Each week, NBA.com writers will talk about some of the hottest topics around the league.
In Sunday’s games, eight players average 29.5 points (or more) per game. Who of this bunch will emerge as this season’s NBA scoring champion?
STEVE ASCHBRENNER: With Election Day still fresh in our minds, I’m going with a little leaderboard vote (that’s how the NBA and most leagues determine their annual awards, just not the stat leaders). So I’ll go with these as my top 3:
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas
2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City
3. Steph Curry, Golden State
Doncic has what it takes to snag his first scoring title. He’s currently (33.5 ppg as of Monday) leading the pack of them, the Mavericks are built around him like his last name is Nowitzki, his field goal attempts and usage rate are at career highs and quite frankly he’s overdue to lead the league a traditional category. Also, I expect his 3-point shooting, currently at a personal low (28.8%), will fall back to his mean, adding an extra half point to his scoring average the rest of the way could.
Gilgeous-Alexander was a meteor that flew across the NBA sky and I think he’s legit. He’s liking this breakout season he’s got and aiming for a top scorer’s crown is a great way for him to stay focused on what’s likely to be another long year for OKC (improving but still losing).
As for Curry, he’s just scored his sixth 50-point game since age 30 (11th of his career) and nobody can score as many goals as the all-time 3-point king. He already has two of those titles, but if he wins one at 35 years and 26 days, Curry would break Michael Jordan’s stranglehold on the top 3 spots as oldest champion (MJ did it at 35-72, 34-72 and 33 – 72 in 1998, ’97 and ’96 respectively). Steph might like that.
Brian Martin: From this field, my top three contenders are Luka Doncic (33.5 ppg), Stephen Curry (32.3 ppg), and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31.1 ppg). From this group, Doncic is my predicted scoring champion.
Curry has been shooting out the lights this season: 52.9% from the field, 44.7% on 3-pointers (on 11.8 attempts), and 90.3% on free throws. He could join Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players with multiple 50-40-90 seasons if he maintains that level of efficiency. What hurts Curry is that he has the second-lowest utilization of that eighth field (29.7%) and Golden State needs Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole to get back into the playoffs.
Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging a career-best 31.1 ppg (up 6.6 ppg from last season) and is also currently averaging 50-40-90 shooting splits (albeit with almost nine fewer 3-point attempts than Curry). Gilgeous-Alexander has the fifth highest usage of this group (31.5%) and averages the second most field goal attempts (21.3), which is 7.1 more attempts than any OKC teammate. However, all of these numbers are below what Doncic is doing.
He has a combination of utilization rate (37.3%, that’s third, just behind Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant), field goal attempts (league-high 22.8), free throw attempts (11.4, third, just behind Giannis and Embiid), and lack of competition for shots (9.1 more per game than any other Maverick), making him the top contender to maintain his current lead and win his first NBA scoring title.
Doncic isn’t quite on par with James Harden in 2018-19 in terms of usage (39.6%), shot attempts (24.5) and shot attempt dominance over teammates (10.7), when Harden averaged 36.1 ppg , but the two are similar to the undisputed offensive lynchpins of their respective teams.
By comparison, Durant doesn’t lead the Nets in shot attempts (Kyrie Irving does); Embiid has the aforementioned Harden and Tyrese Maxey fighting for shots; Giannis plays the fewest minutes of this group and still has Khris Middleton back; Jayson Tatum has fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown; while Donovan Mitchell has fellow All-Star Darius Garland in backfield and the lowest utilization of any player in that field (29.5%).
BRAND MEDIA: Mavs manager Jason Kidd warned that Luka Doncic’s usage rate is so high that “if he gets past Christmas, he won’t be human anymore”. Still, Dallas seems better off seeing if Doncic can show he’s a machine rather than relying on other options.
Consider the difference between Doncic’s scoring performance (33.5 ppg in the league) and the Mavs’ other double-digit scorers (Spencer Dinwiddie’s 17.1 ppg, Christian Woods 16.6 ppg and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 11.5 ppg) . Doncic did well enough to get his teammates fourth in the NBA in assists (8.1) leading up to Monday’s games. However, after Jalen Brunson left for New York last summer, Doncic increased his goalscoring list out of necessity. This reality will ensure Dallas makes the playoffs as well as Doncic becoming the NBA’s top scorer.
If the team dynamic didn’t apply, Warriors guard Stephen Curry could easily pick up his third NBA scoring title. But Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole will take away some of Curry’s tries once they consistently take shots. Warriors coach Steve Kerr will also reduce Curry’s workload and use him for Monday’s game against New Orleans. Doncic was also recently rested against Houston. But the Mavs don’t have the luxury of running Doncic like this in the long term.
SHAUN POWELL: First, let me explain who won’t be the top scorer: Not Giannis Antetokounmpo (previously Shaquille O’Neal-like free-throw shooter) or Donovan Mitchell (Darius Garland is starting to pause his attempts) or Jayson Tatum (ditto, Jaylen Brown) or Kevin Durant (Kyrie Irving is back in the lineup – have you heard the news?) or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (admittedly has a chance) or Joel Embiid (James Harden will need some shots when he recovers).
That leaves two-time scoring champion Steph Curry and Luka Doncic. That will decide this race. And it will boil down to this fundamental question: Who carries the heavier goal load for their team? While Curry is once again burning from the deep (44.7%) for the Warriors, common sense dictates he’ll get fewer tries once (and assuming) Klay Thompson gets his groove back. Meanwhile, Doncic comes to the free-throw line much more often, has high stakes, and is the core of the Mavericks’ offense. Also, I suspect Doncic has the Kia MVP award in mind (it’s his turn!) and a scoring title will increase his chances (although that shouldn’t say Embiid, who finished first in scoring and second in MVP last year – votes).
JOHN SCHUHMANN: First, I’d note that eventual top scorer Joel Embiid (who only played in nine of his team’s 18 games) was averaging just 21.4 ppg at the time last year, which ranks 22nd among players with that many appearances lay. So maybe this season’s leader is Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox, or Trae Young and not one of those eight guys.
But if I had to choose between the eight, I would prefer Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 30.1 ppg, although his shooting (effective field goal percentage of 53.6%) is down a lot compared to the last four seasons (59.2%). Khris Middleton will eventually make his season debut and reduce Antetokounmpo’s usage, but he will also support Antetokounmpo’s efficiency. (Middleton is the teammate who has assisted Antetokounmpo the most over the past two seasons, both in terms of total assists and per minute on the floor.) Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have also shot slightly less effectively (from the field). than they have in recent seasons, so they should stay at or near the top of the list.