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New Year’s Resolutions for Some of the NBA’s Top Superstars

17 December 2015: Cleveland Cavaliers Forward LeBron James (23) looks to pass while being guarded by Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Kevin Durant (35) during the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Oh. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)
Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

The New Year is upon us. Goals and resolutions will be front and center (for at least a couple weeks) for people all over the world. And NBA players are no different.

Even the very best in the league aren’t perfect. All the players, from MVP candidates to 12th men, have things they can work on.

With that in mind, we’ll examine a few areas of improvement for the league’s top 10 players. As these lists are generally subjective, we’ll leave the selection process to Basketball-Reference’s purely mathematical MVP probability calculator to determine who makes the cut:

Rk Player Tm W/L% FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS Prob%
1 Stephen Curry GSW .967 .511 .446 .630 .902 5.7 6.4 2.2 0.1 3.7 30.5 85.0%
2 Russell Westbrook OKC .688 .467 .302 .501 .821 6.9 9.3 2.5 0.3 4.4 25.6 4.2%
3 Kawhi Leonard SAS .818 .507 .480 .570 .883 7.4 2.8 2.1 1.0 1.2 20.8 3.4%
4 Kevin Durant OKC .688 .519 .408 .584 .898 7.5 4.8 0.9 1.3 3.1 26.6 3.2%
5 Draymond Green GSW .967 .462 .407 .529 .709 9.0 7.0 1.3 1.4 3.0 14.9 2.6%
6 LeBron James CLE .700 .488 .250 .512 .720 7.4 6.0 1.4 0.7 3.6 25.7 0.8%
7 James Harden HOU .485 .416 .338 .484 .868 6.1 6.9 1.6 0.8 4.5 28.4 0.2%
8 Kyle Lowry TOR .594 .416 .388 .503 .879 4.9 6.2 2.2 0.6 2.9 20.9 0.2%
9 Blake Griffin LAC .594 .508 .353 .514 .725 8.7 5.0 0.7 0.6 2.4 23.2 0.2%
10 Chris Paul LAC .594 .460 .361 .507 .902 3.3 8.9 2.0 0.0 2.6 17.9 0.1%
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2015.

With the 10 players selected for us, we can look at individual New Year’s resolutions for each.

STEPHEN CURRY – Cut Down on Turnovers

It seems insane to nitpick one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history, but even Stephen Curry would likely admit he still has things to work on.

In the immediate future, cutting down on turnovers should be the goal. Curry is averaging 3.7 turnovers this season and is ninth in turnovers per 100 possessions among players qualified for the assist leaderboard.

He still takes a lot of chances with the ball that he really doesn’t need to. For example, most of the whip-over-his-head-skip passes would probably still be open if he took the half second to collect himself. If not, he could just make the easy play or take another three.

Just imagine if Curry swapped one turnover for one more three-point attempt each game.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK – Improve Three-Point Shooting

With all the attention Curry’s rightfully getting, some other incredible individual performances have flown under the radar this season. For example, Russell Westbrook is posting a cool 25, nine and seven, while shooting 47 percent from the field.

He’d be well over 50 if not for his three-point shooting, though. Among the 64 players who are averaging four or more three-point attempts per game, Westbrook’s 30.2 percent ranks 59th.

He doesn’t need to get much better, but 33-34 percent would make him that much closer to being unguardable. If you have to close out hard on the three-point line, it’d be impossible to contain his first step.

KAWHI LEONARD – Start Drawing Fouls

Kawhi Leonard’s breakout season has truly been a wonder to behold. He’s just the seventh player in NBA history to average 20 points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block, but there’s an area for improvement.

Among the 20 players averaging 20 points this season, Leonard is 19th in free throw rate (number of free throw attempts per field-goal attempt).

The best scorers in the league are those who can overcome a bad shooting night by getting to the line. It’s why James Harden is still averaging significantly more points than field goal attempts, despite shooting 41.6 percent from the field.

KEVIN DURANT – Stay Healthy

Kevin Durant has been his old self this season, averaging 26.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from three.

Given his recent injury history, the goal for Durant should simply be to stay this course as healthily as possible.

This isn’t really something he can control, but it should still be a goal. And really, it should be one we all get behind.

DRAYMOND GREEN – Start the 15, 9, 7, 1 and 1 Club

Quick, name all the players in NBA history who’ve averaged 15 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block for an entire season. Don’t worry if you couldn’t come up with anyone. There hasn’t been one yet.

Draymond Green has a chance to be the first. He’s right at nine rebounds and seven assists and is one tenth of a point shy of 15. He’ll comfortably eclipse the marks for steals and blocks.

And heck, even if he can’t quite start the 15, 9, 7, 1 and 1 club, he’ll still be the first member of the 14, 9, 7, 1 and 1 club.

LEBRON JAMES – Fix Jump Shot

Even in his 30s, LeBron James has been nearly as productive as ever, but his jump shot is starting to betray him.

According to Bleacher Report, James has the worst field goal percentage outside the paint among players with at least 200 attempts this season at 28.6 percent.

It’s tough to know exactly what the answer is, but as James’s athleticism starts to falter (it happens to everyone), he’ll need to be better and better outside the paint. Improvement there can extend a career. Just ask Jason Kidd.

JAMES HARDEN – Be a Leader

Harden’s as talented a scorer as anyone in the league, but his lack of leadership has been on display this season. The Rockets are scratching and clawing to stay at .500, despite being a darling pick to make the Western Conference Finals before the season started.

Things got so bad so fast in the locker room that head coach Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into the season. You can certainly point to the coach for lack of effort, but at the NBA level, some of that responsibility falls to the team’s best players as well.

Harden has to lead by example. If he plays with effort on both ends, his teammates will follow.

KYLE LOWRY – Improve Shot Selection

Kyle Lowry has quietly been one of the most productive point guards in the NBA this season. He’s among just four players in the league averaging 20 points, six assists and two steals:

Per Game Shooting
Player AST STL PTS FG% ▾
Stephen Curry 6.4 2.2 30.5 .511
Russell Westbrook 9.3 2.5 25.6 .467
Eric Bledsoe 6.1 2.0 20.4 .453
Kyle Lowry 6.2 2.2 20.9 .416
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2015.

But at 41.6, Lowry is shooting a significantly lower percentage from the field than the other three on that list. Mid-range inefficiency could be the culprit.

Over 30 percent of his attempts are taken between the ranges of three feet from the rim and the three-point line, and he’s shooting just over 30 percent there.

Eliminating some of those long twos would make him even more efficient.

BLAKE GRIFFIN – Figure Out How to Protect the Rim

Blake Griffin has played 16 percent of his minutes this season at center, the most he’s been there since the 2012-13 season. It’d be nice if the Clippers could go to small-ball lineups with Griffin at the 5 even more, especially with DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting down the stretch.

But to be able to do that, Griffin would likely need to improve his rim protection. Of the 140 players Griffin’s height (6’10”) or taller who’ve logged 1,000 minutes since he entered the league in 2010, Griffin ranks 121st in block percentage. And he’s allowing 56.6 percent at the rim, seventh among Clippers.

Going small is a killer when you can’t protect the rim. Griffin wouldn’t have to transform into a great shot blocker, but he’d at least need to be a deterrent for L.A. to have some truly effective small lineups with him at the 5.

CHRIS PAUL – Stop Flopping

I’m sure Chris Paul doesn’t lose any sleep over it, but his name is connected with flopping all over the internet. Just Google or YouTube search “Chris Paul Flop.” It’s a big reason “Why Everyone in the NBA Hates the Los Angeles Clippers,” according to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck.

Paul is the leader of the team and his theatricality has been inherited by all his teammates. Maybe the Clippers like being the villains. If not, they can take a lot of heat off themselves by simply getting less flopping from their leader.

Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com, and through games played on Dec. 29.

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