Pictured: Two of the greatest scorers of all time join forces in Los Angeles, as Jerry West welcomes Shaquille O'Neal to the Lakers in 1996.
You’ve seen the list of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. You know the players in basketball’s Hall of Fame.
This list is different because it cares not for championships, defense, or athletic ability. It doesn’t give points for being a good guy. Quite a few played on bad teams that couldn’t make the playoffs.
You could characterize some as ballhogs, others as winners. All know how to fill it up on any given night, making scoring a lot points look much easier than it really is.
No, this isn’t a regurgitation of the NBA record book —how boring would that be—it’s a look at the NBA’s heartbreaking, unstoppable, on-court magicians.
Throw out that history book—this is my opinion of the league's greatest scorers.
Feel free to comment on any player you think should be on the list. Remember to mention who you think the player should replace on the list.
At 6’5”, Baylor soared over opponents as a precursor to Julius Erving and Michael Jordan. His 71 points in a 1960 game is astounding and his 27.4 career scoring average in 14 seasons cements his spot on this list.
Unfortunately, Baylor never won an NBA championship for the Lakers, and his teams were known for faltering versus the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Career high: 71 points
Career average: 27.4
My favorite statistic for King is his 28.4 average in the 1990-91 season. He was 34 years old and playing on a bad team, but to average more than 25-plus points at that age is very Jordanesque.
King won the scoring title in 1984-85 with 32.9 ppg and his comeback from several knee injuries proved the guts and determination required of any prolific player.
A born scorer, King led the SEC in scoring as a freshman (26.4 ppg) and as a junior (25.8).
Career high: 60 points
Career average: 22.5
The Human Highlight Film was more than a high-flying dunking machine. He could score consistently from anywhere inside the three-point line.
Nique led the NBA in scoring in the 1985-86 season with a 30.3 average.
Like King, Wilkins’ career was hampered by injuries, the most severe a ruptured Achilles tendon in 1992.
However, Wilkins managed to score 43 points on December 17, 1994, less than a month before his 35th birthday.
Career high: 57 points
Career average: 24.8
Iverson popularized cornrows, tattoos, and arm sleeves in the NBA, and his “Practice?” rant is one of the best-known quotes of all time.
A.I. has probably been a scoring threat since he stepped on a court. Though undersized, the 6’0”, 165-pound guard has no problem horrifying NBA defenses.
A four-time scoring champ and the 2001 NBA MVP, Iverson has scored 50 or more points in a game 11 times.
His 27.1 career scoring average is the second-highest for current players—Iverson’s average is for 13 NBA seasons while LeBron James’ 27.5 career scoring average only encompasses six seasons.
Career high: 60 points
Career average: 27.1
O’Neal is one of the most dominant players in NBA history.
For a decade he was nearly unstoppable, averaging more than 25 points a game in for ten consecutive seasons.
O’Neal led the league in scoring in 1994-95 and 1999-2000 and also led the NBA in field goal percentage nine times.
Career high: O’Neal celebrated his 28th birthday with 61 points against the L.A. Clippers.
Career average: 24.7
Abdul-Jabbar’s two scoring titles came early in his career, after his second and third seasons in the NBA. His single-game high of 55 points also came in his third season.
But the accolades would continue to be heaped upon the 7’2” center throughout his illustrious career.
The six-time NBA MVP and six-time NBA champion holds the career scoring record with 38,387 points, and he averaged more than 25 points in ten of his twenty NBA seasons.
Jabbar’s longevity is probably his best quality as he holds NBA records for minutes played and is second with 1,560 games.
Career high: 55 points. Jabbar is one of a few NBA greats to have a higher career high in college. Then known as Lew Alcindor, he scored 61 points in one game for the UCLA Bruins
Career average: 24.6
No doubt Kobe’s career scoring average is hindered by his lack of playing time early in his career and by playing with NBA great Shaquille O’Neal.
Still, Kobe has managed to carve out quite a niche for himself during his 13-year career.
Bryant has reached heights that the great Michael Jordan hasn’t touched:
Bryant scored 50-plus points in four straight games.
He’s also converted 12 three-pointers in one game and his 81 points vs. the Toronto Raptors is the second-highest single game total in NBA history.
He has five 60-plus games in his portfolio.
More mind-boggling, Kobe once scored 62 points in three quarters—more than the opposing Dallas Mavericks scored in the same three quarters.
Career high: 81 points
Career average: 25.1
Mr. Clutch could fill ‘er up.
West led the NBA in scoring in 1969-70 with a 31.2 average and the 6’2” guard often had to play the point guard position on teams full of scorers like Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, and Elgin Baylor.
His 27.0 career scoring average is impressive on its own but considering the scorers he played with, it’s quite unbelievable.
West was known for his playoff reliability, averaging 29.1 ppg in the postseason, second only to Michael Jordan.
West also finished in the top ten in assists per game seven times; leading the league in the category in 1971-72, the year he won his only NBA championship for a team that had an NBA-record 33-game winning streak.
He also had great success as the architect of several Lakers championship teams. He drafted Kobe Bryant, the best player to go straight from high school to the NBA.
Career high: 63 points
Career average: 27.0
Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history for several reasons, but before he became known as the game’s greatest player he was recognized as the NBA's best scorer.
Jordan’s 30.1 career scoring average is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for best of all time.
Jordan averaged a whopping 37.1 ppg in 1986-87—after a foot injury sidelined him for much of the 1985-86 season.
His 63 points vs. the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA playoffs is still the single-game playoff record.
Career high: 69 points
Career average: 30.1
Chamberlain is the NBA’s greatest scorer of all time.
Tremendous on-court achievement, combined with corporate influence from massive marketing campaigns, ensure that Michael Jordan is recognized as the greatest player of all time.
But Chamberlain dominates the NBA’s scoring records:
Wilt averaged 50.4 ppg in the 1961-62 season. The next season, Wilt only averaged 44.8 ppg—what a drop off.
Wilt scored 100 points in one game, a seemingly unbreakable record in today’s NBA.
Wilt won seven scoring titles, averaging more than 30 points a game in each of those seasons.
Ironically, the 7’1” center led the league in assists in 1967-68 and finished in the top ten on four occasions.
Career high: 100 points
Career scoring average: 30.1