This season’s scoring title race could be one of the best ever, as there are three legitimate candidates to win the award. Joel Embiid is currently ahead of the pack with a 29.9 PPG average, although he is slightly ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8 PPG) and LeBron James (29.8 PPG). At the end of the year, we could be looking at one of the closest scoring title races in NBA history.
But looking throughout NBA history, where will this season’s scoring race land among the closest races ever? There have been some iconic seasons in NBA history where stars battled for the accolade of being the best scorer in the league, one of the most valuable individual awards out there. Here are the 10 closest scoring races in NBA history, and there will be some incredible achievements by players to capture scoring titles ahead of other Hall of Fame talents.
1956-57 NBA Season
1. Paul Arizin - 25.6 PPG
2. Bob Pettit - 24.7 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.87
The NBA’s first star, Paul Arizin won his first scoring title in his second season when he dropped 25.4 PPG on 44.8% FG. The 6’4” small forward was an offensive star during the 1950s and would capture his second scoring title in the 1957 season by putting up 25.6 PPG on 42.2% FG and 82.9% FT. The man he beat out for the scoring title is none other than superstar Bob Pettit, the greatest Hawks player ever.
Pettit would capture 2 scoring titles of his own, but he could not capture it during the 1957 season against Arizin. The big man would have to capture his scoring title two years later, but he fell just short of Arizin in 1957. The big man put up 24.7 PPG on 41.5% FG and 77.3% FT, elite numbers but not quite good enough to lead the league in scoring ahead of “Poppin’ Paul”.
2020-21 NBA Season
1. Stephen Curry - 32.0 PPG
2. Bradley Beal - 31.3 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.68
Last season, during the 2021 season, Stephen Curry captured his second scoring title with a Golden State Warriors team that was ravaged with injuries. Curry was the only star on the floor for the team as Klay Thompson missed the season, and was forced to be an offensive star who put up 32.0 PPG on 48.2% FG, 42.1% 3-PT FG, and 91.6% FT. Barely missing the 50-40-90 club again, Curry was a dominant force on the court.
He even managed to usurp Bradley Beal, an automatic scorer who had his best season as an offensive threat. The shooting guard put up 31.3 PPG on 48.5% FG, 34.9% 3-PT FG, and 88.9% FT. Beal was the primary scoring threat for the Washington Wizards but missed 3 more games (60) in the season than Curry (63) which probably gave the Warriors star the edge in the scoring race.
2012-13 NBA Season
1. Carmelo Anthony - 28.7 PPG
2. Kevin Durant - 28.1 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.51
Carmelo Anthony is one of his generation’s greatest scorers, even if his only scoring title came by edging out Kevin durant in the 2013 NBA season. It would prove to be impressive because Durant was coming off 3 straight scoring titles, and did not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. But Anthony got hot at the end of the season, averaging 28.7 PPG on 44.9% FG for the New York Knicks.
What helped ‘Melo greatly was Durant sitting out in the final game of the season, and his own average would sit at 28.1 PPG on 51.0% FG, 41.6% 3-PT FG, and 90.5% FT. Kevin was sensational for the Oklahoma City Thunder, making the 50-40-90 club, but it was not meant to be for him to capture his 4th straight scoring title. Anthony was on a tear in the 2013 season, getting hot in the first week of April when he led the Knicks to a 4–0 record as part of their 12-game winning streak, averaging 41.8 PPG.
1985-86 NBA Season
1. Dominique Wilkins - 30.3 PPG
2. Adrian Dantley - 29.8 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.50
Dominique Wilkins is one of the most underrated stars in NBA history because he was an elite scorer with a host of skills including drives at the rim and an efficient mid-range jumper. Wilkins managed to win his only scoring title in the most competitive scoring race ever, edging Adrian Dantley by a mear 0.5 PPG (rounded). Dominique dropped 30.3 PPG on 46.8% FG, including a monster 57 points in his 77th game played to seal the scoring title.
Superstar Adrian Dantley dropped 29.8 PPG on 56.3% shooting from the field, showcasing his efficient ability to get buckets consistently. The 6’5” small forward made his 6th and last All-Star appearance with the Utah Jazz and had a great chance to capture his 3rd scoring title. Even if Dantley missed out to Wilkins, he solidified himself in the Hall of Fame after completing his 1986 season.
1998-99 NBA Season
1. Allen Iverson - 26.8 PPG
2. Shaquille O’Neal - 26.3 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.44
The NBA season was only 50-games long due to a lockout, as the season did not start until February 5, 1999, once a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. That gave Allen Iverson the motivation to go out and score the ball at an elite level, something he did better than almost any player at his position. The Answer won the scoring title basically on the last day of the season when he dropped 33 points in an overtime game against the Detroit Pistons.
Shaq was dominant with the Lakers all year, drawing double-teams constantly but still forcing the ball in the basket as the most dominant big man in the game. O’Neal already won his scoring title in his third year, but he would have to wait for his second scoring title a year later. Shaq dropped only 18 points against the Trail Blazers, losing out the scoring race to Allen Iverson (his first of four).
1993-94 NBA Season
1. David Robinson - 29.8 PPG
2. Shaquille O’Neal - 29.3 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.44
Shaquille O’Neal makes no apologies for wanting to be recognized as the greatest scorer ever, and countless times he would be locked in a tight scoring race. Unfortunately for the Diesel, he had to come up against a superstar in David Robinson who would have a career-high scoring output. In the final game of the season, The Admiral dropped a career-high 71 points on 63.4% FG shooting. That meant Shaq needed a career-high performance of his own, which would not happen.
O’Neal would drop 32 points against the Nets later that night, giving him a scoring average of 29.3 PPG in his second season at 21 years old. It was impressive, nonetheless, that Shaq almost won his first scoring title at such a young age but Robinson’s career-high output would prove to be the difference.
2009-10 NBA Season
1. Kevin Durant - 30.1 PPG
2. LeBron James - 29.7 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.44
At 21 years old, Kevin Durant was already shocking fans and media with his ability to score the ball in isolation and off-the-ball. Despite having an extremely thin frame and looking rather unimpressive when it comes to physicality, Durant had elite basketball skills. That is why he finished the season with 30.1 PPG on 47.6% FG and 36.5% 3-PT FG, 0.4 PPG ahead of LeBron James.
The King possibly had a chance to go off on the offensive end to catch up to Durant, but he rested the final 4 games of the regular season to rest up for the NBA playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers were primed for a deep playoff run, and LeBron had to give up on his 2nd scoring title to gift Durant his first of three straight.
1997-98 NBA Season
1. Michael Jordan - 28.7 PPG
2. Shaquille O’Neal - 28.3 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.42
Shaquille O’Neal was extremely dominant during the 1998 NBA season, but that year belonged to Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Michael was on a tear at age 34, as he was looking to complete his second 3-peat and capture his 10th scoring title. But Shaq was a big challenger, nonetheless, as the big man was a force all season long for the Los Aneles Lakers. Quite frankly, there was no answer for him in the post.
Jordan would not let up, scoring 44 points in his final game which put a ton of pressure on O’Neal to drop 59 points in what would be one of the most iconic scoring title comebacks ever. But Shaq could “only” manage 33 points, meaning his scoring average at the end of the year would sit at 28.3 PPG on 58.4% FG. Jordan ended up with a scoring average of 28.7 PPG on 46.5% FG, capping off his season with his 6th championship as well.
2011-12 NBA Season
1. Kevin Durant - 28.0 PPG
2. Kobe Bryant - 27.9 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.17
Superstar Kevin Durant was already one of the best scorers in the game at age 23, having made his 3rd All-Star Team and getting ready for his first Finals appearance. The Slim Reaper had every offensive skill in the bag, including an unstoppable jumper that he could pull off over any defender. At 23, he was also extremely explosive with an unlimited motor. But Durant had stiff competition against future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, the Lakers superstar who was still in his prime at age 33.
Durant was leading the scoring race entering the final game of the season, with an average of 28.03 PPG, and finished the game against the Denver Nuggets by dropping 32 points. That meant Kobe Bryant, who held a scoring average of 27.8 PPG, needed 38 points to potentially win his 3rd scoring title. Instead, in typical Black Mamba fashion, Bryant sat out the last game of the season to rest for the playoffs and that gave KD his third straight scoring title.
1977-1978 NBA Season
1. George Gervin - 27.2 PPG
2. David Thompson - 27.1 PPG
PPG Difference: 0.07
The greatest scoring race ever, George Gervin and David Thompson were locked in a scoring battle from the start of the season. The Iceman dropped 27.2 PPG during the season, nailing 53.6 % from the field and 83.0% from the free-throw line. Of course, the 3-pointer was not yet counted in the NBA after Gervin completed the first 4 seasons of his career in the ABA. His biggest competitor was David “Skywalker” Thompson, a 6’4” shooting guard with elite scoring ability.
Thompson and Gervin went head-to-head until the last game of the season. Denver’s offensive star dropped a whopping 73 points in his final game, including 32 points in the first quarter and 53 points at half-time against the Detroit Pistons. Thompson finished with 73 points, meaning Gervin needed 59 points in his final game to somehow usurp the Nuggets’ star. Of course, Gervin managed to do it by dropping 63 points to win his first of 4 scoring titles in the greatest scoring race ever.