There have been many scorers throughout the history of the NBA, some are a flash in the pan and some stay hot for a while. Some scorers put up big numbers in the playoffs when it matters most, others in the regular season where they get to face off against every team, not just in their conference.
HoopsHype recently released a list of the top 40 players who have scored in both scenarios and did so consistently season after season. This list will go into those top 10 players and provide a little detail on how they did it. Most are Hall of Famers and most are household names but the "best player ever" may not be where one would expect. Here are the top ten across the playoffs and regular season combined.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon - 30,701 points
Hakeem’s soft shooting touch and famous “Dream Shake” post-move earned him the tenth best regular and post-season combined points record. Despite being in a completely different conference, Hakeem’s playoff success seems to coincide with Michael Jordan’s absence. The Hall of Fame big man led the Houston Rockets to the NBA finals in 1986, the year MJ broke his foot, missing 64 games and leaving the Bulls to drop to the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
When Jordan retired for the first time abruptly after the 1993 seasons to play baseball for almost 2 years Hakeem immediately took over the league. The Dream won back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 95, winning Finals MVP in each appearance.
Overall stats: 22.2 ppg on 51.4 FG% and 71.2 FT%
Regular season stats: 21.8 ppg on 51.2 FG% and 71.2 FT%
Playoff stats: 25.9 ppg on 52.8 FG% and 71.9 FT%
9. Tim Duncan - 31,668 points
Tim Duncan is responsible for one of the more recent NBA dynasties the league has seen. A tenacious rebounder with consistent post scoring abilities and incredible court intelligence/awareness, Duncan was a back-to-back MVP in 2001-02 and 2002-03.
“The Big Fundamental” led the San Antonio Spurs to their first title in 1999, the only former ABA team from the now-merged league to win a championship. Duncan went on to win the organization four more rings.
While never considered the most dominant offensive player, Duncan could impact both ends of the floor when he needed to. Several long playoff runs and consistent play from Duncan for nearly all 18 years in the league get him up to number nine on this list.
Overall stats: 19.3 ppg on 50.5 FG% and 69.5 FT%
Regular season stats: 19.0 ppg on 50.6 FG% and 69.6 FT%
Playoff stats: 20.6 ppg on 50.1 FG% and 68.9 FT%
8. Shaquille O’Neal - 33,846 points
O’Neal was one of the most dominant NBA players in recent memory. Shaq won 4 NBA Championships across his 18 years in the league including three in a row from 2000-2002 with the Lakers.
A two-time scoring champion, Shaq was an incredible, aggressive scorer. With tremendous power and a reliable low post hook, the Big Diesel scored most of his points at the basket. Known better for his years on the Lakers, Shaq helped lead an Orlando Magic squad to a Finals appearance in just his third season in the league.
Overall stats: 23.8 ppg on 57.9 FG% and 52.3 FT%
Regular season stats: 23.7 ppg on 58.2 FG% and 52.7 FT%
Playoff stats: 24.3 ppg on 56.3 FG% and 50.4 FT%
7. Wilt Chamberlain - 35,026 points
Wilt Chamberlain is regarded as one of the best scorers of all time. Wilt multiple set the single-game record for points scored and a season average record for points per game. Chamberlain was a 7-time scoring champion, half of the total seasons he was in the league (14).
The Big Dipper is still regarded for his statistical accomplishments, however, these never materialized much in postseason success, winning only two NBA Championships in his career. Stories of Chamberlain make up a large part of basketball folklore, like how he played basketball professionally as a high schooler under a fake name and supposedly had a 50-inch vertical leap.
Overall stats: 29.1 ppg on 53.8 FG% and 50.5 FT%
Regular season stats: 30.1 ppg on 54.0 FG% and 51.1 FT%
Playoff stats: 22.5 ppg on 52.2 FG% and 46.5 FT%
6. Dirk Nowitzki - 35,223 points
If Wilt Chamberlain’s game relied on his athleticism, Dirk Nowitzki would have to be the opposite. The 7-foot power forward used his outside shooting skill with a near-automatic fadeaway jumper to get buckets. With this less paint-oriented style of offense, Dirk was able to play in the NBA for a long time, logging 20 seasons before retiring in 2019, he only averaged less than 10 points for two of those seasons.
Dirk’s playing style revolutionized the game for the modern-day bigs today, stretching the defense as a perimeter threat. Nowitzki also paved the way for European players coming overseas to play, being the first European player to earn NBA MVP honors.
In addition to his prototypical playing style, Nowitzki brought with him winning to the Dallas Mavericks. A bottom dweller for most of their existence, Nowitzki turned the Texas franchise around, leading Dallas to their first Finals appearance in 2006 and then eventually an NBA Championship in 2011.
Overall stats: 21.1 ppg on 47.0 FG%, 37.9 3P% and 88.0 FT%
Regular season stats: 20.7 ppg on 47.1 FG% 38.0 3P% and 87.9 FT%
Playoff stats: 25.3 ppg on 46.2 FG%, 36.5 3P% and 89.2 FT%
5. Michael Jordan - 38,279 points
The man widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time (or GOAT for short) was one of the best scorers in the league nearly every season he played. Jordan won 10 scoring titles over his 15 seasons in the league, scoring with eye-popping athleticism and eventually a well-refined virtuosic fadeaway.
The 6-time Finals MVP may be lower on the list than most expect, this is in large part due to MJ’s multiple retirements, missing 4 whole seasons, and most of the 1994-95 season. Another possible factor is the changes in the team system he played in, head coach Phil Jackson requiring Jordan to score far less in the playoffs than he did under Doug Collins or Stan Albeck when he set the NBA record for most points in a playoff game.
Overall stats: 30.6 ppg on 49.5 FG%, 32.8 3P% and 83.4 FT%
Regular season stats: 30.1 ppg on 49.7 FG% 32.7 3P%, and 83.5 FT%
Playoff stats: 33.4 ppg on 48.7 FG%, 33.2 3P% and 82.8 FT%
4. Kobe Bryant - 39,283 points
If Jordan is around, Kobe Bryant is not far behind. Large parts of Bryant’s game were based on Jordan’s, use of athleticism early in his career and his fadeaway later in his career. However, Kobe was also taught by Jordan’s draft classmate, Hakeem Olajuwon who helped the 5-time NBA Champion with his footwork propelled his offensive ability.
Kobe combined with Shaq led the Lakers to a three-peat and then Kobe won it with Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. Bryant was known for taking and making late-game shots in key moments ever since he was a rookie, putting up 4 airballs after getting substituted in following Robert Horry’s ejection, the Lakers lost 98-93 and were eliminated by the Utah Jazz.
A big reason Bryant makes this list over someone like Michael Jordan is in part due to being the youngest player to join the NBA at 18 years, 158 days. Kobe also was a 2-time scoring champion across his 20 seasons in the league.
Overall stats: 25.1 ppg on 44.7 FG%, 33.0 3P% and 83.4 FT%
Regular season stats: 25.0 ppg on 44.7 FG% 32.9 3P% and 83.7 FT%
Playoff stats: 25.6 ppg on 44.8 FG%, 33.1 3P% and 81.6 FT%
3. Karl Malone - 41,689 points
Karl Malone is the one player on this list who has never won an NBA Championship. Unlike Kobe, Karl Malone was given the opportunity to make an immediate impact on his team, averaging 14.9 points per game during his rookie year.
Despite not winning a scoring title, in large part due to Michael Jordan, Malone earned himself MVP honors in 1997 and 1999. He also led Utah to the franchises' two and only NBA Finals appearances in their 46 years in the league. Under the Mailman, the Jazz stayed relevant, making the playoffs every season of his career with the team.
Malone even had another shot at the Finals in his last season with Kobe and Shaq Lakers but suffered a historic upset at the hands of the Detroit Pistons. By the time of his retirement in 2004, Malone was second in most regular-season career minutes played.
Overall stats: 25.0 ppg on 50.9 FG% and 74.1 FT%
Regular season stats: 25.0 ppg on 51.6 FG% and 74.2 FT%
Playoff stats: 24.7 ppg on 46.3 FG% and 73.6 FT%
2. LeBron James - 41,732 points
Almost everyone knows LeBron James, the reigning Finals MVP has been in the league for 17 years and is the only active player on this list. LeBron’s offensive ability is astounding, at the peak of his powers with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, the 6’9” point forward was the best driving scorer in the league, it also helped that he could knock down shots from mid-range and beyond.
King James has benefitted from many situational factors mentioned earlier in this article: for at least his first 7 seasons with the Cavs, LeBron was the main scorer on his team; like Kobe, LeBron came into the NBA straight out of high school giving him multiple years of experience; and then finally LeBron has made multiple deep playoff runs with every team he has been on.
LeBron has also not been hurt that much, only missing significant time in the 2018-19 season, his 16th year in the league. While James has only one regular-season scoring title to his name, he does however hold the record for most playoff points scored, 7.491. Given his steady pace of scoring in both the playoffs and regular season might help him reach the final name on this list.
Overall stats: 27.4 ppg on 50.2 FG%, 34.2 3P% and 73.6 FT%
Regular season stats: 27.1 ppg on 50.4 FG%, 34.4 3P% and 73.4 FT%
Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg on 49.6 FG%, 33.5 3P% and 74.1 FT%
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 44,149 points
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is at the very least a top 3 player of all time. 6-time NBA Champion had one of the longest careers in NBA history, playing 20 seasons, averaging over 20 points per game for 16 of those seasons.
Kareem’s most dominant offensive weapon was his unguardable hook shot, allowing him to lead the league in scoring twice. Abdul-Jabbar also experienced prolonged playoff success, winning 1 championship with the Milwaukee Bucks and 5 with the Lakers alongside Magic Johnson.
There are too many statistical categories to even list off for the 19-time All-Star. The all-time regular-season scoring leader and second all-time playoff scoring leader was unstoppable in both his prime and even his late 30s, earning himself the longest time between two Finals MVP awards, 14 years from 1971 and 1985.
Overall stats: 24.6 ppg on 55.6 FG% and 72.4 FT%
Regular season stats: 24.6 ppg on 55.9 FG% and 72.1 FT%
Playoff stats: 24.3 ppg on 53.3 FG% and 74.0 FT%