Predicting NBA's Top 10 Scorers This Season
Harden's ridiculous 36.1 points per game far outpaced the 28.1 scored by Paul George, while Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.7), Joel Embiid (27.5) and LeBron James (27.4) rounded out the top five.
Some major offseason movement could mean a shakeup at the top of these standings. Russell Westbrook (22.9) should eat a large chunk of the Rockets offense. George now joins No. 7 scorer Kawhi Leonard (26.6) and Lou Williams (20.0) with the Los Angeles Clippers, while former No. 1 options James and Anthony Davis (25.9) could take shots from each other as well.
In total, 13 players averaged 25.0 points per game or more last season, an increase from nine in 2017-18 and the four players who reached that mark only five years ago.
With scoring up across the board and so many gifted one-man offensive machines, here's how the top-10 NBA scorers should finish.
Nos. 10-6: James, Towns, Lillard, Embiid, Beal
10. LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 25.6
2018-19 Points Per Game: 27.4 (5th)
Expect a slight fall in the rankings for James, who's entering season No. 17 and supposedly wants the Lakers to play through new teammate Anthony Davis.
While Davis may become the first teammate of James to actually outscore the four-time MVP, James hasn't averaged fewer than 25.3 points per game since his rookie season in 2003-04. With no third star, his scoring numbers will remain steady enough to crack the top 10, even with Davis taking the bulk of the shots.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will be in the running for this spot as well, but Lou Williams will take more field-goal attempts away from the other L.A. duo than Kyle Kuzma or anyone else will for the Lakers. James hasn't fallen out of the NBA's top 10 scorers in the past 15 years, and he won't start now, even at age 34.
9. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 25.9
2018-19 Points Per Game: 24.4 (15th)
Don't be surprised if Towns makes the biggest leap at the top of the scoring race this season thanks to a combination of his improving play and the loss of Derrick Rose in free agency.
Towns, 23, is entering his fifth season and has set career highs in made three-pointers per game (1.8) and free throws (4.9) last season. That's a great sign for his scoring growth considering his elite accuracy (40.0 percent from three, 83.6 on free throws) for a big man.
With Rose and his 18.0 points per game joining the Detroit Pistons in free agency, Towns is going to have to carry an even bigger share of the offense, especially if Andrew Wiggins (career-worst 41.2 percent shooting in 2018-19) continues his inefficient ways.
8. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 26.2
2018-19 Points Per Game: 25.8 (11th)
Lillard's scoring has dropped the past two seasons, but a recent roster shakeup may end that streak.
Portland will be without Jusuf Nurkic (15.6 points per game) to start the season. Enes Kanter (13.1), Al-Farouq Aminu (9.4) and Seth Curry (7.9) all left in free agency, and the team traded Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard this summer as well. While new additions Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore should help make up for those losses, Lillard may feel extra pressure to carry the scoring load while the new Blazers settle in.
Now firmly in his prime at age 29 and coming off a third-place place finish among guards in ESPN's real plus-minus rankings (5.08), expect Lillard to jump slightly in these standings.
7. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 26.8
2018-19 Points Per Game: 27.5 (4th)
Embiid was a bit of a sneaky fourth-place finisher a year ago, perhaps overshadowed by his position and ability to do so many other things on the court.
A tremendous defensive talent and skilled rebounder, Embiid has increased his scoring, field-goal attempts and shooting percentage in each of his three seasons. With just 158 career games under his belt, there's still plenty of time to add tricks to an already impressive post game.
If Embiid can develop a more consistent outside shot (30 percent on 4.4 attempts per game last year), he'll force defenses to step out and guard him, opening up more pump-fake and drive opportunities.
While he may not reach last season's scoring mark with a more shot-happy Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson around, Embiid remains one of the toughest big men to guard.
6. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 27.0
2018-19 Points Per Game: 25.6 (13th)
With John Wall likely missing the entire 2019-20 season with a ruptured Achilles, who else besides Beal is going to score for the Wizards?
Washington's leading returning scorer outside of Beal is 22-year-old center Thomas Bryant, with a whopping 10.5 points per game. Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky took 64.6 total points per game with them out the door in free agency, meaning Beal should comfortably find himself in the top 10, if not the top five.
After Wall went out for the season Dec. 26, Beal averaged 27.2 points per game over the final 47 contests, a mark he should once again come close to reaching.
5. Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 27.1
2018-19 Points Per Game: 25.9 (10th)
Davis finished second in scoring just two seasons ago (28.1 PPG) and was putting up 29.3 for the New Orleans Pelicans into January last year before requesting a trade and suffering through various injuries.
While James will take his fair share of shots, he'll also be the best playmaker Davis has ever shared the court with.
"We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there's no sense to have him on the floor," James said, per Kurt Helin of NBC Sports. "He's that great. It doesn't mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it."
As good as Davis is around the rim and off the dribble, we could see him take the next step as a catch-and-shoot three-point marksman. Davis was a respectable 46-of-122 (37.7 percent) and his catch-and-shoot threes last season, and James should make sure the 26-year-old gets the most open looks of his life.
After facing constant double-teams last season, Davis should also have far more room to operate with the presence of shooters Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso surrounding him.
4. Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 27.9
2018-19 Points Per Game: 26.6 (8th)
Still somehow just 22, Booker is ready to make yet another leap, now into the top five scorers in the NBA.
His shot chart is all over the place. From three-pointers to under the basket, mid-range and the free-throw line, the Kentucky guard's offense comes from all area codes.
The big difference for Booker will be the addition of point guard Ricky Rubio on what has been a continually rebuilding Suns team.
Rubio has already called Booker one of the "best scorers ever," per The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti, stating: "I want to see how good a scorer he is and how good a player he has been. And if there are some areas where I can help [Booker] become an All-Star, I will try to do that too."
Despite reducing his average shot distance last season, Booker's efficiency dropped as he was asked to play point guard for a significant portion of his time on the court. A career-low 29.5 percent of his two-pointers and 57.8 percent of his threes were assisted, a sign he would greatly benefit from playing next to a pass-first point guard.
Booker will need to continue to expand his off-ball game and catch-and-shoot stroke to capitalize on Rubio's presence, and the eight-year veteran shouldn't eat up too many shot attempts for himself. Expect a jump in both Booker's raw scoring and efficiency numbers this season.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 28.6
2018-19 Points Per Game: 27.7 (3rd)
The reigning MVP is continuing his climb up the scoring charts, even without a reliable jump shot. Even if Antetokounmpo never turns into an above-average three-point shooter, he could still win a scoring title as early as this year.
The Bucks also lost Malcolm Brogdon (15.6 points per game) to the Indiana Pacers, and Nikola Mirotic (11.6 points) returned to the EuroLeague. Most of the supporting cast (Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, George Hill) remains the same.
Much of the 6'11", 242-pound forward's offensive game is built on power. With a chiseled physique that was nowhere to be found during his rookie season, Antetokounmpo can bully players in the paint before throwing down a dunk without hardly leaving the ground.
He almost completely abandoned the mid-range game last year (just 6.3 percent of shots taken from 16 feet to the three-point line), instead taking a career-high 57.3 percent of his attempts from within three feet of the basket. The result was a whopping 279 dunks, or nearly four jams per game.
With Antetokounmpo still just 24 years old and only getting stronger, we could see the seventh-year pro sniff 30 points per game this season.
2. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 29.7
2018-19 Points Per Game: 27.3 (6th)
No Kevin Durant. No Klay Thompson (until February).
Curry is about to remind everyone what a one-man offensive machine he can be.
The last time Curry didn't have Durant beside him he led the NBA in scoring at 30.1 points per game en route to a unanimous MVP. Now without Thompson (21.5 points on 18 field-goal attempts in 2018-19), Curry could return to or even surpass those numbers.
Last season, Curry averaged 27.7 points and 19.1 shot attempts per 36 minutes when sharing the court with Durant. When Durant sat, Curry's numbers spiked to 34.4 points on 27.1 shots per 36.
The wild card is D'Angelo Russell, who could either help or hinder Curry's chances at a second scoring title. While Russell will be tasked with carrying his share of the offense, it gives the Warriors a point guard who can help get Curry the ball coming off screens and in catch-and-shoot situations more often, where he drilled 44.6 percent of his threes.
Curry forces such defensive gravity that he needs a player like Thompson or Russell to pull some of the defensive attention away, even if he's able to shake loose enough for an open shot no matter where he decides to pull up from inside half court.
This will be the best statistical season we've seen from Curry in four years, and at age 31, he should show no signs of slowing down.
1. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
2019-20 Projected Points Per Game: 32.4
2018-19 Points Per Game: 36.1 (1st)
Harden will win his third straight scoring title, even if the margin of victory isn't as great.
Swapping Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul raises the ceiling of these Rockets but also means Harden sacrificing shots, something he rarely had to do with Paul.
Possessing perhaps the best footwork of any guard or big in the league, Harden can pull off stepbacks and crossovers that can flat-out embarrass defenders, leaving them temporarily disoriented before recovering in time to watch Harden splash a jumper in their face.
Harden has also become the master of the whistle, leading the NBA in free-throw attempts for the past five years and six of the last seven.
Adding Westbrook will mean a drop in scoring for Harden, but let's not treat this as a death sentence for his incredible offensive game.
Paul George did finish second in scoring last season while sharing the court with Westbrook, and that was on a team that featured shot-happy Dennis Schroder as well. Westbrook has also led the NBA in assists each of the past two years, and the Rockets don't have a lot of extra offense outside of Eric Gordon and Clint Capela.
Harden will still dominate the ball for stretches when Westbrook needs a rest, with the added motivation of not winning a second MVP keeping him above 30 points per game for the third year in a row.