Star showdowns: Take your pick

Originally Published: March 13, 2013
ESPN.com

LeBron JamesMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James and Kevin Durant are front-runners for MVP. Who's had the better 2012-13 season?

A number of NBA superstars are having the best seasons of their careers, but how do they compare with their All-Star counterparts? Our panel takes sides.


1. Better 2012-13 season: Chris Paul or Tony Parker?


D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Chris Paul. Who works with a higher degree of difficulty? Parker gets to play in Gregg Popovich's tried and true offensive system, but Paul is the system in Los Angeles. Yes, Parker has been a much better scorer, but Paul still has him beat in nearly every other statistical category.

Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Tony Parker. It's difficult to pick against Paul, especially considering how he's averaging nearly two assists and two steals better than Parker, but the Spurs' point guard has been significantly more efficient offensively and is guiding a "less talented" team to a better record. That gives Parker the slight edge.

Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Chris Paul. Tony Parker has had the best season of his career, putting himself in strong contention for his first All-NBA first team nod, but Paul remains the best point guard in the world. Parker is closer than he has ever been to that crown, but he didn't really get his season going until Dec. 1. CP3's been more consistent throughout.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Chris Paul is the better player, and he's having the better season by such individual statistical measures as PER and win shares. Tony Parker is crucial to what San Antonio does, and his game fits symbiotically with the Spurs' system. Great year for Tony, but there's no shame in being below CP3's level.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Tony Parker. Not going to lie -- I had to stare at their numbers for a solid 15 minutes to make up my mind here. It's close. But I'm leaning Parker because he has been so consistently good. Since December, Parker hasn't had a game scoring in mere single digits. He has been San Antonio's best player almost every single night (that he has played), and that's saying something.


2. Better 2012-13 season: James Harden or Kobe Bryant?


Foster: Kobe Bryant. Saying this season has been "vintage Kobe" is almost demeaning. Kobe has been more efficient than ever, and his assist percentage this year is a career best. It says a lot about Harden that he's in this conversation, but this has been an all-time season from an all-time great.

Gutierrez: Kobe Bryant. This one is a landslide. Bryant has an edge in all the obvious numbers. And when you consider he's older and has been dealing with coaching changes and more significant injuries, it makes you appreciate what Bryant is doing so much more. Harden has learned to be a superstar very quickly, but Bryant is still better at it.

Haubner: Kobe Bryant. Two remarkably similar players this season: Both have been high-minutes, heavy-offense, little-defense shooting guards for fringe playoff teams in the West, with very close PERs and nearly identical clutch numbers. Kobe gets it by a chin just because L.A.'s offense has collapsed when he has been out. MJ is the only guard with a higher PER at age 34-plus.

Strauss: Kobe Bryant, but only because this Lakers playoff quest has bizarrely turned him into something of a folk hero. Bryant and Harden have produced similar stats as high-volume scorers for good offenses, and I might even give Harden the efficiency edge. The bearded one just hasn't evoked the wonder of watching Bryant, at age 34, doggedly trying to land this rudderless plane of a Lakers season.

Young: Kobe Bryant. Considering that of all the incredible, unbelievable seasons Bryant has put up, this one might be one of his very best, it's kind of hard to argue that Harden's campaign has been better. Especially since the All-Star break. Kobe has gone through a few different phases this year, from scorer to facilitator to both -- and he really hasn't seen a drop in efficiency at any point.


3. Better 2012-13 season: Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook?


Foster: Dwyane Wade. Scoring efficiency isn't everything, but the gap between Wade and Westbrook in that department is too big to ignore. True to their styles, Westbrook has thrown caution to the wind with some loud scoring performances, but Wade's smooth, controlled game has been consistently better.

Gutierrez: Russell Westbrook. And that's only because you have to take the entire body of work into play. Wade, once he has gotten completely healthy, has been the better player. But Westbrook, despite the inefficient shooting, has had a greater responsibility for a longer stretch of the season and has still kept his team in the running for top record out west.

Haubner: Dwyane Wade. Another very close one. For much of 2012-13, Westbrook has been the answer, but Wade has been so good over Miami's 20-game winning streak that he has leapt over the league's other premier second banana. D-Wade really has been in LeBron-Durant territory during the streak.

Strauss: Dwyane Wade wins this one on account of being a bit better per minute. Both players suffer from choosing a referee argument over getting back on defense, but Wade just happens to make better decisions on the offensive end. Westbrook is a good passer, but he still forces the issue with drives or pull-up jumpers when better options are available.

Young: Russell Westbrook. Outside of that LeBron guy, you could make a very good case that nobody in the league has been better in 2013. Westbrook has mostly solved two of his biggest problem areas -- shooting percentage and turnovers -- while increasing his scoring and distributing. That's pretty good.


4. Better 2012-13 season: Carmelo Anthony or Blake Griffin?


Foster: Blake Griffin. Anthony as a small-ball 4 has been a revelation offensively, but Griffin's vast improvements defensively have helped turn the Clippers into a top-five defensive team. The Knicks are only average in that area, and although that's not all on Anthony, he hasn't exactly done much to help, either.

Gutierrez: Carmelo Anthony. Again, this is about who has had to do the most heavy lifting. Look at the Clippers' roster, then look at the Knicks' roster. Melo has to do so much more to keep the Knicks relevant, and he has managed to keep them in the mix for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Or, you could put it this way: Who's the better MVP candidate? That's Melo, easily.

Haubner: Blake Griffin. Carmelo has possibly had a career-best season, scoring efficiently in a power forward role even with a league-high usage rate. But Griffin is a far better rebounder and passer (a vastly underrated element of his game) and is a more efficient scorer. Griffin has become underrated: His post and midrange games have improved. Also, Melo has missed several more games.

Strauss: Blake Griffin lives in Los Angeles, makes a lot of commercials and still might be the most underrated superstar of them all. Griffin has demonstrated an emerging facility with the jumper off the catch, and he still marries a guard's handle to a prototypical power forward's rebounding prowess. Carmelo was great earlier this season, but the Knicks are such a mess right now, and Anthony's defense is part of the problem.

Young: Blake Griffin. Statistically speaking, Melo has been better. But he also has missed 10 games, and a lot of them have just been from bad-luck injuries. Griffin has quietly had a very productive season while expanding his game incrementally from only around the rim to just mostly around the rim.


5. Better 2012-13 season: LeBron James or Kevin Durant?


Foster: LeBron James. What once felt like a close MVP race doesn't feel that close anymore. LeBron's month of February might have been the greatest month of basketball ever played. There's no need to get cute here; he's the better player having the better season.

Gutierrez: LeBron James. I believe the month of February settled this debate. LeBron is only now able to back off the gas pedal because Wade has gotten healthy and looked like his old self. Durant wins the battle against any other player in this discussion -- except LeBron.

Haubner: LeBron James. Durant has been extraordinary, on track for a 50-40-90 shooting season with continued sharp improvement in his passing. But LeBron's season is in the conversation for best of all time. James has shattered career bests in shooting efficiency and has guarded every position on the floor. In particular, it's possible no one has ever played basketball better than LeBron did in his otherworldly February.

Strauss: LeBron James has weeded the weaknesses from his game. His jumper now boasts laser-pointed accuracy, and his post game bludgeons defenders with the force of a launched wrecking ball. Credit to Kevin Durant for improving as a passer, but he's just not quite at LeBron's level yet. Nobody is.

Young: LeBron James. Durant could do something never done in NBA history -- shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the line while leading the NBA in scoring. But LeBron has been better. Which is really saying something about how special LeBron has been.