Scoring is probably the most exciting part of the game of basketball because the goal is to put the ball in the bucket, no matter what style the team is playing.
The NBA has always witnessed some of the best scorers since it was founded in 1946. From Wilt Chamberlain of the 1960s and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the 1970s to Kobe Bryant of the 2000s and Kevin Durant of the 2010s, these generational talents all have extraordinary performances on the offensive end.
Some of them were a raw material when they started, and gradually developed into one of the greatest in this category, while some had the killer instinct in their DNA from day one.
Let’s take a deep dive into 10 of the best rookie scorers in the last 40 years.
10. Kelly Tripucka - Detroit Pistons
PPG In 1981-82 Season: 21.6
Kelly Tripucka, who is the son of NFL Pro-Bowl (and CFL) quarterback Frank Tripucka, has the family DNA in his blood. After four years at the University of Notre Dame, he was selected 12th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1981 NBA draft.
Tripucka displayed his mature scoring ability, averaging 21.6 points per game, and he made the All-Star team in his rookie year. In 50 of his 82 games, Tripucka scored more than 20 points and had only seven games below double-digit the entire season, which demonstrates how stable he was as a first year-player.
On March 12, 1982, Tripucka posted his rookie season-high 49 points on 67.9% shooting, eight rebounds, and three steals in a Pistons’ win over the Golden State Warriors. Only eight other rookies in NBA history had a higher scoring performance than Tripucka.
9. Glenn Robinson - Milwaukee Bucks
PPG In 1994-95 Season: 21.9
Glenn Robinson, known as ‘Big Dog,’ was the No. 1 overall for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1994 NBA draft. The small forward played only 11 years in the league and spent most of the time with the Bucks.
During his rookie season, Robinson earned NBA Rookie of the Month twice and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Though he fell short in the Rookie of the Year voting, he still led all first year players with an average of 21.9 points per game.
Robinson, however, didn’t take off from day one. He constantly learned from his game and blossomed later in the season. His scoring average per month from November to next year’s April steadily increased from 15.2 points to 27.4 points.
On January 31, 1995, Robinson contributed 38 points on 60.7% shooting, including three 3-pointers, five rebounds, and three steals in a 107-105 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. The Bucks were down five points at the end of quarter, and no other teammates scored more than 20 points in that game, the rookie put the team on his shoulders and proved to be the leader.
8. Mitch Richmond - Golden State Warriors
PPG In 1988-89 Season: 22.0
Shooting guard Mitch Richmond was known for his consistency, scoring more than 20 points in 10 of his 14 years. He was originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors, averaging 22.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.0 steals per game.
With the excellent performance, Richmond won the 1988-89 season Rookie of the Year award over Willie Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs and Chris Morris of the New Jersey Nets.
In March, Richmond averaged 25.4 points over 19 games, helping the Warriors win nine of them. On March 4, he posted 47 points on an astonishing 70.8% shooting, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals in a win over the Sacramento Kings.
More impressively, the 6-foot-5 guard helped the team make the second-round of the playoffs that year. In the first round against the Utah Jazz, he averaged 25.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.
7. Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers
PPG In 2010-11 Season: 22.5
Coming into the NBA, Blake Griffin was known for his unbelievable athleticism, having countless dunks over other players' heads. He was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009, but he had his professional career debut a year later due to a stress fracture in his left knee.
The 6-foot-9 forward showcased what he’s capable of once he stepped on the court in 2010. In his first game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Griffin posted 20 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. And his matchup was All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
Griffin won the Rookie of the Year, averaging 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He had two 40-plus point games in his rookie season, including 44 points against the New York Knicks and 47 points against the Indiana Pacers. He not only set a Clippers franchise record for most points by a rookie, but also became the first rookie to have two games with more than 40 points since Allen Iverson in 1997.
6. Ron Harper - Cleveland Cavaliers
PPG In 1986-87 Season: 22.9
Ron Harper was probably best known as the starting point guard for the dynasty built by the Chicago Bulls. Though he was not notable for his scoring, Harper was one of the rookies with the highest scoring average in history.
Harper was initially selected eighth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1986 NBA draft. During his first year, Harper contributed 22.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block per game, and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team that year.
Harper averaged more than 20 points per game not only annually but also every single month of his rookie season, and he had only two games in single-digit, which indicates how stable he was. On February 4, 1987, Harper dropped a season-high 40 points on 71.4% shooting, six rebounds and nine assists against the No. 1 Eastern Conference team Boston Celtics.
5. Shaquille O'Neal - Orlando Magic
PPG In 1992-93 Season: 23.4
Everyone knows that Shaquille O'Neal could easily drop 30 or 40 points in a single night during his prime. But do they remember how many points O'Neal averaged per game as a rookie? The answer is 23.4.
The young O'Neal was drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA draft. Even entering the league in the most competitive era of the centers, including Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, etc., O'Neal still rapidly became one of the best at his position.
One of his best games during his rookie season was against the Detroit Pistons, where he posted 46 points on 76% shooting, 21 rebounds, three assists and five blocks. He became one of the six rookies to have at least 45 points and 20 rebounds in one game and the first one to achieve it since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970.
4. Allen Iverson - Philadelphia 76ers
PPG In 1996-97 Season: 23.5
Allen Iverson, known as ‘the Answer,’ was one of the most iconic players in NBA history. He was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA draft over players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, etc. That demonstrates how talented he was.
The 6-footer averaged 23.5 points per game in his rookie season, which is the highest by a guard since Michael Jordan in 1985. One of the most impressive plays in Iverson’s first season was scoring a jump shot on Jordan after a beautiful crossover.
With various offensive skills, Iverson proved to be a solid scorer from day one. And he had his breakout month at the end of the season, where he dropped an average of 33.6 points per game in April. On April 12, Iverson posted a season-high 50 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
3. Terry Cummings - San Diego Clippers
PPG In 1982-83 Season: 23.7
Terry Cummings was selected second overall by the San Diego Clippers in the 1982 NBA draft, averaging 23.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. With such a performance, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1983.
These figures, however, turned out to be the highest of his career in those categories. On March 9, 1983, Cummings dropped 39 points, 18 rebounds and five assists during a 119-114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged more than 23 points per game in four of his five months as a rookie. Unfortunately, late in his rookie season, Cummings suffered from heartbeat irregularities, which would keep him out for weeks. But he was still named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
2. David Robinson - San Antonio Spurs
PPG In 1989-90 Season: 24.3
David Robinson (24-year-old) was probably one of oldest first overalls to begin his career because he had to serve an obligatory two-year active-duty for the Navy after he was selected by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1987 NBA draft.
Age, however, didn’t prevent him from thriving. He averaged 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals, and 3.9 blocks per game in the 1989–90 season, and he was unanimously named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
The 7-foot-1 center’s scoring average per game added from November’s 20.9 points to next year’s April’s 25.4 points and had only one game in single-digit. On March 2, 1990, Robinson posted 41 points, 17 rebounds, two assists, three steals and five blocks in a 131-115 win against the Golden State Warriors.
1. Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls
PPG In 1984-85 Season: 28.2
On top of this list, it’s the great Michael Jordan. The 6-foot-6 guard was drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1984 NBA draft. The legend has been a natural scorer since his rookie season, averaging 28.2 points on 51.5% shooting per game, which is the highest in 40 years.
28.2 points are the third highest in the 1984-85 season, which helped Jordan win Rookie of the Year. However, Jordan didn’t find his rhythm on the offensive end in the beginning. It took him three months to reach his comfort zone, and he averaged almost 30 points per game in the rest of the season.
The rookie had seven 40-plus point games in his first year, including the highest 49 points. On February 12, 1985, Jordan posted 49 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and four steals in a 139-126 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Obviously, Jordan is probably the best scorer in the modern NBA. But the most amazing thing is that he became the best in the category in his first year.
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