The NBA scoring title has never been decided in the first two weeks of the season, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a decent idea of who the league’s best scorers are at this point in the year.
The usual suspects are already near the top of the list, but there are a handful of players who are looking to get into the action for the first time. There are scorers on every level throughout the NBA, and players both young and old are making their cases.
Only four current players have ever won a scoring title—Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant—and while we could certainly see a repeat winner in 2013, there are a number of candidates who have a chance to claim their first title.
*Players are listed in reverse scoring order as of Nov. 13, 2012.
At this point in the season, there are a number of players who are scoring at a high rate, but the following are less likely to take home the scoring title when the year comes to a close.
Russell Westbrook has become one of the league's most aggressive scorers at just age 24. He is posting 21.1 points per game, he can finish above the rim, and his patented pull-up jumper is becoming one of the more difficult plays to stop in all of basketball.
So why is he just an honorable mention? As long as he plays on the same roster as Kevin Durant, it will be tough for the point guard to lead the league—let alone his own team—in scoring.
Rudy Gay has entered the 2012-13 season not only as the first option on the Memphis Grizzlies, but as a top-15 scorer in the entire NBA. He is averaging 19.5 points to begin the year, but his awful shooting percentages (39.3 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from deep range) could keep him from leading the league when it's all said and done.
O.J. Mayo has started off the 2012-13 season on the right foot, as he is averaging 21.4 points through the first eight games. He may have turned a corner, but once Dirk Nowitzki returns to the roster, the 2-guard will take a backseat to the team's true No. 1 option.
Stats: 20.1 PPG, 63.3 FG%, 50.6 FT%
The Los Angeles Lakers have hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach (according to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN), and Dwight Howard has the opportunity to be a major beneficiary of the team’s new style.
The Princeton offense was a bust, yet Howard has still managed to place inside the top 15 in scoring through seven games. The big man now has the chance to get out and run, which could help bolster his point-per-game average in a fast-break style scheme.
The beautiful part about the situation for Howard is that he still has Steve Nash if transition buckets are unsuccessful.
Nash is perhaps the best pick-and-roll point guard in the NBA, and Howard is arguably the best pick-and-roll center. When both are healthy, they’ll to have a chance to become the best pick-and-roll combo in the entire NBA.
The Lakers may still be Bryant’s team, but Howard has a chance to increase his scoring load and be right up there with the 34-year-old veteran atop the team's most potent scorers.
Stats: 20.7 PPG, 44.9 FG%, 25.0 3PT%
The Toronto Raptors did an outstanding job of acquiring talent in the 2012 offseason. A logjam on the perimeter was a possibility heading into the year, but luckily for the team and their fans, DeMar DeRozan has seemingly stepped up to the challenge.
The 23-year-old has never averaged more than 17.2 points per game in a season, but he's on pace to eclipse the 20-point mark for the first time in his career.
From an efficiency standpoint, the 2-guard is shooting the best he's shot from the field since his rookie season—with 10 more shots.
The problem with DeRozan is his inability to score from behind the arc. He is taking more than two shots per game from deep, and while this wouldn't be an alarming stat for some perimeter players, he's far more efficient when going to the rim.
If DeRozan can remain aggressive while learning discipline, he has the potential to be a dangerous scorer deep into his playing days.
Stats: 20.7 PPG, 39.3 FG%, 25.9 3PT%
Monta Ellis may share a backcourt with Brandon Jennings, but he has made it clear early in the 2012-13 season that he is the first option on the offensive end of the floor.
Ellis has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career. He is a high-volume scorer, but he hasn't always been someone who plays with the efficiency needed to truly succeed.
At this point in the year, Ellis is scoring more than 20 points per game while shooting under 40 percent from the field, and he is shooting just below 26 percent from the three-point line. If he can find his stroke at some point this season, he is going to challenge anybody in the league for a scoring title, as he is currently taking 19.5 shots per contest.
Assuming that Jennings eventually gets things rolling, Ellis’ points may take a hit. But then again, a backcourt mate who can alleviate some of the pressure to score could result in more open opportunities.
However it plays out, we know Ellis has his deficiencies, but we also know he is a threat to score game in and game out.
Stats: 20.7 PPG, 42.5 FG%, 77.8 FT%
LaMarcus Aldridge may not be the biggest name on this list, but the 6’11” power forward has established himself as the clear-cut No. 1 option on a rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers squad.
The 27-year-old was known for a long time as simply a jump shooter. He didn’t have much of a post-up game, and when he did play with his back to the basket, you knew a fadeaway was coming.
The big man has become a much more versatile option in recent years, as he can now be counted on to score anywhere from the low block to just inside the three-point line.
The Blazers have Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum to take the load off of Aldridge, but they also have hands-down the worst bench in the NBA. As a result, Aldridge is being asked to play nearly 40 minutes per game, which ironically enough is both a reason why he is scoring now and could be worn down late.
If Portland’s star can keep his fatigue under control by the end of the season, there’s a chance that all those minutes and all those shots push him closer to the top of the league than he has ever been before.
Stats: 22.9 PPG, 47.2 FG%, 30.3 3PT%
Kyrie Irving may be in just his second season, but the 20-year-old has already established himself as one of the best point guards in the entire NBA.
His ability to get his teammates involved in the game is uncanny for someone his age, but his knack for putting the ball in the basket is what helps take the pressure off the other players on the roster.
He is currently sixth in the league in scoring, and he is about as close as he can be to passing the league's defending scoring champ, Kevin Durant—Durant is averaging 23.0 points per contest.
Irving’s backcourt partner, Dion Waiters, has been a nice surprise on the offensive end. He is scoring at a higher rate than some expected, and he is shooting the ball rather efficiently as a first-year player.
The problem with Waiters is that his shot selection hasn’t been the best. Assuming Waiters hits a rookie wall at some point and those tough shots begin rimming out instead of rimming in, somebody on the Cavaliers must step up if the team is going to succeed.
That somebody can and will be Irving.
Stats: 23.0 PPG, 48.1 FG%, 33.3 3PT%
Kevin Durant has started the 2012-13 season with his lowest point-per-game average since his rookie year, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be among the league’s best scorers when the postseason finally arrives.
At just 24 years old, it’s mind-blowing to imagine that Durant may not even be in his prime at this point in his career. He has established himself as one of the league’s best players, and he is one of the more fluid scorers that the game has to offer.
His jump shot is lethal, his free-throw shooting is more than reliable, and he is a high-volume scorer who also puts the ball in the basket at an extremely efficient rate. As a top-five scorer early in the season, the 6'9" forward is just 4.3 points away from the No. 1 spot.
Durant hasn’t had any massive scoring outputs at this point in the year, possibly as a result of sharing the ball with another top-10 scorer in Russell Westbrook. While it can be argued that both players slow each other down in their race to the scoring crown, Durant has proven otherwise, as he is the proud owner of the last three NBA scoring titles.
Stats: 23.9 PPG, 55.0 FG%, 52.0 3PT%
LeBron James hadn’t truly busted out offensively in the 2012-13 season until the Miami Heat’s matchup with the Houston Rockets. The 27-year-old scored just six points in the first half, but he completely took over late in the contest, finishing with a season-high 38 points.
James is about as dynamic as it comes on the offensive side of the floor. We all know about his freakish physique, but he has proven to even his harshest critics that he has the skill set to take advantage of virtually any situation.
The forward can take smaller opponents in the post, he’s as dangerous as it gets in transition, and he can be deadly from deep when his shot is falling, as evidenced by his 5-of-8 performance from three-point range against the Rockets.
James has two players on his own roster to compete with for points, but more performances like the one against Houston will surely help the MVP climb the ranks as he puts together another run at a scoring title.
Stats: 25.9 PPG, 43.2 FG%, 25.6 3PT%
Nobody in the NBA came out of the gate as hot as James Harden. The 6’5” shooting guard scored 37 points in his first game of the season, and he followed it up with a 45-point encore against the Atlanta Hawks.
Following the trade that sent Harden to the Houston Rockets, it became clear that the 23-year-old is now the leader of his new team. Having always played behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden was apparently stuck in the shadows of two great scorers.
Now on a Rockets team that is full of youth and question marks, he can finally shine in the spotlight.
Harden is the only player in the top five in points to also be in the top five in minutes. He's taking full advantage of his time on the floor, and he’s making it clear that he’s worth every penny of the maximum contract he earned this offseason.
The 23-year-old has come down to earth since his first two performances, but he’s still averaging the third-most points in the entire NBA.
Stats: 26.1 PPG, 53.8 FG%, 43.3 3PT%
How can Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard both be on this list?
They’re both that good.
And, of course, they both have a coach who is going to give them plenty of opportunities to score. Recently hired Mike D’Antoni is known for his fast-paced style of coaching, and his teams have historically scored at an extremely high rate.
Bryant's current point-per-game average is competing with his numbers from 2012, which were good enough to earn him a spot as the second-highest scorer in the league—a spot where Bryant sits today.
When the stars came to L.A. in the 2012 offseason, we knew Bryant would have to sacrifice his shot attempts for the team to find success. He's shooting six fewer shots per game, but his field-goal percentage is above 50 percent for the first time in his illustrious career.
That right there is a recipe for success, and if Bryant can keep that trend going, he'll challenge anybody in the league for scoring supremacy.
Stats: 27.3 PPG, 44.0 FG%, 34.8 3PT%
Carmelo Anthony may be one of the most polarizing, scrutinized athletes in the entire NBA, but there’s no denying that he is also one of the game’s purest scorers.
The small forward averaged an unusually low 22.6 points per game throughout the 2011-12 season, but he’s back to his old tricks, leading the NBA in scoring through his first four games in 2012.
The sample size may be small, but the 28-year-old hasn’t averaged that many points since his days with the Denver Nuggets, and he looks to be motivated early in the new year.
Those who criticize Anthony will undoubtedly point out that Amar’e Stoudemire is absent from the lineup, and that once the big man returns, the scoring opportunities will begin to disappear.
This is a valid point, as Stoudemire has averaged 21.6 points over his 10-year career. But to be fair, Anthony seems to have a renewed energy this season, and he’s even showing improvements on the defensive end, which has resulted in more offensive opportunities.
It will be interesting to see how Anthony performs alongside Stoudemire later in the year, but if he can continue to play at such a high level, he has a chance to win his first scoring title in 2013.