Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and LeBron James rank as the highest scorers in NBA history. Despite the scoring talent from these players, they do not rank as the highest points getter at their respective positions. Over time, there have only been a few elite players at the five positions in the NBA.
The NBA features a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. At those positions, only one player can reign supreme. These are the players that rank with the highest stats per game average at those five positions.
Highest Points Per Game
PG - James Harden - 36.1
Steph Curry and Damian Lillard might be more modern choices by fans, but it is James Harden that owns the best overall average. Over time, Luka Doncic could surpass Harden, but it will have to come with an MVP attached to it. That is what happened with Harden in 2017-2018 when he won the MVP after averaging a career-high 36.1 points per game.
Harden led the league in scoring and had one of his best overall seasons. His stat line also included a career-high in free-throw percentage (87.9%) and steals (2.0). During the season, the Rockets won as many as 14 straight games and won the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference.
SG - Michael Jordan - 37.1
The 1986-1987 season saw one of the biggest individual jumps from a player. It was Year 3 of Jordan’s career. In his second season, Jordan averaged 22.7 points in 18 games. The following year, Jordan averaged a career-high 37.1 points to go along with 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.5 blocks.
He became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season. His shooting percentage of 48.2% was equally impressive. Despite his success, Jordan lost the MVP vote to Magic Johnson. The Bulls won just 40 games and were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
SF - Rick Barry - 35.6
The league hasn’t seen a small forward average this time of production since the 1966-1967 season. Nicknamed the “Miami Greyhound,” Barry had a slender physical build, quickness, and remarkable instincts. After winning the Rookie of the Year, he improved greatly by averaging 35.6 points per game, which ranks the eighth-highest output in league scoring history.
Barry led the Warriors to the NBA Finals before losing to the 76ers in six games. Barry once scored 55 points on an injured knee in Game 3. Barry averaged 40.8 points per game in the NBA Finals, which was a record that stood for 30 years.
PF - Bob Pettit - 31.1
Not even Dominique Wilkins averaged over 31 points per game while a member of the Hawks. Petit averaged the most points by power forward during the 1961-1962 season. Despite Petit’s success, the Hawks slipped to fourth place in the division.
Pettit is historically a great scorer. He was the first NBA player to eclipse the 20,000 points threshold. He was also a great free throw shooter. Of the 20,880 career points, 6,182 points came at the free-throw line.
C - Wilt Chamberlain - 50.4
Altogether, the 50.4 points per game average remains an NBA record. Fun fact, his average was done in the same season as Bob Petit, which ranks as the highest power forward average of all time. It was also the same season that Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points in a game, where he shot 36-of-63 from the field and made 28-of-32 free throws against the New York Knicks.
The 1961-1962 season saw Chamberlain score 4,029 regular-season points. He is the only player in league history to score more than 4,000 points in a season. The only other player to score more than 3,000 points in a season is Michale Jordan. Until 2017, Chamberlain held the record for points in an All-Star Game by scoring 42, a record that has since been broken by Anthony Davis. Despite his success, Chamberlain was criticized for averaging over 50 points, but not winning a title.
Higher Assists Per Game
PG - John Stockton - 14.5
Stockton led the league in assists for nine consecutive seasons, but his best total came in the 1989-1990 season. This assists average stands as the NBA record for one season. It should come as no surprise that Stockton also holds the NBA record for career assists with 15,0806. He is also one of three players to log more than 1,000 assists in a season, a feat he accomplished seven times.
SG - Micheal Ray Richardson, Norm Van Lier - 10.1
When Richardson averaged 10.1 assists in 1979-1980, he led the league, which is an uncommon accomplishment for a shooting guard. He also led the league in steals with 3.2, which was a Knicks single-season record. In 1970-1971, Van Lier played his final season with the Cincinnati Royals. It was then that “Stormin Norman” led the league in assists.
SF - LeBron James - 10.2
LeBron has done a lot of great things in his career but leading the league in assists at the age of 35 as a point-forward has to be one of the best. James played as the team’s primary ball-handler despite years of playing at small forward. In a year that saw his friend Kobe Bryant pass away tragically, James led the league in assists, but also led the Lakers to their first NBA championship since 2010.
PF - Draymond Green - 8.9
As a member of the Golden State Warriors offense, Green has always been someone that will do the little things. He owns career averages of 6.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.4 steals. This past season, Steph Curry took all the attention by leading the league in scoring. What nobody else knew was that Green averaged the most assists by power forward ever. It helps when you pass the ball to someone who is always making their shots.
C - Wilt Chamberlain - 8.6
Outside of being the best scoring center of all time, Wilt is the best passer of all time. As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967-1968, Chamberlain produced the best passing mark by a center of all-time, a record that stands today. With Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham pairing with Chamberlain, the team led the league in scoring. The team was the No. 1 seed in the regular season but ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals.
Higher Rebounds Per Game
PG - Oscar Robertson - 12.5
Before Russell Westbrook took the MVP crown in 2017, we had not seen a player average a triple-double in a season since Robertson in 1960-1961 with the Kings. Westbrook finished with the second-best season this past year by averaging 11.5 rebounds. This is a record we will likely see never fall unless Luka Doncic can find a way.
SG - Tom Gola 11.1
Gola began his Philly career with four straight stellar rebounding seasons. After averaging 9.1 in his first year, and 10.8 in his sophomore season, Gola pulled down 11.1 per game in the 1958-1959 season. Gola eventually paired with Wilt Chamberlain, but the duo could never get past the star-studded Boston Celtics roster in the playoffs.
SF - Elgin Baylor - 19.8
Baylor averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points per game from 1960-1961 to 1962-1963, but along with his scoring, his rebounding was elite as well. During his career-best rebounding season in 1960-1961, Baylor set a new NBA scoring record (since broken) when he scored 71 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. Baylor is one of the greatest players ever to not win an NBA championship.
PF - Jerry Lucas - 21.1
Lucas averaged more than 20 rebounds per game two times in his career. After averaging 20.0 in his second season with the Royals, Lucas pulled down an all-time best mark by power forward in 1965-1966. In the playoffs, he averaged 21.4 points, 20.2 rebounds, and 46.2 minutes over a five-game series with an injury.
C - Wilt Chamberlain - 27.2
At the time when Wilt played, the only stats kept were points, rebounds, and assists. Capping off the triple-threat, his 27.2 rebounds per game is an NBA record for a single season. It was one of 11 times that he led the league in rebounding. His career mark of 22.9 is also an NBA record.
Highest Steals Per Game
PG - Don Buse - 3.5
When Buse was a member of the ABA, he led the league in steals with 4.1 in his final year. In his first season in the NBA, Buse averaged a league-leading 3.5 steals as a member of the Indiana Pacers in 1977. He also led the league in assists that season. A four-time All-Defensive selection, Buse was an underrated player in his NBA career.
SG - Alvin Robertson - 3.7
Robertson’s 3.7 steals in the 1985-1986 season didn’t just lead the league, but also set an NBA record for single-season steals. His 2.7 steals mark for his career remains an NBA record. As a member of the Spurs, Robertson led the league in steals three times, but his record-setting season also helped him earn Defensive Player of the Year.
SF - Scottie Pippen - 2.9
When Michael Jordan abruptly retired from the NBA in 1993, Pippen had to be the face of the Chicago Bulls. Pippen led the team in steals in 1994, but then averaged 2.9 for a second straight season in 1995, which led the league. The Houston Rockets won the NBA championship both of those seasons, but who knows what could have happened if MJ stayed.
PF - Steve Mix - 2.6
The first four years of Mix’s career, the league didn’t keep track of steals. In his first season where steals were kept (1973-1974), Mix set a career-high with 2.6 steals per game. The 76ers finished 46-36 with Mix, Doug Collins, George McGinnis, and Billy Cunningham. However, the team was defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Buffalo Braves.
C - Hakeem Olajuwon - 2.6
For a center, Olajuwon was one of the most dynamic players at the league ever gave us fans. Olajuwon could score, rebound, and block, but he also finished with a respectable career average of 1.7 steals per game. In 1988-1989, Olajuwon averaged the best mark by a center. It was in the middle of a stretch of four straight years where Olajuwon averaged at least 2.0 steals or better.
Highest Blocks Per Game
PG - Paul Pressey - 0.9
It truly is a fun fact when you have never seen a point guard average at least 1.0 blocks per game. Then again, it’s not a vivid job description from this position, but Paul Pressey is the closest to ever doing it in 1984-1985 as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Pressey also averaged 0.8 blocks once, and 0.7 blocks two times. At 6-foot-5, he had the wingspan to do it.
SG - Michael Jordan - 1.6
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jordan holds this mark. His 1.6 blocks per game were a huge contributor to him winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1988. Jordan averaged 3.6 steals during this season too. At 6-foot-6, he was truly one of the most special defensive shooting guards we have ever seen.
SF - Andrei Kirilenko - 3.3
Kirilenko was one of the bigger small forwards playing the position at 6-foot-9. He averaged 3.2 3.3 blocks per game in 2004 and 2005. His better season saw him accumulate this average in just 41 games though due to a broken right wrist. At the time, the 41 games were enough for him to qualify as the league leader in blocks per game.
PF - Serge Ibaka - 3.7
When Ibaka first came into the league with the OKC Thunder, he was so well-known for blocking shots that his nickname was Serge “Iblocka.” He led the league in blocks in 2012 (3.7) and 2013 (3.0). This was all in part of three straight All-Defensive First-Team recognitions.
C - Mark Eaton - 5.6
Eaton led the league in blocks four times in his career and is currently the NBA career-average leader. His 5.6 blocks per game in 1985-1986 are a single-season NBA record. He blocked 456 shots, which shattered the NBA record of 393 by Elmore Smith set in 1973-1974. In a single game, he once blocked 10 shots in a 96-94 loss to the Rockets. For his efforts, he won Defensive Player of the Year.
Highest 3P% Per Game
PG - Steve Kerr - 52.4%
Kerr shot over 50% from outside four times in his career, but his best mark came in the season that saw Michael Jordan later come out of retirement. Before MJ came back, Kerr played as a heavy contributor off the bench and had to cash in to help the team offensively. The 52.4% average in 1995 led the NBA.
SG - Tim Legler - 52.4%
Legler led the league in both three-point field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage in 1995-1996. He won the 1996 Three-Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend. He holds the record for a 3-round aggregate of (23, 22, and 20 out of 30). For his efforts in the regular season, he finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting, which was won by Toni Kukoc of the Bulls.
SF - Jason Kapono - 51.4%
Kapono led the league in three-point percentage in back-to-back seasons, but as also as a member of different teams. His best season came in his final year with the Miami Heat, where he averaged a career-high 10.9 points per game. Kapono also won the Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend, downing 24 points in the final round, which tied Mark Price’s record for most points in a final round.
PF - Marcus Morris Sr. - 47.3%
When Morris was acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers last year, the team thought he was going to be an impact scorer after averaging 19.6 points with the Knicks. Instead, his scoring average dropped to 10.9. This year, Morris changed up his game and averaged a career-best 47.3% from outside. This was almost 10% higher than his career average and set a new all-time best for a power forward.
C - Mehmet Okur - 44.6%
Who remembers the 6-foot-11 big man that started at center for the Utah Jazz during the 2000s. After contributing as a bench player for the championship Pistons in 2004, Okur enjoyed a successful tenure with the Jazz from 2005 to 2011. The 2008-2009 season saw Okur score a career-high 43 points, but also the best overall three-point shooting percentage by a center.
Credit for the idea: NBA Debate 1