The History of NBA Scoring: the reigns of Wilt, Kareem and Dantley

NBA Championship Lakers Pistons 1988

Who have the best scorers in the NBA been? Sure, players like Allen Iverson gets lots of accolades for scoring lots of points, but what happens when we factor in misses? I decided to look at the NBA top scorer “record” as decided by the amount of points a player scores in a season, with their misses factored in. This is the “net points” metric I like to use:

[Net Points] = [Points] - [Field Goal Attempts] - 0.44 * [Free Throw Attempts]

Astute readers will simply recognize this as True Shooting Percentage in a slightly different form. So let’s examine what should be the most coveted award in basketball, the best scorer, and we’ll go lead change by lead change back to the start of the NBA.

Name Season Net Points
Alex Groza 1950 131.9
Alex Groza 1951 134
Paul Arizin 1952 140.9
Ed Macauley 1954 150.2
Neil Johnston 1956 153.6
Kenny Sears 1959 227.3
Wilt Chamberlain 1962 270.3
Oscar Robertson 1963 337.5
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1971 453.4
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1972 480.9
Adrian Dantley 1982 511.1
Adrian Dantley 1984 563.8

The 1950s
Alex Groza in his only two seasons in the NBA managed to lead the league. This record was modestly improved on until it was destroyed in 1959 by Kenny Sears.

The 1960s – Wilt and Oscar
In 1962 Wilt took down Sears record. Of course, he did this thanks to many many more minutes. Wilt suited up for 48 minutes a game in 1962! This wasn’t to last as Oscar Robertson decimated the record in 1963.

The 1970s – Kareem Skyhooks the Competition
Greatest all-time discussions definitely don’t give Kareem as much love as they should. In the 1970s he completely blew away the scoring record, topping himself in 1972. He’d go on to be the all-time NBA points leader, and the all-time Net Points leader. He’d pretty much have a lock on the record if not for…

Adrian Dantley rules the 1980s
Dantley became the first player to eclipse 500 Net Points. Of course, he then destroyed that record in 1984, with the greatest per-game, per-minute, and total scoring season ever. In the 1980s the average Pace, which estimates the number of possessions a team has, was at about 100.0. Last season it was down to 92.0. Dantley’s Jazz averages 104 possessions a game. So it’s unlikely this record will ever be touched. Imagine the MLB decided to cut down the number of innings  by 1 for comparison. That said, his efficiency and scoring prowess were incredibly.

Summing Up

I’ve had a lot of fun with the all-time Net Points leaders, and rest assured, this won’t be the last you’ll see of this. As a spoiler, Durant will definitely be making an entrance soon.


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