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NBA AM: 10 Players Who Have Raised Their Game

Basketball Insiders looks at 10 players who are off to fast starts. Can they keep up the pace? Or will they fade?

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Are these players for real or will they eventually fade?

While it’s still early in the 2014-15 campaign, there have been a variety of guys who have stepped up their respective games and are headed toward career years. Every season we see guys move into the next tier and likewise we see players fall into a category below their established standard. Some are in different environments, others playing under a new head coach and others who are motivated by securing a new contract.

Whatever the case, here are some guys that are earning respect this season due to their strong play:

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
2014-15 stats:
14.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 51% FG, 57% 3PT, 8 GP

Shumpert spent the majority of the 2013-14 season hearing his name in countless trade rumors en route to the worst campaign of his professional career. But to start this season Shumpert, now playing under new head coach Derek Fisher, is on his way to a career year with career bests in points, assists and field goal percentage. The fourth year guard will enter next summer on the free agent market, although the Knicks will have the right to match any offer for his services – provided the franchise doesn’t attempt to capitalize off Shumpert’s hot start and flip him for an asset.

Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers
2014-15 stats:
21.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 44% FG, 36% 3PT, 7 GP

Can you truly evaluate gaudy stats on a woeful team? It is a timeless question. It is also a question that will be considered when trying to gauge Wroten’s development as a player. Philadelphia is just not a good basketball team this season as they continue to rebuild, but Wroten has been their most dynamic player by far. Buried on the bench in Memphis as a rookie, Wroten has continued to make strides with the playing time he’s been granted in Philadelphia. In the end, that’s all you can ask for.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
2014-15 stats:
13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 46% FG, 43% 3PT, 7 GP

The Golden State Warriors have gotten off to a hot start and while the attention focuses on their outstanding guard duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Green’s performance in the starting lineup in place of injured David Lee should be also be noted.

Mike Scott, Atlanta Hawks
2014-15 stats:
9.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 51% FG, 52% 3PT, 6 GP

Scott’s numbers won’t be the most dynamic on this list, but the forward also sits behind All-Star Paul Millsap on the depth chart. Nonetheless, Scott is currently shooting 52 percent from three-point range and on pace to knock down 164 from beyond the arc this season.

Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 stats:
21.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 42% FG, 5 GP

The absence of All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant has given Jackson a platform to showcase his talent. The fourth year guard was unable to secure an early contract extension and is headed to (restricted) free agency next summer. Word is Jackson is seeking multi-year deal which pays eight figures annually. With the way he’s playing he will most certainly get it during the offseason.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
2014-15 stats:
19.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 50% FG, 39% 3PT, 6 GP

Butler is another player from the 2011 rookie class who was unable secure an early extension. But instead of letting it impact his on court play, Butler has responded is setting career marks in points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage to start the season.

Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers
2014-15 stats:
15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 20 3PT made, 8 GP

How quickly the once mighty have fallen. The Indiana Pacers were considered title contenders last season but the 2014-15 campaign is just about survival without All-Star Paul George. To make matters worse, former All-Star David West has been on the shelf during the early going. However this has given Copeland, in a contract year, an opportunity to play extended minutes. To date, he has been an important part of the Pacers’ offense – particularly his work from beyond the arc.

Gary Neal, Charlotte Hornets
2014-15 stats:
13.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 40% 3PT, 8 GP

Entering the season all of the attention in Charlotte centered on the impact of free agent signee Lance Stephenson in the Hornets’ backcourt. Stephenson has been up and down early, but Neal has been a consistent cog in Charlotte’s backcourt averaging close to 27 minutes per night.

Perry Jones, Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 stats:
15.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 46% FG, 5 GP

Oklahoma City’s roster currently resembles a mash unit. Jones is currently on the shelf too. But in the five games the forward did play Jones was considered one of the early surprises of the campaign.  It is tough to envision a scenario where Jones continues to put up big games scoring when reigning MVP Kevin Durant returns, but at the very least likely carved out some additional minutes in the nightly rotation.

Donald Sloan, Indiana Pacers
2014-15 stats:
13.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 8 GP

Sloan has spent a lot of time bouncing around the league looking to find his niche. The guard finally got an opportunity for extended minutes with the Pacers this season as incumbent starter George Hill is out due to injury. Sloan has produced solid results thus far and while the number aren’t spectacular, the soon to be free agent has proven that he belongs in the league.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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