The players on today’s list are in truly rarified air. Averaging 35.0 PPG in a single season has only been done 11 times in NBA history and by only 6 different players. Even in the day and age of the three-point revolution, there have only been 2 seasons since 2000 in which a player has averaged 35.0 PPG or more in a season. What makes the players you’ll see here today even more special is the fact that only one of them achieved this feat with less than 70 games played.
Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players that you will see here that averaged at least 35.0 PPG in more than one season. Coincidently, those two also rank 1st and 2nd in career PPG. The man who sits at 3rd all-time on the career PPG list also makes an appearance here while the rest rank outside the top 10. These 6 players are six of the most talented scorers ever to grace the basketball court. There have been many all-time greats who have averaged at least 30.0 PPG, but the ones on this list are the elite of the elite.
Here are the players who averaged 35.0 PPG or more in a single season throughout NBA history.
Elgin Baylor - 1 Season
1961-62: 38.3 PPG
Elgin Baylor nearly joined this list in the 1960-61 season when he averaged 34.8 PPG on the season. During the 1961-62 season, Baylor played just 48 games but dominated with 38.3 PPG. He only played 48 games due to other commitments with the United States Army Reserve. He still logged over 2000 minutes played in those 48 games played.
Baylor was granted a weekend pass just to play with the Lakers at the time. He made it worth it. He would also average 18.6 RPG on the season but still finished 4th in MVP voting. This was the same season WIlt averaged 50.4 PPG, Oscar recorded a triple-double on the season, and Russell’s Celtics went 60-20 on the year. Baylor’s peak performance during the season came on December 13th, when he logged 52 points, 25 rebounds, and 10 assists. Even though Baylor’s Lakers would lose in the 1962 NBA Finals, Baylor still went ballistic with 40.6 PPG and 17.9 RPG in the 7-game series.
Rick Barry - 1 Season
1966-67: 35.6 PPG
Rick Barry netted himself a scoring title when he averaged 35.6 PPG in the 1966-67 season. Barry’s season was a spectacular one as he nabbed All-Star Game MVP as well as the scoring title. This was just his 2nd season in the NBA, and he led the Warriors to 44 wins and a 1st place finish in the Western Division. Barry also pulled down 9.2 RPG on the year and shot 45.1% from the field and 88.4% from the free-throw line.
Barry’s tremendous scoring in 1967 wasn’t just limited to the regular season. He led the playoffs in scoring as well with 34.7 PPG and led the Warriors to the NBA Finals. The Warriors would face off against Wilt, and the 76ers, where they would fall in 6 games but not before Barry made a little bit of history. His 55 points in Game 3 is still the 2nd most in an NBA Finals game, while his 40.8 PPG is 2nd only to Michael Jordan.
Kobe Bryant - 1 Season
2005-06: 35.4 PPG
What Kobe Bryant achieved in the 2005-06 season is nothing short of miraculous. With a supporting cast of Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, and Kwame Brown, Bryant led the Lakers to a 45-37 record and a trip to the postseason where they didn’t have any place. Kobe tallied 27 40-point games, something that hadn’t been done since Jordan in 1987. This would also be the season that he would drop his legendary 81 points against the Toronto Raptors.
Kobe put himself in a rarer company during the 2006 season, becoming just the 5th player to score 2,800 points or more in a season. To put more emphasis on Kobe’s usage, he also became the first player in history to record 900 field goals, 150 three-pointers, 600 free throws, and over 2,500 points in a season. Kobe shot 45.0% overall on the year and 34.7% from beyond the arc. Although the Lakers would be booted in the first round, Kobe averaged 27.9 PPG on 40% shooting from 3 in the series against the Suns, including a 45-point game in a Game 3 win.
James Harden - 1 Season
2018-19: 36.1 PPG
During the 2018-19 season, James Harden recorded the 8th highest scoring season of all time when putting up 36.1 PPG on the year. It was the year directly following Harden’s MVP campaign. It was so impressive as he did most of his heavy lifting with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon dealing with various injuries. He still led the Rockets to a 53-29 record and the 4th seed in the Western Conference. Harden’s 7.5 APG total in 2019 also put him in a rare space as he became the only player in NBA history to average at least 34.0 PPG and 7.5 APG.
In 2019, Harden attempted a career-high 13.2 three-point attempts per game. He connected at a ridiculous clip of 36.8%. He also forced himself to the free-throw line 11 times per game while shooting 88%. The Rockets would only play in 11 games during the 2019 postseason, but Harden continued his offensive onslaught. He averaged 31.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 6.6 APG, but the Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in 6 games.
Michael Jordan - 2 Seasons
1986-87: 37.1 PPG
1987-88: 35.0 PPG
Michael Jordan averaged 35.0 PPG or more in back-to-back seasons in 1987 and 1988. In 1987, Jordan was coming off a season in which he only played 18 regular-season games and 3 playoff games after sustaining a broken foot. MJ followed that up by playing all 82 games and winning his 1st of seven straight scoring titles. He shot 48.2 % from the field overall and added 2.9 SPG to his resume as well. Jordan would also lead the playoffs in PPG that season with 35.7 PPG despite the Bulls being eliminated in the first round.
The 1987-88 season could very well be considered the most remarkable season of Jordan’s career. He averaged 35.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG. He led the league in scoring, steals (3.2), and minutes played (40.4). He led the Bulls to their best record since 1975 as they would win 50 games on the year. Jordan would take home his 1st MVP award, Defensive Player Of The Year, All-Defensive First Team, All-Star MVP, and added a Slam Dunk Championship just for kicks. Jordan and the Bulls would fall to the Pistons in the second round but not before MJ averaged 36.3 PPG for the playoffs.
Wilt Chamberlain - 5 Seasons
1959-60: 37.6 PPG
1960-61: 38.4 PPG
1961-62: 50.4 PPG
1962-63: 44.8 PPG
1963-64: 36.9 PPG
For the first 5 seasons of his career, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 35.0 PPG or more in every one. Of those 5 seasons, he led the league in minutes played in all 5, FG% twice, rebounding 4 times, and scoring in all 5. Truly remarkable stuff. This includes the 1961-62 seasons where he averaged an NBA-record 50.4 PPG, one of Wilt’s unbreakable scoring records he shattered in his career. In 1962, he also set the single-game scoring record with 100 points against the New York Knicks.
Chamberlain’s 44.8 PPG in 1963 and 50.4 PPG in 1962 make him the only player in history to average at least 40.0 PPG or 50.0 PPG in a season. During this incredible 5-year stretch, Chamberlain was named an All-Star 5 times, MVP, Rookie of the Year, and All-NBA 5 times as well. Some more of Wilt’s incredible scoring records are as follows:
Most Games with 50+ Points: 118
Most Consecutive Games With 40+ Points: 14
Most Consecutive Games With 30= Points: 65
Most Consecutive Games With 20+ Points: 126
Highest Rookie Scoring Average: 37.6
Highest Field-Goal Percentage In A Season: 72.7%
Simply put, Wilt Chamberlain is one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, regardless of era.
Wilt is Special, But Is He The Greatest Scorer Of All-Time?
As evidenced above, Wilt certainly presents a case to be considered the greatest scorer in NBA history. Unbreakable records and mythological numbers contribute heavily to that point. However, there are a few more factors when considering the G.O.A.T. of scoring and why it should be unanimously in favor of Michael Jordan. Jordan was winning scoring titles and championships when it was to be considered a style of play, not conducive to winning. Guards weren’t supposed to lead the league in scoring and winning titles at that time. Just as he did many times in his career, Jordan defied the odds.
On a per-game basis, Jordan has the slight edge over Wilt as well, with his career average being 30.12 PPG to Chamberlain’s 30.07. Another argument in MJ’s favor is versatility. Chamberlain dominated the paint for the most part but also could step out and knock down a shot; he just didn’t do it often. Jordan feasted in the paint in an era with more widespread competition as a guard with a clogged paint. He also did all this while putting in elite defensive efforts, winning a Defensive Man Of The Year, and regularly being named to the All-Defensive First Team.
It is a debate worth having, but Jordan’s scoring and numbers are just a bit more impressive in my eyes.