Plenty of NBA players can score. There are 3-point snipers, slashers, 1-on-1 specialists and still some post-scorers, all able to put the ball in the basket one way or another. The game’s top players excel at getting their points through multiple methods, allowing them to remain productive when opponents counteract one of their strengths.
A special few players, though, fall into the category of a “pure-scorer” and leave the opposition helpless to stop them. These players come and go but always leave fans with jaw-dropping highlights of making seemingly impossible shots.
For this list, a pure-scorer is a player capable of proficiently scoring in virtually every way. There have been many great scoring bigs in basketball history, yet most of them lacked shot-creating skills and did the majority of their damage within 10 or so feet. Other players like LeBron James and Oscar Robertson put up lots of points but scoring isn’t necessarily the greatest part of their games.
This ranking places the top-10 players in NBA history able to get a bucket from anywhere at any time and in the most clutch of moments while never hesitating to do so.
Honorable mentions: Dominique Wilkens, Adrian Dantley, George Gervin, Bernard King, Alex English, Mitch Richmond, Paul Pierce
10. Stephen Curry
Curry is the greatest shooter to ever pick up a basketball and changed the modern game to incorporate more 3-pointers than ever before. His elite handles and lightning-quick release allow him to take and make jumpers from anywhere on the floor no matter how closely his defender is playing him. When defenders try to take away the three, Curry burns them with an equally elite mid-range game and underrated finishing skills.
He’s also just as dangerous without the ball. Curry is constantly in motion, whether he’s coming off several screens or beating his defender on a backdoor cut. His fundamentals are sound enough that he barely needs to see the rim to make a triple and can pull-up from over 30 feet without an issue. Curry led the league in scoring once with 30.1 points per game in 2015-2016, a year in which he shot over 50% from the field, over 45% from behind the arc and over 90% from the line, according to basketball-reference.
His lack of a post-game and slender build hinder his inside scoring game some and lower him on this list, but he’s still one of the most dangerous scorers to come through the NBA.
9. Larry Bird
Bird never led the league in scoring and had one of the more diverse games of anyone on this list. Still, his lack of offensive weaknesses couldn’t be ignored. The Celtics legend could truly score in every possible fashion, with his only limitation being his unselfishness.
He could hit either the mid-range or 3-point jumper in his defender’s face, he routinely finished at the rim with either hand and developed a fundamentally-sound back to the basket game.
Bird hit shots off screens and after a series of pass and head fakes that earned him the split-second he needed to get his almost unblockable shot off. His handles and athleticism weren’t the greatest, but he didn’t need those attributes to get the job done. Bird essentially invented the 50/40/90 club and is still one of the most clutch players ever.
8. Carmelo Anthony
Although Anthony is likely the worst overall player on this list, his scoring skills are more pronounced in comparison to the rest of his game than anyone else as well. He was a solid rebounder at times and didn’t pass or play defense much, but he was one of the best scorers in the NBA for nearly a decade.
Anthony could put up 20-plus points a night from his first day in the league, eventually leading the league in scoring once in 2013-2014 with 28.7 points per game. He was a three-level scorer and had the strength to bully smaller defenders and the athleticism to blow by bigger ones.
On both the Nuggets and the Knicks he was both clutch and consistent, never shying away from carrying the offensive load. He’s struggled to adjust to being a role player, yet you can still see flashes of his vast offensive arsenal when he’s in rhythm.
7. Tracy McGrady
Had McGrady not had one of the shorter primes of anyone on this list, he’d probably rank in the top-five. He made scoring 30-plus points per game look effortless and was unguardable from 2000-2007. His highlights are breathtaking and it’s a shame he never got out of the first round of the playoffs.
McGrady led the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons from 2002-2004, with his 32.1 points per game in 2002-2003 being his peak. He was so smooth on the floor that it almost looked like he wasn’t trying, but then he’d dunk on someone and make you realize he’s just a natural.
His jumper was pure, his athleticism was top-tier and at 6-foot-8 he was the perfect size as a scoring wing. Knee issues unfortunately limited McGrady longevity, but at his peak, he rivaled Kobe Bryant for the league’s best shooting guard spot.
6. Jerry West
West developed into a fantastic facilitator by the end of his career. For the majority of his playing days, though, he was arguably the NBA’s best scoring guard. He boasted the best jump shot of his day and averaged 27.0 points for his career without a 3-point line, with his 31.2 points per contest in 1969-1970 being the only season he led the league in that department. West epitomizes a player who would benefit greatly from the style of the modern NBA.
What makes West such a pure scorer is the ease and consistency at which he accumulated points. He was an elite offensive player from his sophomore season until his retirement at age 35 and never really fell off. West’s handles were tight and his finishing ability was sound, allowing him to draw contact at the rim and frequently get to the line.
His compact and quick release gave defenders fits for all 14 years of his career. His nickname “Mr. Clutch” derived from his knack of hitting late-game shots, evidence that he was as feared a scorer in his day as any guard in history.
5. James Harden
No one saw Harden developing into the perennial MVP candidate he is today when he was traded from the Thunder in 2012. He showcased highly refined offensive skills as a sixth-man, but these days he’s arguably the most unguardable player in the league, especially considering his mastery of baiting the officials into calling shooting fouls on his defender.
Harden is a truly gifted passer but seems to emphasize his isolation scoring skills over distributing these days, typically resorting to his signature step back several times per game. He’s leading the league in scoring this season and did so for the past two years as well, averaging 33.7 points per game in that span.
His ball-handling and tough shot-making abilities are elite and his strength allows him to burrow in the paint for contested finishes. With the modern rules and Houston always putting the ball in his hands, Harden is in the middle of one of the most prolific scoring stretches of all time.
4. Allen Iverson
Iverson led the league in scoring and shots attempted four times each. He is the ultimate gunner on this list, although it wasn’t necessarily his choice to become that type of player. Iverson’s teams in Philadelphia seldom featured another player capable of creating his own shot, so he was forced to play isolation basketball for the majority of his career.
Luckily for the 76ers, Iverson was capable of carrying the offense, playing obscene amounts of minutes and was unguardable 1-on-1.
His signature crossover made it impossible for defenders to keep up with him. Iverson used his handles to create driving lanes to the rim and would swish pull-up jumpers when defenders adjusted. With 26.7 points per game, he is the greatest pound for pound player and scorer in NBA history.
His 3-point shot was hot and cold, but he never hesitated to take tough shots. He was fearless driving the lane and was never intimidated despite his slender 6-foot frame. Iverson was basically the entire offense during an NBA Finals run in 2001. How many other players can say that?
3. Kobe Bryant
Bryant is perhaps the greatest ever at making contested shots. There are countless clips of him swishing jumpers when it looks like he can barely see the rim. Those skills allowed him to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons, peaking at 35.4 points per game in 2005-2006.
He carried a poor Lakers team to the playoffs with his offensive production, even scoring 81 points in a single game. He also once scored 60 points in three quarters. When he was hot there was nothing his defender could do to slow him down.
He worked tirelessly to develop his skills and maintained elite offensive production from age 21 to 34 when he tore his Achilles tendon. He was extremely athletic in his youth and the ultimate fundamental later on. His midrange game ranks only behind Michael Jordan and he’s one of the game’s all-time clutch players. Bryant’s ability to zone-in and take over games was a skill few ever have shown, and he has five championships to show for it.
2. Kevin Durant
Durant possesses many similar skills to Bryant, McGrady and Bird, but he’s nearly 7-feet tall. There’s never been another player at his size who moves so smoothly and shoots so well. He can finish at the rim with his superb length and skill while capable of hitting shots in a center’s face.
His mid-range shot is practically automatic and he’s a historically effective 3-point shooter. Even his post-game has evolved into a weapon as he’s put on strength year after year.
He’s led the league in scoring four times yet never played on a team where he was the only star. Durant has always had to share the ball with other elite scorers like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and still tallied close to league-leading scoring totals.
One can only imagine the type of individual production he could produce if he’d been asked to do more. Hopefully he can return to his pre-Achilles tendon injury self, although he’s so skilled that he should be able to continue putting up elite numbers even if he loses a step.
1. Michael Jordan
Jordan was all-time great at many aspects of basketball. He’s the top pure scorer, though, because he was the ultimate blend of athleticism and skill. His jumper was picture-perfect and his vertical allowed him to rise above the defense and get it off at any moment. His strength and hand size allowed him to dribble past defenders and complete acrobatic layups in traffic.
Jordan’s mentality was perhaps his biggest offensive weapon as he would never stop attacking, sometimes to the detriment of his team in his early years when he was reluctant to pass to his teammates.
He led the NBA in scoring a record 10 times and holds the all-time best career scoring average of 30.1 points per game. He was such a prolific scorer at the beginning of his career that he thought he could beat teams almost by himself, like when he scored a playoff-record 63 points against Bird’s Celtics.
His two best scoring seasons were 1986-87 with 37.1 PPG and 1987-88 with 35.0 PPG.
Jordan’s post-fadeaway was so efficient that he won his second three-peat with that as his primary tool, and later became the oldest player to score 40 points in a game as a 40-year-old All-Star on the Wizards. The only shortcoming in his offensive game was his three-point shot, but he was so good at scoring in every other way that he didn’t even need one.