Defense wins championships, but it’s pretty hard to secure a victory if you don’t score. And, more critically, if you don’t have one of the best bucket getters in the league when things bog down in the playoffs, you’re as good as done.
The top scorers in the league put butts in the seats and then get fans on their feet with their offensive exploits. We love to watch NBA superstars flush the rim with an explosive dunk, break down a defender with a ridiculous crossover, or go Stephen Curry on the opposing team by nailing a contested 40-footer.
The NBA’s last ten seasons have extended us some of the best scorers in league history. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Stephen Curry dominated their peers, together racking up nearly all the scoring titles between 2011 through 2021.
Below, we’ll break down the NBA’s last ten scoring leaders.
2011-12 NBA Season
Kevin Durant: 28.0 Points Per Game
In 2011-12 Kevin Durant won his third scoring title, edging out Kobe Bryant for the honor by 0.1 points per game. During KD’s fifth season, he overwhelmed the league with an improved inside-out game.
Throughout KD’s first four years in the NBA, he was rail-thin, but by the 2011-12 season, his time in the gym paid off, and he finally added a bit of muscle to his frame, helping him ruin the competition in the lane. Kevin Durant constantly pressured opposing defenders with his blow-by speed, long-stepped crossover moves, and a range of spin attacks, ending the year with a league-high 431 made free throws.
The Thunder lost to the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals during the previous year’s playoffs, rubbing Durant raw. He didn’t sulk, though. Over the summer, he hit the lab and worked on his long distance jumper. He came into the 2011-12 season flaming hot from outside, and he continued to connect at an impressive clip the entire year, ending with a 38.7% hit rate from deep and a 48.3% mark from 16 feet to the three-point line.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and the rest of the Thunder ended the 2011-12 season with the second-best record in the Western Conference, finishing three games behind the Spurs. In the postseason, Kevin Durant went on to show that he wasn’t a regular season chucker who couldn’t get it done when it mattered by leading Oklahoma City to the finals. KD averaged 28.5 PPG off 51.7% from the field throughout the NBA’s second season. Durant and the Thunder lost to the more veteran Miami Heat in the penultimate round, but he put the league on notice that he was coming.
2012-13 NBA Season
Carmelo Anthony: 28.7 Points Per Game
During the 2012-13 season, Carmelo Anthony wrestled the NBA scoring title away from Kevin Durant, who finished second with 28.1 PPG. Anthony’s 2012-13 Knicks squad featured a hobbled Amar’e Stoudemire who only suited up for 29 games, J. R. Smith at the shooting guard position, and Raymond Felton at the 1. New York was devoid of a complementary All-Star next to Anthony, so he took it upon himself to do the heavy lifting on offense, finishing the year with the highest usage rate in the league.
Carmelo Anthony used his patented shooting stroke to assault the rim throughout 2012-13. He took roughly 70% of his shots from outside the lane, blending his sweet mid-range fadeaway jumper with a healthy dose of pump fakes and an excellent three-point stroke to rack up the points. Overall, Melo finished the year shooting 37.9% from deep off 6.2 attempts per game, and 44.1% from 16 feet to the arc, making him one of the best long distance marksmen in the league.
Carmelo helped lug the under-manned Knicks into the 2013 postseason, where they made it to the second round before succumbing to a talented Indiana Pacers squad.
2013-14 NBA Season
Kevin Durant: 32.0 Points Per Game
2013-14 featured Kevin Durant at the height of his powers. During KD’s seventh season in the league, he put together one of the best offensive showcases the NBA has ever seen.
Here’s a breakdown:
14.8 Offensive Win Shares (1st in the NBA)
8.8 Offensive Box Plus/Minus (1st in the NBA)
9.6 Value Over Replacement Player (1st in the NBA)
29.8 Player Efficiency Rating (1st in the NBA)
33.0 Usage Rate (1st in the NBA)
KD poured gasoline over the league and lit it on fire throughout 2013-14. He attacked the rim relentlessly, a long-armed menace with some of the best footwork east of Kobe Bryant, finishing 79.8% of his shots from 0 to 3 feet. He gave opposing defenders two choices: foul him in the lane, or watch him drop two through the bucket.
He also showed a more advanced back-to-the-basket game, using a smooth turnaround fadeaway jumper to get easy J’s, or leaning his back into has man, looking for contact before quick-spinning around him for a relaxed jaunt into the lane.
KD helped the Oklahoma City Thunder finish first in the Northwest Division with a 59-23 record before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
2014-15 NBA Season
Russell Westbrook: 28.1 PPG
During the 2014-15 season, Westbrook’s teammate Kevin Durant only suited up for 27 games with a lingering right foot issue. With KD sidelined, it was Brodie’s time to shine.
Russell Westbrook put his incredible athleticism to work, attacking the rim like a wolf chasing a limping chicken. He finished the season tied for third in the league in drives at 15.0 per game, finishing a solid-ish 43.0% of his attempts. He also used his quick-burst first step to create separation from his defender, allowing him to shoot unmolested mid-range jumpers.
Russell Westbrook was everything for the Thunder in 2014-15. He was their sole playmaker with KD out, soaking up nearly all the opposing squad’s defensive attention. He drew 9.8 fouls per game, dished out 8.6 APG, and went 120% on offense.
Brodie helped push Oklahoma City to a 45-37 record, finishing ninth in the incredibly deep Western Conference and missing the postseason.
2015-16 NBA Season
Stephen Curry: 30.1 Points Per Game
In 2015-16 Stephen Curry became only the second player in NBA history to average over 30 points per game with a true shooting percentage north of .650, as he unanimously won the MVP Award.
Steph’s numbers were staggering:
His 31.5 Player Efficiency Rating was the 8th-highest all-time
He was the 9th player to join the 50-40-90 club, hitting 50.4% from the field, 45.4% from deep, and 90.8% from the charity stripe
He shot 57.7% from 30 to 34 feet off 26 attempts (the 3-point line is 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet from the top)
He led the Warriors to a 73-9 record, the best all-time
Stephen Curry broke the league in 2015-16. His long-distance shooting stroke created a puzzle opposing coaches had no answer for.
How do you stop a player who can’t be double-teamed? You don’t.
Eventually, the league’s 29 other organizations figured out how to slow down Curry, but during the 2015-16 season, he was the scoring champ and the best offensive player since Michael Jordan.
2016-17 NBA Season
Russell Westbrook: 31.6 Points Per Game
In 2016-17 Russell Westbrook found himself partner-less after Kevin Durant moved to Golden State. Brodie’s best teammates were Victor Oladipo and Enes Freedom, so he went full wrecking ball/destructor on the rim.
Westbrook led the league in drives at 20.1 per game, finishing a solid 44.4% of his attempts with the full defensive attention focused squarely on him. He blitzed the concentrated defensive aggression he faced nightly with the fastest first step in the league, a solid crossover, and a nice little change of pace skip he used to throw defenders off before blowing by them. He also led the league in transition possessions, zipping down the court for 6.8 attempts per game of pure athletic mayhem that was nearly impossible to stop, especially when he pulled down the defensive rebound himself and took off like a jet.
Russell Westbrook is mired in a horrific 2021-22 season with the Lakers, turning his narrative into an ugly, smelly stew. Say what you want about Brodie, but you must admit he was a legitimate star throughout 2016-17.
Check out his numbers:
30.6 Player Efficiency Rating (1st in the NBA)
57.3 Assist Percentage (1st in the NBA)
41.7 Usage Rate (1st in the NBA)
8.7 Offensive Box Plus/Minus (1st in the NBA)
9.3 Value Over Replacement Player (1st in the NBA)
Russell Westbrook dropped a cool 31.6 points per game and led his Thunder squad into the playoffs, losing against a deep Houston Rockets team in the first round.
2017-18 NBA Season
James Harden: 30.4 Points Per Game
During the 2017-18 season, James Harden began his string of three consecutive scoring titles by averaging 30.4 points per game for the Houston Rockets. Harden took the Rockets analytics-driven mantra of never-ever-take-a mid-range-jumper to heart. He launched over 50% of shots from beyond the arc, where he connected on a solid 36.8% of his attempts.
Harden really racked up the points, though, through his isolation capabilities. The Beard led the league in one-on-one possessions at 10.0 per game, scoring at an excellent 1.22 points per possession, which landed him in the 95th percentile across the NBA. Harden proved nearly impossible to stop in isolation with one of the best stop/start moves in the league, a deadly pump fake from beyond the arc, and the way he drove fearlessly into contact. He left defenders with two uncomfortable choices: foul him or wait for help.
James Harden helped propel the Rockets to a 65-17 record in 2017-18, good for first place in the Western Conference. They pushed the Warriors to seven games in the second round of the playoffs but lost to a deeper Golden State team that went on to win the title.
2018-19 NBA Season
James Harden: 36.8 Points Per Game
The 2018-19 season saw James Harden explode across the league in a fiery ball of charity stripe visits and bombs from deep. The Beard led the NBA in made three-pointers with 378 for the season off a league-high 1,028 attempts. He also was tops in made free throws at 692 and trip to the line at 800 for the year.
While we’re throwing stats at you, we’ll hit you with some more: James Harden led the NBA in USG% (40.5), OWS (11.4), OBPM (9.4), VORP (9.3), drives per game (19.6), and Isolation possessions per game (16.4).
You read that correctly, James Harden averaged 16.4 isolation possessions per game in 2018-19 more than triple that of second-place John Wall, who finished this season with 5.6 iso attempts per contest.
James Harden managed to put up one of the best offensive performances we’ve ever seen (he averaged nearly 37 points per game with a 54.1 effective field goal percentage!!!!!), while simultaneously boring every NBA fan outside of Houston to death with the way he pounded the ball the entire shot clock before drawing a wacky, arm-flailing foul. Harden’s 2018-19 escapades set the wheels in motion for this season’s rule changes, limiting offensive players’ ability to initiate “non-basketball” contact.
In the end, James Harden helped guide the Rockets to the 4th best record in the Western Conference before losing to their nemesis, the Golden State Warriors, in the second round of the playoffs again.
2019-20 NBA Season
James Harden: 34.3 Points Per Game
James Harden finished his scoring title three-peat, averaging a massive 34.3 points per game. The 2019-20 rendition of the Houston Rockets featured Harden and Russell Westbrook in the backcourt, forming a former MVP duo in what turned out to be one of the most intriguing pairings the league’s seen in the last decade.
Harden and Westbrook never seemed to form any type of cohesion, instead choosing to take turns running the offense while the other player stood in the corner and watched. In the end, Harden finished the season with 14.1 still-impossible-to-stop-isolation-possessions, and Westbrook came in second, averaging 7.4 less efficient isolation attempts of his own. Both players also finished inside the top-10 in drives per game, usage rate, and transition baskets.
The Harden/Westbrook experiment didn’t work. The Rockets got run over by the bigger Lakers in the playoffs, losing in the second round for the third year in a row.
James Harden never made a deep playoff run during his three seasons as the league’s scoring champ, and he turned off a lot of fans with his ball-stopping, foul-drawing brand of basketball. Still, you could argue his three seasons between 2017 and 2020 are some of the best offensive showcases we’ve ever seen. The Beard is an excellent playmaker who’s somehow a selfishly unselfish point guard who goes beast-mode in the lane and has a feathery outside touch.
2020-21 NBA Season
Stephen Curry: 32.0 Points Per Game
Stephen Curry was up to his old tricks last season in Northern California, dropping an easy 32.0 points per game during his age 32 season (Get it? 32 points/ 32-years-old) like he was playing a game of horse with a few high school buddies at the park.
Curry dragged his depleted Warriors team without Klay Thompson, a too-young Jordan Poole, and a not-ready-yet Andrew Wiggins into the play-in before the Lakers and Grizzlies dismissed them from the real postseason. We can’t dismiss Steph’s heroics, though, because nothing is more difficult in the NBA than single-handedly driving your team towards a winning record like Curry did in 2020-21, helping Golden State finish with a 39-33 record.
Curry led the league in total three-pointers made with Brad Pitt-at-the-shopping mall attention nightly. He finished the season with a ridiculous 60.5 effective field goal percentage as he nearly climbed into the 50-40-90 clubhouse again, connecting on 42.1% from deep, 91.6% from the charity stripe, but missing out with a 48.2 field goal percentage.
Curry didn’t win the MVP last year. Still, it was his best season in my book. He led his starless team to victory after victory, with the entire league zoned in on him every night. He was damn impressive!!!!
2021-22 NBA Season
The 2021-22 season isn’t finished yet, but Joel Embiid is in the scoring champion driver’s seat with a 29.5 nightly average. He mixes the best post moves in the association with a better-than-advertised deep stroke.
Embiid’s nightly point exploits aren’t for nothing. He’s got the 76ers in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 40-24 record. Embiid and his shot-making ability give Philadelphia a real shot at the championship this season.