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NBA Greatest Scorers of All Time
PPG Leaders (Points Per Game)

Who were the greatest NBA scorers of all time? The all-time points rankings are not the best measuring rod, because players with extremely long careers may have been much less dynamic scorers than players with fewer points. To find the all-time great scorers we have to consult a stat called PPG (Points Per Game). However, raw PPG stats don't tell the whole story, so I have also provided my subjective rankings along with reasons for each player's inclusion or exclusion. Two things I consider in my rankings are scoring efficiency (career field goal percentage) and the possible changes in scoring numbers due to the introduction of the three-pointer.

My personal Top Ten NBA Scorers of All Time

1. Wilt Chamberlain: While he's in a virtual tie with Michael Jordan at 30.07 PPG for his career, Chamberlain toned down his scoring in his later years to concentrate on defense, rebounding, passing and team leadership. No player in NBA history comes close to what Chamberlain accomplished when he was really trying to score as much as possible. From his rookie year up to his age 30 season, Chamberlain never scored below 30 PPG, and his 50.4 PPG in 1960-61 will almost surely never be topped. His career field goal percentage of .540 is second on this list only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's. And Chamberlain was consistently accurate, leading the NBA in FGP for nine of his fourteen seasons. Furthermore, his FGP was still going UP when he retired, since he led the NBA in FGP at age 35 (.649) and age 36 (.727). When it comes to pure scoring, no NBA player rivals Chamberlain, and he was also a dominating rebounder and defender who was such a good passer that he's the only center ever to lead the NBA in total assists (which he did during his 1967-68 MVP season when he averaged 24.3 points, 23.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game). The man known as The Big Dipper and Wilt the Stilt owns the four highest scoring seasons in NBA history, with 50.36, 44.83, 38.89 and 37.60. He also owns five of the top six, and half of the top twelve. There really is no debate about the NBA's greatest scorer, only a battle for second, which may be closer than one might expect ...

2. Michael Jordan: The man known as "Air Jordan" is the number two scorer on my all-time list, at 30.12 PPG for his stellar career. So much has been said about him, there's not much left to say. But I will add that he was a clutch shooter, an incredible athlete, and a great defender. Also his career field goal percentage of .497 is better than that of most of the scorers in my top ten. But Jordan was not as good an outside shooter as Jerry West and Pete Maravich, so an interesting question about the three-pointer becomes: "What would have happened with a level playing field?" And I find it ironic that MJ's championship rings are used to argue that he was the GOAT ("greatest of all time"). Jordan's teams didn't win anything his first six years, which included seasons in which he averaged 37.1, 35.0, 32.5 and 33.6 points per page. MJ was a great scorer who became a winner only when the Bulls assembled superior teams that included players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, John Paxon, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, et al. To me it makes absolutely no sense to say that MJ is the GOAT because he played on superior teams. When Wilt Chamberlain was lucky enough to play on superior teams, he won too. But his teams usually ended up playing the Boston Celtics when they had the superior team. By the "rings" logic, the best player of all time was Bill Russell, because he has the most rings (11). And his teammates would be superior to MJ because they had more rings: Sam Jones (10), K. C. Jones (8), Tom Heinsohn (8), Tom Sanders (8), John Havilcek (8), Frank Ramsey (7), and Jim Loscutoff (7). But of course it makes no sense at all to say Jim Loscutoff was "greater" than MJ because he had more rings. Thus it makes no sense to say that MJ was "greater" than other great players because his teams won more rings. If we put MJ on the worst team in the NBA, would he suddenly no longer be great? No, he would still be great but his team wouldn't win any rings.

3. Jerry West: I think the man known as "The Logo" will probably remain securely in fourth place on the all-time PPG list when all is said and done, just behind his former teammates Chamberlain and Baylor. But imagine what the sharpshooting West would have averaged per game with the three-pointer! I have no doubt that he would be challenging Chamberlain and Jordan for the top spot. West's .474 field goal percentage and his range suggest that he would have been one of the all-time best three-point marksmen. And people who saw him play say West could get his shot off quicker then Steph Curry. So I am moving West up to number three on my personal list.

4. Elgin Baylor: It remains to be seen whether LeBron James or Kevin Durant can pass Baylor's 27.36 PPG. It seems more likely that their PPGs will decline, especially if they elect to continue playing past their primes. So I think Baylor will remain in third place on the career PPG list, but only time can tell for sure. Baylor is fourth on my list because he would not have benefitted as much as Jerry West from the three-pointer. Also, his .431 field goal percentage falls short of my top three. But it's hard to argue with that brilliant 27.36 scoring average. And Baylor was the prototype of the athletically gifted, acrobatic small forwards to come: Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, et al. The first pick in the first round of the 1958 NBA draft, Baylor averaged 24.9 points as a rookie, then racked up seasons of 29.6, 34.8, 38.3 and 34.0 in one of the hottest scoring streaks in NBA history. And he did it while grabbing close to 20 rebounds per game and averaging around five assists. His 1961-62 season, in which he averaged 38.3 points, 18.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists, is second only to Chamberlain's best years in "complete offensive domination."

5. Pete Maravich: I'm sure this will be my most controversial pick. But Pete Maravich had seasons in which he averaged 31.1, 27.7, 27.0, 26.1, and 25.9 points per game. He did this while being his team's primary ball-handler, with everyone knowing "Pistol Pete" was also the primary scoring threat. And he did it without the three-pointer. When the three-pointer was introduced toward the end of his career, Maravich connected on .667 of his attempts (granted, the sample size is skimpy). The mind boggles at what he might have done in the modern NBA. And his career field goal percentage of .441 is rather amazing considering his "degree of difficulty." No one ever made impossible shots look as "easy" as the Pistol. Also, when Maravich died prematurely, it turned out that he had a congenital heart defect. What if he had been perfectly healthy and had the three-pointer? Again, the mind boggles.

6. Oscar Robertson: I have moved Oscar Robertson up in my personal rankings because his career field goal percentage (.485) is much better than that of Allen Iverson (.425) and Bob Pettit (.436). There is more to scoring than just raw points per game. Robertson was a more efficient scorer, and he would have probably have benefitted more from the three-pointer than Pettit. Furthermore, the Big O may have been the best all-round guard in NBA history, or he's right up there with Jordan, West and Magic. If I'm picking an all-time team, mine has Robertson in the backcourt.

7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The sky hook left defenders defenseless and helped Jabbar top this list with a stellar .559 field goal percentage. Also, Jabbar's 24.6 career average is a bit misleading. He played so long that his overall average declined with age. In his prime he was good for around 26 points and 14 rebounds, regular as clockwork. But he wouldn't have been helped by the three-pointer as much as West, Baylor, Maravich and Robertson.

8. Larry Bird: The gunslinger known as "Larry Legend" was the greatest clutch shooter in NBA history. And he may have been the best all-round shooter as well. Bird's field goal percentage was .509 on two-point shots and he wasn't padding his stats with dunks. He was one of the best three-point shooters of his era, connecting better than .400 six times and winning the first three three-point contests. And he made .886 of his free throws. Furthermore he averaged 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists. If he were starting over today with the modern game's focus on three-pointers, the savvy Bird would be practicing and shooting more three-pointers, I'm sure, and would probably rise in this list accordingly.

9. Rick Barry and Dominque Wilkins (tie): Barry was one of the all-time best free throw shooters (.900) despite shooting them underhanded, and he would have benefitted from having the three-pointer during his prime years. (He averaged 30.5 PPG during his ABA days with the three-pointer.) In his prime Wilkins, known as the "Human Highlight Film," was a dominating scorer and his .461 field goal percentage is considerably better than that of Iverson and Pettit.

10. Karl Malone and George Gervin (tie): Someone as big and strong as the Mailman should have been able to make better than .516 percent of his field goals, but it's hard to argue with 25.2 PPG and better-than-average accuracy. Gervin, the "Iceman," was almost as accurate (.511) while shooting mostly from the outside but oddly his three-point accuracy was under .300.

My Revised "Level Playing Field" List

This is my projected list if everyone started out from scratch with the modern emphasis on three-pointers: Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, George Gervin, Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone.

Near Misses and Honorable Mentions

Bernard King: A former New York City playground legend, Bernard King formed the "Ernie and Bernie Show" when he joined Ernie Gunfeld at the University of Tennessee and was a three-time All-American despite skipping his senior year to go pro. King was also a three-time SEC player of the year; the only other three-time winner was Pete Maravich. As an NBA rookie, King scored 24.2 PPG and set the New Jersey Nets franchise record for points in a season. He quickly developed into a high volume scorer with superior accuracy despite standing only six-foot-seven; for instance he averaged 21.9 PPG with a .588 FGP at age 24. His keys to scoring were quickness of foot and a quick release. After returning to New York to play with the Knicks, at age 27 he averaged 26.3 PPG with a glittering .572 FGP. At age 28 he averaged 32.9 with a .530 FGP. King had three 50 point games (two consecutive) and one 60 point game within a calendar year and scored 34.8 during the 1984 playoffs. But at the height of his glory, devastating knee injuries cost him two years and severely hampered the rest of his career. King never recovered his pre-injury explosiveness. At age 34 he completed his comeback by completely revamping his game, averaging 28.4 PPG despite his physical limitations. King became the oldest All-Star game starter, only to be forced to retire when his knees gave out again. For his career King averaged 22.5 PPG with a .518 FGA, but that was just a shadow of what he had done in his prime before his injuries. The only NBA players with higher season scoring averages than Bernard King's 32.9 are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, Elgin Baylor, Nate "Tiny" Archibald, and George Gervin. That's how good he was, and he was still getting better when disaster struck.

Adrian Dantley: A rather amazing player, he averaged 24.3 PPG with a .540 FGP while shooting mostly inside at only six-foot-five!

Kobe Bryant: Bryant's .447 career field goal percentage is not terrible but not great, and he took 4 three-pointers per game while only making .329. But his 24.99 career scoring average is hard to ignore.

Allen Iverson: His .425 career field goal percentage is not good enough to make my top ten, but he was a dynamic scorer.

Bob Pettit: He was a star of a very different game, but a .436 field goal percentage is low for a big man.

Julius Erving: The high-flying Dr. J averaged 28.7 in the ABA, but only 22.0 for his NBA career, with just one season above 25 PPG.

Shaquille O'Neal: The man known as "Shaq" averaged 23.69 PPG with a .582 FGP. There's no telling how much his woeful .527 free throw percentage hurt his scoring, because opposing teams would employ the "hack a Shaq" defensive technique, preferring their odds with Shaq at the line.

George Mikan: At six-foot-ten, Mikan was the NBA's first superstar big man. He led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons and finished with career averages of 23.13 PPG and .404 FGP.

Bob McAdoo: In his prime, McAdoo led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons with averages of 31.1, 34.5 and 30.6; he had seven seasons in which he averaged 25.8 or higher. His career averages were 22.1 PPG and .503 FGP.

Neil Johnston: A six-foot-eight center, Johnston led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons and finished with career averages of 19.42 PPG and .444 FGP.

Up-and-Coming: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Joel Embid, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard

NBA All-Time PPG Leaders (Points Per Game)
* Indicates a member of the Hall of Fame

Rank                                             PPG
1.    Michael Jordan*                    30.12
2.    Wilt Chamberlain*                 30.07
3.    Elgin Baylor*                         27.36
4.    LeBron James                       27.18
5.    Kevin Durant                         27.13
6.    Jerry West*                          27.03
7.    Allen Iverson*                      26.66
8.    Bob Pettit*                           26.36
9.    Oscar Robertson*                25.68
10.   George Gervin*                   25.09
11.   Karl Malone*                      25.02
12.   Kobe Bryant                        24.99
13.   Dominique Wilkins*             24.83
14.   Rick Barry*                         24.78
15.   Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*       24.61
16.   Larry Bird*                          24.29
17.   Adrian Dantley*                   24.27
18.   Pete Maravich*                    24.24
19.   Julius Erving*                       24.16
20.   Carmelo Anthony                 24.01
21.   Shaquille O'Neal*                23.69
22.   Anthony Davis                     23.54
23.   Damian Lillard                      23.24
24.   Stephen Curry                      23.22
25.   George Mikan*                    23.13
26.   James Harden                      23.12
27.   Russell Westbrook               22.98
28.   Paul Arizin*                         22.81
29.   David Thompson*               22.67
30.   Dan Issel*                           22.56
31.   Bernard King*                     22.49
32.   Dwyane Wade                     22.40
33.   Charles Barkley*                 22.14
34.   Bob McAdoo*                    22.05
35.   Kyrie Irving                         22.01
36.   Geoff Petrie                         21.82
37.   Hakeem Olajuwon*             21.77
38.   Blake Griffin                        21.57
39.   DeMarcus Cousins              21.53
40.   Alex English*                       21.47
41.   Dirk Nowitzki                      21.20
42.   Billy Cunningham*               21.18
43.   David Robinson*                 21.06
44.   Mitch Richmond*                 21.00
45.   Patrick Ewing*                     20.98
46.   Elvin Hayes*                        20.96
47.   John Havlicek*                    20.78
48.   Charlie Scott*                      20.69
49.   John Drew                           20.69
50.   Glenn Robinson                    20.69
51.   John Brisker                         20.69
52.   Chris Webber                      20.68
53.   Gilbert Arenas                      20.66
54.   Clyde Drexler*                     20.44
55.   Dave Bing*                          20.34
56.   Moses Malone*                   20.33
57.   Spencer Haywood*             20.27
58.   World B. Free                     20.27
59.   Bob Verga                           20.23
60.   George McGinnis*               20.20
61.   Lou Hudson                         20.16
62.   Marques Johnson                 20.10
63.   Walt Bellamy*                      20.08
64.   Bob Lanier*                         20.07
65.   Darel Carrier                        20.03
66.   Mark Aguirre                       20.00
67.   DeMar DeRozan                  19.83
68.   Mike Mitchell                       19.78
69.   Kiki Vandeweghe                 19.73
70.   Paul Pierce                           19.66
71.   Tracy McGrady*                  19.60
72.   Magic Johnson*                    19.54
73.   Neil Johnston*                      19.42
74.   Levern Tart                           19.40
75.   LaMarcus Aldridge               19.37
76.   Klay Thompson                    19.29
77.   Stephon Marbury                  19.26
78.   Kemba Walker                     19.25
79.   Chris Bosh                           19.25
80.   Jack Twyman*                     19.25
81.   Hal Greer*                           19.24
82.   Isiah Thomas*                      19.23
83.   George Yardley*                 19.20
84.   Larry Jones                         19.07
85.   Jamal Mashburn                  19.06
86.   Jeff Malone                         19.04
87.   Tim Duncan                        19.03
88.   Michael Redd                     19.03
89.   Yao Ming*                         19.03
90.   John Wall                           18.96
91.   Brad Daugherty                  18.96
92.   Derrick Rose                      18.92
93.   Amar'e Stoudemire             18.91
94.   Walter Davis                      18.90
95.   Walt Frazier*                     18.89
96.   Donnie Freeman                 18.88
97.   Isaiah Thomas                    18.86
98.   Ray Allen*                         18.85
99.   Earl Monroe*                    18.85
100.  Paul George                      18.82

Related Pages: Who is the NBA GOAT?, NBA All-Time PPG Leaders, NBA Greatest Scorers, NBA Greatest Shooters, Weird Sports Trivia, Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia, Best Baseball Nicknames, Mike Trout Nicknames, Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates, Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7, All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, Big Red Machine Chronology, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Cincinnati Reds Trivia

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