve into a team capable of delivering good defensive efforts night in and night out. We have a Superstar guys, and his name is Amare STOUDEMIRE.

7. CARMELLO ANTHONY:  Similar to James and Howard, Melo is one of those young players who seems to have unlimited potential. That is, we may not have seen the best of him yet. Here and now he is the third leading scorer in the NBA and is consistently bringing it every night. His Nuggets are challenging the Lakers in the West and his team recently knocked off the Cavs in Cleveland in a stunning overtime win coming out of the All-Star Break. Melo's ability to dominate arises from a lethal combination of power and outside touch. He can drive and finish at the basket with the best of them as well as bury the 3 pointer consistently.  Along with LeBron, Kobe and D-Wade he is one of the top four one-on-one offensive players in the game.

8. DIRK NOWITZKI: The best shooting forward in the game. His 25.1 and 7.7 are solid for a team that just won 13 straight before falling to the Knicks at home.  Dirk is a nightmare to defend due to his size and unstoppable jumper. Someone else on BSOTS recently called his fadeaway the most unstoppable shot in the game, and that may be correct. He is not only a one time League MVP , but also led his team to a Finals appearance. There is no question that Dirk belongs on this list.

9. Steve Nash : I talked about Nash above. I'm still struggling with this. I guess I am open to arguments. On the one hand I know he is our most valuable player, and yet, part of my definition would preclude Nash being included in the Superstar category. It 's the part about "being recognized by peers and the public at large" as such a player. Most NBA fans wouldn't list Nash as a "Superstar." At least that is my guess. Then again, they probably wouldn't list Amare as one. Whether we like it or not part of the suffix of the word : superSTAR implies fame and popularity. Outside of Canada Nash doesn't sell alot of jerseys. Maybe I should change my definition so I can include Steve? What do you think?

10. Deron Williams: Not quite on Nash's level yet. His fortunes will be tied to his team. A Finals appearance would certainly cement him as not just a great point-guard but as a Superstar. For now he'll have to settle for being an awesome "Star". 

11. Chauncey Billups: He's another one of those guys who do alot of things that don't show up on the stat sheet. I love his toughness and he's a winner -- got a Finals MVP in fact.  When he arrived the Nuggets went to another level. Mr. Bigshot is definitely clutch.

12. Kevin Durant: His star is on the rise. Depending upon how the Thunder do in the post-season he could crack the Superstar group next season. I make it hard for young players to crack this group because consistency is a big part of it. But I fully expect him to get there. Soon.

13. Chris Bosh: Similar to Durant in that he's not there yet. The main thing is that his team isn't very good. It's hard to become a Superstar on an average team.

14. Brandon Roy.

15. Carlos Boozer.

16. Gerald Wallace

17. Joe Johnson.

17.  Jason Kidd..

 

I won't go into the rest of the list. It's open for discussion, so please feel free to discuss.

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