The NBA playoffs are officially here and NBA stars have already shown up for their teams. After all, NBA superstars have the most pressure to perform and their performances will dictate how the season ends for their teams. Superstars often show up and put forth fantastic performances to spearhead their teams to victory. We crown an NBA champion every year and getting through each playoff series is the most essential part of being in the postseason.
The postseason is where the best NBA players are judged because performing on the brightest stage usurps what is done in the regular season. In almost all situations, the best player on a playoff team must score a ton of points to lead his team to victory. That will not change, and it will probably be even more pronounced in the modern NBA where scoring 30 points has never been easier thanks to spectacular coaching sets and spread offenses.
Here are the 20 players with the highest PPG average in playoffs history, where we might get a very interesting perspective on the careers of some of the greatest players ever. It is important to note that players with only at least 30 playoff games played will be taken into consideration.
20. Karl Malone - 24.7 PPG
Very few players in NBA history can challenge Karl Malone’s resume in totality. The Mailman is not only a top-3 power forward ever, but had an incredible career that lasted 19 seasons. His scoring acumen is well-documented because he averaged at least 20 PPG 17 times during the regular season. In the playoffs, he competed in 193 contests and made the Finals twice, averaging a career 24.7 PPG scoring average.
Malone got the majority of his buckets off assists from his Hall of Fame teammate, John Stockton. The pick n’ roll was devastating for opposing teams because Malone had an automatic mid-range jumper and the physicality to attack the basket to draw fouls or score an easy two. Most often than not, The Mailman was getting And-1’s.
19. Rick Barry - 24.8 PPG
The streets will never forget Rick Barry, a championship-winner with the Warriors and one of the most unstoppable offensive forces of his time. The 6’7” small forward had an incredible regular season career that included a scoring title and multiple All-Star selections, but he was exceptional in the playoffs by averaging a career 24.8 PPG and also winning an NBA title in 1975.
Rick was one interesting player to watch because he was the one who brought the underhanded free-throw to the league and made it look as effective as ever. Barry was simply an offensive threat from anywhere on the court because he was a natural baller. Armed with a nasty jumper and elite offensive IQ, Barry is a solid name on the top-20 list of all-time greatest scorers in playoff history.
18. Dirk Nowitzki - 25.3 PPG
One of the top-30 players ever and a legendary shooter at the power forward position, Dirk Nowitzki added the biggest cherry on the cake which is his Hall of Fame resume when he won the NBA title in 2011. He carried the Mavericks through stretches, putting up 27.7 PPG through the playoffs. But it wasn’t just that series that the big German went off on his opponents during the postseason.
Nowitzki completed a whopping 145 playoff appearances over his career, averaging 25.3 PPG and solidifying himself as one of the game’s greatest winners. We have yet to see a big man as efficient as Dirk was with his shot because he put up 46.3% FG, 36.5% 3-PT FG, and 89.2% shooting splits over his elite postseason career.
17. Dominique Wilkins - 25.4 PPG
A walking highlight reel and incredibly gifted scorer, Dominique Wilkins was a fan favorite who loved competing in the playoffs. An explosive athlete during his days with the Atlanta Hawks, Wilkins dropped 26.4 PPG in 8 playoff seasons with the Hawks including 5 seasons averaging at least 25 PPG. Wilkins never won an NBA title, but his scoring prowess during his prime with the Hawks certainly gave his team a fighting chance every year.
One of the greatest dunkers ever, Dominique has a resume built on nasty posters in the playoffs but he was more than just a leaper. Wilkins had an automatic mid-range jumper which is why he also had 2 seasons of averaging at least 30 PPG in the playoffs, all coming as a member of the Atlanta Hawks of course.
16. Bob Pettit - 25.5 PPG
One of the most dominant players during the 50s and 60s and the greatest Hawks player ever, Bob Pettit had a legendary postseason career. The 6’9” power forward averaged 26.4 PPG in the regular season, capturing the MVP award twice and the scoring title twice. In many ways, Pettit was a regular-season beast.
But the big man was also dominant in the playoffs, averaging 25.5 PPG on 41.8% FG and also winning an NBA title in 1958. Using his powerful frame and intense hunger to score, Pettit made the playoffs 9 times in 11 years and still shot 41.8% from the floor and 77.4% from the free-throw line.
15. Kobe Bryant - 25.6 PPG
One of the most clutch players ever and a winner of the highest order, the late and great Kobe Bryant won an impressive 5 NBA championships in his Hall of Fame career. The second-greatest shooting guard ever behind Michael Jordan, Bryant assumes his place as one of the greatest competitors in the history of sports.
Of course, his main skill was scoring the ball. The Black Mamba made the playoffs 15 times in his career with the Lakers, having an impressive 5 seasons of averaging at least 30 PPG. Despite playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal for a large part of his career, Bryant still averaged 25.6 PPG in his postseason career and that is why he is one of the all-time greats as a scorer.
14. Damian Lillard - 25.7 PPG
Damian Lillard has been in the playoffs since he was 23 years old, and he has only missed the postseason twice in his career (his rookie season and this year when he played 29 games). For those reasons, it seems logical that the point guard deserved his spot in the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. Making the playoffs 8 times in 10 years is certainly nothing to sniff at, even when comparing Lillard to other Hall of Famers.
An elite shooter and unstoppable scorer, Dame is putting up 25.7 PPG through 61 games in the postseason. His shooting splits are also impressive because he is nailing 41.2% of his shots from the floor, 36.9% from three, and 88.7% from the stripe. Of course, Damian is looking to add to his postseason resume when he returns to full health next year.
13. Nikola Jokic - 25.9 PPG
It is amazing what Nikola Jokic has done in his NBA career by the age of 27. He already has an MVP award to his name and has competed in 45 playoff games through 4 seasons. While the Denver Nuggets are a well-run franchise, Jokic has placed them on the map as title contenders through his incredible basketball IQ and passing ability.
But the big Serbian is an elite scorer down low and from three, as he is averaging 25.9 PPG in the playoffs on 51.1% FG and 39.8% 3-PT FG. The big man has made the playoffs 4 times in 7 years with the Denver Nuggets, and he is only one season removed from putting up an ultra-impressive 29.8 PPG on 50.9% from the field, 37.7% from three, and 83.6% from the free-throw line. Hopefully, Jokic can return to that form soon as he continues his chase for the elusive NBA championship.
12. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 25.9 PPG
We all know that The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is on his way to an all-time great career. He already has accomplished a host of achievements including an NBA title, Finals MVP, 2 MVP awards, and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. But his performances in the playoffs have consistently improved, as the forward is putting up 25.9 PPG on 53.5% FG.
The 6’11” power forward is one of the most unstoppable players of all time considering his size and athleticism, and his willingness to continue to improve his shooting means he will only get better with experience. There will be many more playoff appearances to come for Giannis, and the Greek Freak has plenty of time to climb the scoring charts as a result.
11. Hakeem Olajuwon - 25.9 PPG
Hakeem Olajuwon broke the Michael Jordan streak of championships during the 1990s when he took advantage of the shooting guard’s retirement to win 2 consecutive NBA titles. Arguably the greatest post scorer ever, The Dream was unstoppable down low and even made other superstars (including Shaquille O’Neal) look helpless.
The big man was known for his “Dream Shake”, a move that would fool even the greatest of defenders. The Houston Rockets legend has some incredible postseason runs, including the 1988 season when he put up a monster 37.5 PPG and the 1995 season when he dropped 33.0 PPG. Olajuwon averaged 25.9 PPG in the postseason and always turned it on in big moments, a reason why he is a top-15 player of all time.
10. Stephen Curry - 26.5 PPG
Stephen Curry is one of the most dominant regular-season players ever, dominating the court with some of the most impressive shooting skills we have ever seen and won 2 MVP awards. Steph essentially changed the game, which is why teams are in love with the three-point shot these days. But Curry’s Hall of Fame resume will highlight his postseason success, where he won 3 NBA titles and averaged 26.5 PPG in the process (40.3% 3-PT FG).
Steph’s shooting splits in the postseason are ridiculous, especially considering the point guard basically lives at the perimeter. The Golden State Warriors legend is averaging 45.2% from the field, 40.3% from three, and 90.% from the free-throw line. We will never see another shooter like Steph again, and you can take it to the bank.
9. George Gervin - 27.0 PPG
Considered to be the “original” Kevin Durant, George Gervin was an unstoppable scorer during his prime. Standing at a lengthy 6’7” and having elite athleticism, Gervin was a mid-range killer who put up 26.2 PPG (25.1 PPG including ABA) in the regular season and 27.0 PPG (26.5 PPG including ABA) in the playoffs.
The 4-time scoring champion clearly had a knack for turning it on in the playoffs, a hallmark of a legendary scorer. The dominant scorer has 13 playoff years under his belt and has 3 seasons posting a minimum of 33 PPG and 9 years of averaging at least 25 PPG. Kevin Durant might be a better player, but Gervin is among the very best to have ever done it.
8. Elgin Baylor - 27.0 PPG
Elgin Baylor does not have an NBA championship, but it isn’t for a lack of trying. The Los Angeles Lakers forward is one of the greatest players ever and even competed in an impressive 134 playoff games to try to earn his first ring. Even if he never got there, his scoring output was simply the stuff of legends.
Baylor has had years of averaging 38.6 PPG, 38.1 PPG, 33.4 PPG, and 32.6 PPG with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. Clearly, these are elite numbers that very few players have ever come close to. Averaging 27.0 PPG in the postseason, Baylor is clearly one of the game’s greatest scorers considering his regular-season average stands 3rd all-time as well (27.4 PPG).
7. Anthony Davis - 27.3 PPG
Even if Anthony Davis only played in the postseason 4 years out of his 9-year-career, he has managed to compete in 39 total contests. Of course, the 2020 championship season gave him 21 appearances in itself. Through 39 games, Davis is averaging an impressive 27.3 PPG on 53.8% shooting which is a testament to his all-time great talent.
Davis is large enough to occupy both the power forward and center position, yet has the ball-handling skills and shooting ability of a guard. The ease at which Davis puts up numbers is a reason he will be a Hall of Famer, and hopefully, he can add more championships to his resume by the end of his career.
6. LeBron James - 28.7 PPG
The King is one of the game’s greatest players, and he also managed to get it done in the playoffs with three different teams. LeBron James won 4 NBA titles and captured 4 Finals MVPs, and often did it through his all-around play. However, his scoring often goes unnoticed despite averaging 28.7 PPG in his playoff career.
The greatest driver of the basketball ever, James is the 6th highest scorer in playoff history. While James’ supporters will be rather surprised to see The King 6th, it is still impressive for a pass-first star to be ranked among the best ever. James’ highest-scoring seasons in the playoffs were 35.3 PPG in 2009 and 34.0 PPG in 2018 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
5. Donovan Mitchell - 29.1 PPG
Donovan Mitchell always seems to turn it on in the postseason, whether it leads to victories or not. The talented shooting guard has elite hops and a nice jumper, so he tends to take over the Utah Jazz offense whenever the play gets stagnant. Through 35 playoff games, Mitchell is averaging 29.1 PPG with 43.3% shooting from the field.
Hopefully, Donovan can start stringing together more wins for the Jazz as he aims to reach the NBA Finals one day. But so far, the young man has had an excellent start to his playoff career and he seems more comfortable with handling the bulk of the offense for his team.
4. Jerry West - 29.1 PPG
The NBA’s logo for a reason, Jerry West was one of the greatest shooting guards who ever played the game. The Lakers legend holds an impressive regular-season record of 27.0 PPG which ranks 6th all-time, but his playoff 29.1 PPG is even more impressive. West played a whopping 153 playoff games, averaging over 30 PPG 7 times in 13 playoff years (including 40.6 PPG in 1965).
An all-time great shooter, Jerry West has excellent shooting splits in the playoffs sitting at 46.9% FG and 80.5% from the line. Had the three-point shot counted, it is expected that Jerry West would have had an even higher scoring average in the playoffs.
3. Kevin Durant - 29.5 PPG
There is no secret that Kevin Durant is one of the game’s best-ever scorers because we have never seen a player stand close to 7-feet tall and have an unlimited range like him before. Due to his height and elite shooting touch, KD can shoot over almost any defender and also has some of the best handles in the business. With an impressive 29.5 PPG playoff average, KD’s career-high was 50 points against the Clippers in Game 6 of the 2019 playoffs.
Durant’s postseason highs are 34.3 PPG with the Brooklyn Nets in 2021, 32.3 PPG with the Golden State Warriors in 2019, and 30.8 PPG with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013. An unselfish superstar, Durant has the capabilities to be top-two on this list if he was more concerned with scoring rather than playing team basketball.
2. Allen Iverson - 29.7 PPG
Armed with elite quickness and a never-ending desire to score the ball each possession, Allen Iverson is easily one of the most unstoppable basketball players of all time. The Answer’s regular-season PPG average ranks 7th all-time (26.7 PPG), but his playoff average is even more impressive.
Despite standing barely 6’0”, Iverson ranks 2nd all-time with a 29.7 PPG average with a career-high 55 points coming in a single playoff game in 2003 against the New Orleans Hornets. Iverson made the postseason 8 times with the Philadelphia 76ers and averaged at least 30.0 PPG for the first 4 years of his playoff career. The Answer is one of the greatest playoff performers ever, but there is one man is ahead of him on the all-time playoff scoring ranking.
1. Michael Jordan - 33.5 PPG
The great Michael Jordan is not only the greatest scorer in regular-season history with 10 scoring titles and the highest PPG average of all time (30.1 PPG) but also the single most dominant offensive player in postseason history. Proof? Jordan got the most points in playoff history when he scored 63 against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in 1986.
Ahead of Iverson’s 29.7 PPG average, MJ ranks number one and it is by quite a margin. To further understand the GOAT’s greatness, look at Jordan’s playoff season highs. He averaged 43.7 PPG in 1986, 36.7 PPG in 1990, 36.3 PPG in 1988, and 35.7 PPG in 1987. It is also important to mention that in 13 playoff seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan only averaged under 30 PPG once (29.3 PPG in his rookie season). Michael is the greatest scorer ever because his ability to completely dominate the postseason will never be usurped by any other player.