Michael Jordan is the greatest scorer in NBA history, and it isn’t close. His career scoring average of 30.1 points per game ranks first all-time. Jordan’s 33.5 points per playoff game is also No.1, nearly four points more than the next closest player.
Some say that Wilt Chamberlain, Kevin Durant and others rival Jordan’s top-scorer status. Although players like them may have dominated their eras for brief periods or had more overall offensive skills than Jordan, no one was more consistently prolific at getting buckets than the Chicago Bulls legend.
Jordan won a staggering 10 scoring titles during his time in Chicago, including seven in a row. He did so playing just 11 full seasons out of 13 total, one he missed because of a broken foot and the other when he returned near the end of the season from taking a hiatus to play baseball. The only full season Jordan played in which he didn’t win the scoring title was his rookie season, and even then he led all rookies with an average of 28.2 points per contest.
Jordan achieved this feat via three different styles. Initially, under head coach Doug Collins, Jordan played with relentless energy and extreme ruthlessness. He averaged his career-best 37.1 points per game in his first season under Collins, as Jordan was allowed to command the offense since the team was still young and rebuilding.
Collins allowed Jordan to dictate the offense and shoot as much as he wanted, which resulted in Jordan tallying ungodly scoring numbers but teams like the “Bad Boy” Pistons focusing all their efforts to funnel him into the middle of the paint and see if he’d defer to his teammates. Under Collins, Jordan often tried to do too much and his teams lost to Detroit in three consecutive postseasons.
When Phil Jackson became the team’s head coach, however, he gradually coached Jordan to run the “triangle” offense and trust his teammates more. Jordan was reluctant to do so at first, but as the team began winning more and more, he bought into Jackson’s vision and eventually won six titles.
Even with Jackson asking Jordan to defer more often, Jordan still led the league in scoring. He scored less so with the ball in his hands for the entire possession, opting instead for designed post-ups, jump shots off screens and backdoor cuts to the rim, all of which Jordan was elite at. It’s impressive that Jordan was able to still score more than 30 points per game in an offense designed for sharing the ball. That just proves how gifted a scorer he was.
When Jordan returned from playing baseball and won his second three-peat, his offensive style changed. What he lost in athleticism and energy he made up for with basketball I.Q. and the greatest post-game of any guard ever, as well as running Jackson’s offense more enthusiastically and efficiently. His scoring fell to 28.7 by 1997-1998, but his team was scoring just 96.7 points per game that season, about 10 less than the Bulls did during their first three-peat. So his total points might have diminished a bit, but the percentage of his team’s overall points increased, which is extremely impressive in a different way.
When Jordan was well past his prime on the Wizards, he was still capable of amassing big scoring numbers on occasion. He’s the second-oldest player to score 50 points in a game at age 38 and the oldest to score 40 points, which he fittingly did at age 40. And he did it all with little athleticism left and a nonexistent 3-point shot.
Durant is more of a three-level scorer than Jordan. Chamberlain’s 100-point game and over 50 points per game scoring average likely won’t ever be beaten. But Jordan is the epitome of scoring greatness in NBA history, and because of the combination of competitiveness and talent he exhibited, he’ll likely always be considered as such.