Kobe Bryant and the 9 Most Deadly Scorers in the NBA
Judging by the early stages of the 2012-13 NBA season, we've entered a golden age of scoring in the Association.
Lethal scorers come in all shapes and sizes these days, and they continue to revolutionize the game by abandoning the mid-range jumper, instead adapting their play to what's become a universally accepted inside-outside game.
Prerequisites for elite scorers no longer involve solely a clean jump shot, as offenses have begun to revolve around superstars taking on expanded roles that require a full arsenal of moves to score the basketball.
Here are the nine most deadly scorers in the NBA, ranked in order.
Note: All stats in this article are accurate as of Monday, Dec. 24.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
It's not often that you see a volume scorer like Dallas Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo shoot a higher percentage from three-point range than from the field.
So far this season, Mayo is converting on 48.6 percent of his three-point attempts, good for third in the NBA, while knocking down a steady 47 percent of his shots from the field.
Mayo's play has been a pleasant surprise for Rick Carlisle, as he enabled the Mavs to retain a high-powered offense in Dirk Nowitzki's absence.
Signed to a one-year deal this summer, Mayo is playing for big money in a contract year and is earning himself serious cash and credibility with each impressive performance.
USA TODAY Sports
It may be Kyrie Irving's second year in the NBA, but he's made it clear that he's already one of the league's most creative scorers.
Firmly entrenched as one of the league's top 10 scorers, Irving is leading the Cleveland Cavaliers with 22.8 points per game, knocking down shots at a 47 percent clip from the field and a quality 40.5 percent from deep.
Irving has matured at a rate many prognosticators believed he would not, and his rapidly improving jump shot has contributed significantly to his ascension into the upper echelon of NBA point guards.
In addition to his pretty stroke, Irving's lightning-quick first step provides him with enough moves to keep opponents guessing as they attempt to slow down one of the league's premier young guards.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Golden State Warriors are arguably the NBA's biggest surprise through the first two months of the season, and they've been led by the steady play of point guard Stephen Curry.
Curry's currently shooting 42.4 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from deep and 90.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Leading his team in scoring with 20.2 points per game, Curry is quickly solidifying his spot as one of the NBA's most dynamic point guards.
The fourth-year man out of Davidson College possesses a complete offensive game that has him looking like a shoo-in for the All-Star Game and potentially an All-NBA bid if he maintains his pace.
Brett Deering/Getty Images
It's not always going to be pretty with Russell Westbrook, but his ability to catch fire and take over games is enough to land him a spot on this list.
While Westbrook's numbers shooting from the field are down five points from a year ago (down to 40.7 percent), he's knocking down threes at a career-high 35.2 percent clip.
Often criticized for having tunnel vision on the offensive end, Westbrook has a tendency to neglect open teammates in favor of taking contested runners or jump shots, but in the end, you have to take the good with the bad.
Westbrook's pull-up jumper in transition is one of the best in the league, and his unique ability to get to the rim at will makes him one of the most dangerous scorers in the NBA.
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden's arrival in Houston has propelled him to the forefront of the league's scoring-title conversation. On an offense in which Harden is the undisputed No. 1 option, the bearded one has thrived under the spotlight.
Harden is exceeding expectations while shouldering the scoring load for a young team, a role he was never tasked with in Oklahoma City.
In his first season with the Rockets, Harden is averaging 25.6 points per game, good for fourth in the NBA, and shooting 44.3 percent from the field.
Harden's shooting percentages are down from where they were a year ago, but that's understandable when you come to realize that he's taking seven more shots per game.
Instead of being a complement, Harden is now a primary scorer of the basketball.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
LeBron James ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 25.4 points per game for the defending champion Miami Heat.
While many don't associate James with being a pure scorer, the reigning MVP is confident he could be the league's leader in that category were he to pursue such a role.
According to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, James is well aware of his pure scoring potential:
LeBron: "If I wanted to, I could lead the league in scoring. But that's not my job here."— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 22, 2012
He has a point. James has only led the league in scoring one year, and that was in 2007-08 when the Cleveland Cavaliers relied on him to be the team's primary, secondary and tertiary sources of offensive production.
The Heat are loaded with complementary pieces, many of whom are adept shooters, so LeBron's job at this point is to do it all.
USA TODAY Sports
One of the season's early favorites for MVP, Carmelo Anthony has tweaked his game to adapt to his new position.
Now playing an effective stretch 4 for the New York Knicks, Anthony's arsenal of shots has expanded, and so has the diversity in his game.
Once thought of as a conventional jump-shooter, Melo's reincarnation as a do-it-all combo-forward has been integral to the Knicks' resurgence.
Using his quickness and brute strength to overpower the opposition, Melo is now averaging 28.3 points per game, good for second in the NBA.
Gotham's savior is knocking down 46.8 percent of his shots from the field and is only slightly worse from beyond the arc, converting on 43.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
USA TODAY Sports
At 34 years old, Kobe Bryant is still bombing away, and the two-time scoring champion has shown no signs of slowing down in his 17th season.
The NBA's leading scorer at the moment, Bryant is averaging 29.7 points per game, shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Although the Lakers have struggled to find consistency throughout the early stages of the season, Bryant has been one of the team's few constants.
The game's foremost authority on all things scoring is putting up career numbers once again, and his quest to win a third career scoring title is off to a great start.
USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant is seeking to become just the third player in NBA history to win four consecutive scoring titles. The only other players who can boast that title are Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Durant is having a career year thus far, currently ranking third in the league in scoring with 27.9 points per game (although he's doing so on three fewer shots per game than the men in front of him).
If the season were to end today, Durant would be the newest member of the exclusive 50-40-90 club; he's shooting 52.1 percent from the field, 42.7 percent from beyond the arc and 90.4 percent from the charity stripe.
Durant is the best player on the league's best team, and he has done enough so far to be considered the front-runner for MVP as an NBA Finals rematch with the Miami Heat looms.