Who is the greatest scorer in NBA basketball history? The player with the most total points in NBA history is clearly Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain though have the highest amount of points per game.
However, points scored should not be the only measure of a
great scorer. At a ridiculous extreme (at least in professional basketball), a
player might average 60 points per game but take every one of his team’s shots,
in which case – given that NBA teams average around 100 points per game – that
team is not winning many games. To my mind, a better measure of a player’s
scoring prowess is ‘net points’, which subtract from a player’s scoring total
the points a player’s team did not score because he missed shots. On average,
NBA teams score about one point per possession, so a player missing a field
goal and who uses up his team’s possession is on average costing his team a
point (the penalty is a bit less than half a point for a missed free throw).
Over at The Wages of Wins Journal it has been calculated
that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a relatively efficient scorer, still leads
all scorers when total points are replaced by total net points, and quite
easily. That is, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gained the most ‘extra’ points for his
team over his career. Case closed then? Not quite. When I looked at who
was the NBA’s greatest rebounder, I essentially defined it as the player in
NBA history who was most likely to grab a rebound that was offer. Similarly, in
my mind, the greatest scorer in NBA history is the player who, in any typical
minute, would be most likely to successfully get the ball in the basket.
For that then, I think we need to divide a player’s total
net points by the number of total minutes he played. And if you do that, then
the player who emerges as the greatest scorer is … Adrian Dantley, with almost
13 net points per 100 minutes. Artis Gilmore, Kevin Durant and Charles Barkley
are next, with over 11 net points per 100 minutes. Then there are a bunch of
players with about 10 net points per 100 minutes, including among others,
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and
LeBron James. Jordan though would be up
with Gilmore, Durant and Barkley if he hadn’t come out of retirement at 38 to
play with Washington.
One other point to note is that less points are scored per
game in the current era in which Durant plays than they were in Dantley’s era. Durant
would be pretty close to Dantley if one accounts for the relative
points per game of their eras.
So that means I’ve called Dennis Rodman the NBA’s
greatest rebounder, and Adrian Dantley the greatest scorer (or at least
joint greatest with Kevin Durant). That means the 1986-87 and 1987-88
Detroit Pistons had both the greatest scorer and greatest rebounder on their
roster. Neither though was at their peak at this time (Dantley was on the way
down, Rodman had just began his career and was playing limited minutes), which
might be why those Pistons teams did not sweep all before them, though they
would win back-to-back championships without Dantley soon after. Also while
Dantley was an amazing scorer, and Rodman was an amazing rebounder, it is a
rare player who can make major contributions on multiple fronts.