15 NBA Players Off to Hot Starts Who Won't Cool Down

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2013

15 NBA Players Off to Hot Starts Who Won't Cool Down

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    Anthony Davis and Paul George are off to hot starts in 2013-14, and chances are, they won't cool down anytime soon.
    Anthony Davis and Paul George are off to hot starts in 2013-14, and chances are, they won't cool down anytime soon.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    At its most fundamental level, basketball is a team game, but the 2013-14 NBA season has seen a number of individuals get off to a blazing hot start.

    For some of these players, the heat will ultimately cool by the year's end. Evan Turner, for example, is having his best season to date, but like the Philadelphia 76ers as a whole, his season should be long forgotten when the year comes to a close.

    Other players are off to strong starts on the surface, but quite frankly, we know they can play better. James Harden, for instance, is averaging 24.9 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds through eight games, but his three-point shot looks awful, as he's making a career-low 27.6 percent on a career-high 7.3 attempts.

    Then, of course, there's the studs who are in it for the long haul. You'd better believe the Kevin Durants and Chris Pauls of the league make this list, but there's a few standouts you may not have expected along the way as well.

    Expectations certainly play a role in determining who starts the year hot, but when it comes down to it, it's all about producing at the highest level.

    *Players are listed in alphabetical order by last name. All stats through Nov. 12

Honorable Mentions

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    LaMarcus Aldridge 

    The big man in Portland endured trade rumors all summer long, but to begin the season, he's been incredibly efficient at the power forward position.

    Along with averaging 22.6 points per game, he's shooting better than 50 percent from the field and grabbing more than eight rebounds per contest. We just have to wonder if he can continue to be the go-to option with Damian Lillard on his side, in order to stay hot throughout the year.

    Ty Lawson

    Is this the year that Ty Lawson makes the next step toward becoming a great NBA point guard? Maybe, maybe not.

    Early in the year, the 26-year-old is averaging career highs in points, assists and rebounds, and he's shooting 38.5 percent from the three-point line. He's become the No. 1 option on a Denver Nuggets squad that badly needed one, but the question is whether he can keep it up following the return of Danilo Gallinari later in the year.

    John Wall

    John Wall is a jump shot away from becoming an elite NBA floor general, and the truth is that he's closer than ever to making that happen. He's averaging 17.4 points, 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest, and his three-point shot has improved to 35.5 percent on a career-high 4.4 attempts per game.

    Bradley Beal will challenge him as the No. 1 option all year long, but with both playing a lot of minutes early in the year, their stats may be sacrificed for longevity toward the end of the season.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 23.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 20.2 PER

    Year after year, Carmelo Anthony is one of the most highly scrutinized players in the NBA, yet year after year, we see him post ridiculous numbers that only the league's best players could ever hope to replicate.

    Since Anthony made his transition into the paint, we've seen a new 'Melo. The one-time small forward has played 65 percent of the New York Knicks' minutes at the 4, according to 82games.com, and he's pulling down a career high in rebounds as a result.

    Despite being known as a defensive liability through most of his career, the 6'8" forward is holding his opponents to a PER (per 48 minutes) of just 12.6. That's compared to 27.9 at the small forward position, where he's played 19 percent of the team's total minutes.

    Anthony is ready to finally win big, and if the team still can't get past the powerhouses in the East, it won't be his fault this time around.

Eric Bledsoe

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    2013-14 Stats: 20.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.4 RPG, 52.2 FG%, 25.4 PER

    If the Phoenix Suns are tanking, somebody forget to tell Eric Bledsoe.

    The 23-year-old point guard has looked fantastic during his first year in the desert, and quite frankly, he doesn't look like he's cooling down. He's shooting an incredible percentage from the floor, and while his long-range shot has room to improve, he knows where his hot spots are, and he does a good job of remaining disciplined. 

    Shot Distance (via Stats.NBA.com)

    Closer than 8 ft.263966.7
    8-16 ft.3837.5
    16-24 ft.91656.3
    Further than 24 ft.92733.3

    If Bledsoe can either cut down his attempts or improve upon his three-point shot, he'll be right where he needs to be in Phoenix's offense. He's already showing he can be counted on in the clutch, and with his defense looking solid as well, he's proving that he was worth the hype of the past few seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins

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    2013-14 Stats: 23.5 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 27.8 PER

    The Sacramento Kings are bad.

    Like, really bad. 

    That, along with his troubled history, makes DeMarcus Cousins an easy player to overlook, but if all goes according to plan, people will be talking about him as one of the league's best centers when the year is all said and done.

    Through six games, Cousins has the fifth-highest PER in the NBA. He's behind Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul for the top honor, and it's largely because of his solid shooting percentage and ability to impact both sides of the court.

    We've been hearing about Cousins' potential for a while now, but boneheaded mistakes have made him a player easy to forget about at the end of the day. It's those same mistakes that nearly made him an honorable mention on this list, but his early showing in 2013 gives us hope that he's finally put it together.

Stephen Curry

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    2013-14 Stats: 20.0 PPG, 8.4 APG, 3.3 RPG, 45.3 3PT%, PER 26.6

    To the casual fan, a drop in points per game equals a drop in production.

    To the Golden State Warriors fan who sees what Stephen Curry does night in and night out, this guy just keeps getting better and better.

    Warriors hand 76ers 1st loss of season. Stephen Curry plays just 29 minutes - 18 Pts, 12 Ast, 10 Reb, 5 Stl (2nd career triple-double).

    — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 5, 2013

    During the 2012-13 season, Curry posted a PER of 21.3—a career high at the time. This season, although the sample size is small, his 26.6 PER is reason to celebrate among fans in the Bay Area.

    Curry's points-per-game average has dropped to 20, but once again, you must look at other areas of his game. He's posting a career high in assists, which has helped Klay Thompson score 19.6 points per contest in just his third season.

    Curry's ankle will always strike fear in the hearts of Warriors fans, but so long as he's on the court, good things will happen. This team will be elite in 2014, and Curry is the No. 1 reason why.

Anthony Davis

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    2013-14 Stats: 20.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 BPG, 28.7 PER

    Anthony Davis is proving that if he'd stayed healthy during the 2012-13 season, he would have at least challenged Damian Lillard as the NBA's Rookie of the Year.

    At 6'10", Davis has played more than 50 percent of the New Orleans Pelicans' minutes at center, per 82games.com. He's recording a monstrous PER (per 48 minutes) of 34.00 at the position, and his stat line shows just how effective he can be when he's able to stay on the floor.

    So far, Davis has played in all eight games for the Pelicans, tallying 36.1 minutes per contest. The only way he slows down is if the injury bug bites yet again—something fans in New Orleans are hoping was a one-time thing in his rookie year.

    As most predicted in the 2012 draft, Davis is the real deal. He's one of the best two-way players in the game today, and he doesn't even turn 21 until the end of the regular season.

    No. 23 is here to stay, and few will argue that fact if he continues to play this way through 2014.

Kevin Durant

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    2013-14 Stats: 30.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 28.7 PER

    Kevin Durant has been the NBA scoring champion three of the last four years, and if it weren't for sitting the final game of 2012-13, he may have been a four-time champ in his first six seasons.

    To start 2013-14, Durant is scoring better than 30 points per contest. He's once again leading The Association in that particular category, with the next-highest scorer being Kevin Love at 26.4 per game.

    Simply put, there's very little stopping Durant. His three-point percentage is the lowest it's been since his rookie season, yet he continues to dominate the competition night in and night out.

    With Durant shooting a lower percentage from downtown, maybe people will give credit where credit is due and recognize his ability to score in the mid-range. According to NBA.com, he is shooting 50 percent from between 16 and 24 feet, which is his most accurate spot on the floor outside of the restricted area.

Paul George

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    2013-14 Stats: 24.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 40.4 3PT%, 25.8 PER

    Over the past year, we've watched Paul George go from promising young prospect to all-out star. The injuries to Danny Granger have opened the door for the 23-year-old to succeed, and needless to say, the youngster has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

    While George is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage, the fear is that his production will drop when Granger makes his return. The true fear, however, should come from Granger, as the Indiana Pacers are officially George's team.

    George's offensive numbers look great, and quite frankly, they're saving the Pacers from being even closer to the bottom of the league in scoring. But where the swingman makes a difference is on the defensive side of the floor.

    Throughout the early part of the season, he's holding his opponents to a remarkable PER of just 6.9 (per 48 minutes) at the small forward spot, according to 82games.com. That's compared to 12.0 in 2012-13, and while it's difficult to believe that number will hold, it's easy to see how valuable the forward is on both sides of the ball.

Blake Griffin

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    2013-14 Stats: 22.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 57.1 FG%, 21.9 PER

    Eight games is hardly enough to say how much a player has improved from one year to the next, but at this point in the process, Blake Griffin looks to be taking his progression to an NBA superstar seriously.

    One of the biggest knocks on Griffin's game through four seasons has been his jumper. Luckily for him and the Los Angeles Clippers, that's an area that looks better early in the 2013-14 campaign. 

    Shot Distance (via NBA.com)FGMFGA FG%
    Closer than 8 ft.527767.5
    8-16 ft.41040
    16-24 ft.143540
    Further than 24 ft.2450

    Defense is still an issue early in the year, but solid scoring and rebounding will keep this team near the top of the conference the entire season. Having Chris Paul as a teammate doesn't hurt either, which is why we can expect him to continue finding good looks the rest of the way.

Roy Hibbert

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 9.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 4.4 BPG, 17.3 PER

    Roy Hibbert is the only player on this list averaging fewer than 10 points per game, which shows just how good he's been on the defensive side of the floor.

    At 26 years old, Hibbert wants to be the Defensive Player of the Year. The beautiful thing is that he's not afraid to show it, and he recognizes what it can do for the success of the Indiana Pacers. 

    People act like I can't have individual goals. I didn't talk about it in the past. Well now I am. I WANT DPoY. That's gonna help my team win

    — Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) November 7, 2013

    At this juncture, Hibbert is well on his way to earning those honors. He's leading the NBA in blocks per game, and his team is allowing the fewest points per contest at 84.5.

    At 7'2", 290 pounds, Hibbert must learn to dominate the rebounding category as well, but when it comes to impacting the paint defensively, few do it like this guy. 

Dwight Howard

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    2013-14 Stats: 17.6 PPG, 14.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 18.6 PER

    Say what you want about Dwight Howard and his decision-making over the past two seasons. The big man is dominating with the Houston Rockets.

    Between injuries, a dreadful year with the Los Angeles Lakers and an incredible amount of drama, people have been ignoring the fact that Howard is still the best center in basketball. He lacks the finesse moves that everyone wants to see, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to finish above the rim, not to mention his dominant defensive presence.

    Sent to the Stands: Dwight Howard comes over on help defense and sends Blake Griffin's shot attempt into the stands. http://t.co/0SmSsGTh53

    — NBA Breaking News (@NBABNN) November 10, 2013

    Howard left the Los Angeles Lakers for a number of reasons, but he's finding success in a similar style offense with the Rockets. The team is pushing the pace (they're sixth in the league in that category, according to ESPN.com), and with that unlikely to change anytime soon, you can expect his numbers to stay high all year long.

Kyrie Irving

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 19.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, 16.0 PER

    People have been waiting to see what Kyrie Irving can do with some legitimate talent around him, and so far in 2013-14, the results have been what we expected.

    Irving's scoring is a bit down from last season, but he's improving exactly where he's supposed to improve. His assists are up to nearly top-five status, and he's using his 6'3" frame to have a bigger impact on the glass.

    The problem is that he's shooting a lower percentage despite taking shots at career-high levels. He needs to focus on either getting his teammates more involved or making more of his shots, especially the easy ones.

    If you've watched Irving throughout his career, he's shown an incredible ability to stay hot without slumping. If this is considered a slump, the future looks even brighter than once anticipated, as his shot is bound to come around before we know it.

LeBron James

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    2013-14 Stats: 25.5 PPG, 7.3 APG, 5.5 RPG, 50.0 3PT%, 58.6 FG%, 27.1 PER

    If you didn't think LeBron James would be on this list, you don't understand just how good the 28-year-old is at this point in his career.

    For those of you who want to argue that his points are down, fair point. His points per game are two below his career average, but what's important to note is that his shot attempts are at an all-time low at 15.8 per contest.

    Defensively, James is holding his opponents to a lower PER (per 48 minutes) at the 4-spot than the 3, per 82games.com. That said, his net PER is 20.9 at the power forward position, where he has played 40 percent of the Heat's total minutes this season.

    When you think about an all-around player, there are few who exemplify the idea more than James. He's won four out of the last five MVP awards, and another solid year will put him in a great spot to win his third straight championship.

Kevin Love

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14 Stats: 26.4 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 36.4 3PT%, 29.1 PER

    If we've learned one thing so far in the 2013-14 season, it's that the Minnesota Timberwolves—and the NBA as a whole—are far, far better with Kevin Love in action.

    After playing in just 18 games in 2012-13, Love is on a mission to get to the playoffs. Last season was supposed to be the year in Minnesota, but a myriad of injuries prevented the 'Wolves from coming anywhere near that accomplishment.

    Along with the injuries, Love's shot simply wouldn't fall in 2013. He posted a career-low 35.2 percent from the field, and his three-point percentage dropped to a measly 21.7 percent.

    This time around, his shot is falling, and he's putting up video game-like numbers in the process.

    If you're Minnesota, you love to see his three-point shot return—not to mention his mammoth-sized rebounding numbers. But at the end of the day, his five assists per game are finally allowing people to recognize just how good of a passer he is.

    His game is rounding into shape during his sixth year, and if Wolves fans get their way, it will mean a return to the postseason.

Kevin Martin

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    2013-14 Stats: 24.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 55.8 3PT%, 23.0 PER

    Kevin Martin may not be a LeBron James-like stat-sheet stuffer, but luckily for the Minnesota Timberwolves, that's not what he was supposed to be for his new team.

    For those who believe Martin was overpaid during the offseason, look at what he was brought in to do. He was supposed to give Minnesota a legitimate scorer behind Kevin Love, and he was expected to help the team from behind the arc in the process.

    At this point in the year, Martin has done both of those things to the tune of career bests, and the Wolves are looking like contenders for a late seed in a stacked Western Conference.

    Not only has the guard boosted his own numbers, he's helped emphasize just how good of a passer Love can be. According to NBA.com, Love has assisted on more of Martin's shots than any other player not named Ricky Rubio.

    This team is building chemistry early in the season, and while it's unfair to assume Martin will shoot 55 percent from deep all year, it's safe to say that the early stretch is a sign of good things to come.

Chris Paul

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    2013-14 Stats: 21.3 PPG, 12.4 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 SPG 28.4 PER

    Chris Paul has long been considered one of the top point guards in the NBA, and once again, he's proving that he deserves to be atop that subjective, yet prestigious list.

    Through eight contests, Paul leads the league in assists per game by a relative long shot. He's getting his teammates involved at an extremely high rate, and as a result, the Los Angeles Clippers are third in assists (26.4 APG) and first in scoring (109.9 PPG) in the NBA.

    He's also averaging a career high in steals, which helps balance out the otherwise porous defense being played in L.A. during the early part of the year.

    Aside from being an absolute superstar, Paul has something else going for him that leads us to believe he'll only improve. His shot has yet to fall with consistency, which means he's forced to put his best assets to use on a nightly basis.

    If Paul's shot continues to misfire, the point guard will be content racking up assists and chasing after loose balls. That said, if it finds its mark before the end of the year, the league had better watch out.