There are not many players in today’s NBA that would score over 37 points per game for an entire season and not win MVP. That is exactly what happened to one player during this season. Because of his team’s wins total, he might have been slighted when it came to winning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Among that special individual performance, others stepped up during the season. With some names you may not expect to be on this top-10 list, the 1986-1987 season featured some familiarity with the Lakers and Celtics remaining supreme, but some new names that fought their way to the top.
These are the 1987-1987 NBA scoring leaders.
10. Magic Johnson - 23.9 PPG
Johnson averaged a career-high 23.9 points per game as well as 6.3 rebounds and 12.2 assists per game. He earned his first regular-season MVP for his efforts and capped it off with a championship. The Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals, where Johnson scored a last-second hook shot over Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to win the game 107-106.
Johnson capped off the perfect season with his third Finals MVP after averaging 26.2 points on 54.1% shooting, 13.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. It was only the second time that Johnson averaged over 20 points per game at the time. By the end of Johnson’s career, Johnson would average over 20 points per game two more times.
9. Moses Malone - 24.1 PPG
Malone led the Bullets to the postseason. He scored a career-high 50 points in a game against the New Jersey Nets against the Pistons, joining Earl Monroe and Phil Chenier as the only players in franchise history to accomplish this at the time. He also scored his 20,000th career point during the season.
The Pistons got their revenge by sweeping their Bullets in the postseason. Out of two seasons with Washington, it was his best season. He played one more season after this year, averaging 20.3 points per game before finishing his career with Atlanta, Milwaukee, and San Antonio.
8. Dale Ellis - 24.9 PPG
The SuperSonics improved from their previous year. The team had gone 31-51 in 1985-1986 and retained Bernie Bickerstaff for a second season as head coach. The team improved to 39-43 and qualified for the playoffs. The team had a magical run by defeating the Mavericks in the first round and the Rockets in six games in the semifinals. In the end, the team lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and remained the last team to date to win an NBA playoff series with a losing regular-season record.
Ellis had a lot to do with that. In his first season with Seattle, he vastly improved. Ellis had averaged 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds the previous year. This season, Ellis averaged 24.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 51.6% from the field.
7. Mark Aguirre - 25.7 PPG
Aguirre averaged 25.7 points during the regular season and helped lead the Mavericks to win over 50 games. Aguire averaged 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game. He played in 80 games and shot 49.5% from the field as well. His only downside of the season was when the Mavericks lost in the first round to the SuperSonics, who had a losing record in the regular season.
Aguirre was the former No. 1 overall pick from the 1981 NBA Draft, who played the small forward position. After playing eight seasons with the Mavericks, he joined the Detroit Pistons where he made championship runs in 1989 and 1990.
6. Kevin McHale - 26.1 PPG
McHale set career highs in scoring (26.1) and rebounding (9.9) this season. By shooting over 60% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line, he became the first player to ever accomplish this in the same season in NBA history. He was named to the All-NBA First Team and won Defensive Player of the Year. He finished behind Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and his teammate Larry Bird to claim fourth in the MVP voting.
McHale was so dominant on offense that at one point, he averaged 30.7 points and shot nearly 72% from the field over a nine-game stretch. What was even more impressive is that he played through a broken navicular bone in his right foot. He ignored the doctor’s advice that this could be career-threatening and played all the way through the NBA Finals before the Lakers won in six games.
5. Kiki Vandeweghe - 26.9 PPG
This was Vandeweghe’s second-best scoring season in his career. As a member of the Trail Blazers, he nearly made a run for the 50-40-90 club. He shot 52.3% from the field, 48.1% from three-point range, and 88.6% from the free-throw line. That included 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists as well.
His three-point percentage led the league this season, but he was only taking one three-pointer per game. Given that he was taking so few shots, it seems a little unfair to the rest, but it was a highlight of his career.
4. Larry Bird - 28.1 PPG
Bird had done a lot of things in his career up to this point. He had won the last three regular-season MVPs for starters. However, he had never averaged more than 40 minutes of playing time. That changed during this season where he averaged 40.6 minutes of action each night to go with his 28.1 points per game.
Bird qualified as a member of the 50-40-90 club by shooting 52.5% from the field, 40.0% from three-point range, and 91.0% from the free-throw line. His free-throw shooting led the league. On top of that, he averaged 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. This season was also the last time that Bird made the NBA Finals.
3. Alex English - 28.6 PPG
Unfortunately, English was not a good outside shooter, averaging just 26.7% from outside the arc. However, he settled for a solid midrange attack, shooting 50.2% from inside. English also averaged 4.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists with his 28.6 points per game.
English was 33 years old at the time and a lone bright spot for the Nuggets. The team finished 37-45 in the regular season and made the playoffs. In the end, their season was finished when the team was bounced by the Lakers in the first round.
2. Dominique Wilkins - 29.0 PPG
Wilkins was coming off a season where he averaged 30.3 points per game for the Hawks. He didn’t slow down this season either as the big man averaged 29.0 points on 46.3% shooting. He also provided 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.5 steals. Had Michael Jordan not had such an exceptional year, Wilkins would have won back-to-back scoring titles.
Instead, he had to settle for runner-up, but the Hawks were No. 1 in the Central Division with a 57-25 record. The team had big plans but was outmatched by the Detroit Pistons in the semifinals in five games. It certainly put a damper on the way Wilkins had played all year.
1. Michael Jordan - 37.1 PPG
Jordan was progressing into the game’s best overall scorer and he had one of the best scoring seasons since Wilt Chamberlain. He became the only player other than Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season, averaging a league-high 37.1 points per game on 48.2% shooting. Along with his defensive skills, he became the first player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season.
Despite this amazing season, the Bulls won just 40 games and finished fifth in the standings. Because of his team’s standings, it hurt his MVP chances. Magic Johnson won the MVP instead, while the Bulls were swept by the Celtics in the playoffs.