Playing as a rookie is hard, plain, and simple. It’s not the same as playing with high school kids, or as the same as those in college. It’s a different breed when a 19-year old goes against a grown 31-year-old. Finding points can be challenging, but history shows that is not always the case. With that said, history shows that it’s nice as easy as it used to be these days.
The highest rookie scoring average from a rookie player comes from Blake Griffin, who has the 22nd best mark with 22.5 points per game in 2010-2011. At the time, Griffin was technically a sophomore but missed his rookie season due to injuries. Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson are on the rankings, but outside of these two players, the list features a slew of older generation players.
The league has evolved or these players were just that good at the time. These are the top-10 highest rookie averages for a season.
10. Geoff Petrie (Trail Blazers)
Rookie Stats: 24.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.8 APG (1970-71)
Petrie led the Princeton men’s basketball team to as high as eighth in the AP Poll. The following year, he led the Ivy League in scoring with 23.9 points per game in conference games, including an appearance in the 1969 NCAA Division I Tournament. In college, Petrie scored 1,321 points, which was third in school history and it remains seventh today. At 6-foot-4, he could play either guard or forward positions and was eventually drafted by the Trail Blazers.
In his first year, he was named co-Rookie of the Year with Dave Cowens of the Celtics after averaging 24.8 points per game. Until Damon Stoudemire’s 54 point game in 2005, Petrie held the Trail Blazers individual scoring record at 51. Petrie’s career was later derailed by knee injuries.
9. Elgin Baylor (Minneapolis Lakers)
Rookie Stats: 24.8 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 4.1 APG (1958-59)
Baylor played three collegiate seasons at the College of Idaho and Seattle. Baylor averaged 31.3 points and 19.5 rebounds per game and led the NCAA in rebounds in the 1956-1957 season. As a rookie, Baylor finished second in the scoring race, third in rebounding and eighth in assists.
Once, he registered 55 points in a single game, which was the third-highest scoring mark in league history behind Joe Fulks’ 63 points and George Mikan’s 61. Baylor won Rookie of the Year and led the Lakers to the NBA Finals, just one year after the Lakers finished last in the standings. The Lakers were swept in four games by the Celtics and it kicked off an intense rivalry between the two franchises.
8. Terry Dischinger (Chicago Zephyrs)
Rookie Stats: 25.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.1 APG (1962-63)
When Dischinger left Purdue, he held nearly every scoring record at the university. Dischinger was named All-Big Ten three consecutive years and named the team MVP. He remains the record holder for nine 40-point games, 713 free throws made out of 871 attempted, and 14.3 rebounds per game. He is also second-most in rebounds behind Joe Barry Carroll’s 1,148.
From a scoring aspect, he averaged 28.3 points, which is why he was taken with the No. 8 overall pick. He won the Rookie of the Year Award with a stellar stat line, but the team stunk. The Zephyrs finished 25-55 under two different coaches. With that said, Dischinger won the award over four future Hall of Famers in Zelmo Beaty, Dave DeBusschere, John Havlicek, and Chet Walker.
7. Rick Barry (San Francisco Warriors)
Rookie Stats: 25.7 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.2 APG (1965-66)
Barry played college ball at the University of Miami because the team played an up-tempo pro-style of basketball under Bruce Hale. It was there that Barry earned All-American honors three times and led the NCAA with 37.4 points per game his senior year. The team didn’t make the NCAA tourney because Miami was placed on Probation. Still, Barry did enough to earn the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Barry was passed over for Princeton star Bill Bradley by the Knicks. Barry didn’t forget as he torched Madison Square Garden for 57 points in his debut. Barry had many great moments, including scoring 36 points in the All-Star Game, which featured Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson. Barry won Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.
6. Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls)
Rookie Stats: 28.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG (1984-85)
Jordan was a consensus First Team All-American in both his sophomore and junior seasons at North Carolina. After winning the Wooden College Player of the Year, Jordan was taken with the No. 3 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls. At the time, Portland passed Jordan because the team already had a guard in Clyde Drexler and the team needed a center. It proved to be a huge mistake.
Jordan shot 51.5% from the field and helped the team become a playoff contender. Jordan's rookie season featured the famous “freeze out” by Isiah Thomas in the All-Star Game, where players refused to pass him the ball. The controversy left him unaffected when he won the Rookie of the Year and got back at Thomas years later.
5. Elvin Hayes (San Diego Rockets)
Rookie Stats: 28.4 PPG, 17.1 RPG, 1.4 APG (1968-69)
Hayes had an amazing career at Houston. That featured leading the team to the Final Four in 1967. It featured a historic matchup with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA, who ended up winning. In the game, Hayes finished with 24 rebounds, which is second to Abdul-Jabbar’s Final Four record of 27. In the rematch, the two-faced in the first-ever nationally televised college basketball game. Hayes scored 39 points and limited Kareem to 15 points. It snapped a 47-game winning streak.
In college, Hayes averaged 31.0 points and 17.2 rebounds, while setting an NCAA tournament record with 222 rebounds. Hayes was drafted by San Diego and went on to lead the NBA in scoring and was named to the All-Rookie Team. His scoring average remains the last time that a rookie led the league in scoring. That featured a career-high 54 points against the Pistons in the regular season.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
Rookie Stats: 28.8 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 4.1 APG (1969-70)
When Kareem left UCLA< he was a three-time National Player of the Year and won the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year. He also holds records for highest career scoring average, most career field goals, most points in a season, and most made field goals. That led to the Harlem Globetrotters offering him $1 million to play for them. Instead, he declined and was picked No. 1 overall in the draft.
The Bucks were only in their second year of existence and they won the No. 1 overall pick on a coin toss against the Suns. The Bucks claimed second place in the Eastern Division, improving by nearly 30 wins. He was awarded Rookie of the Year after finishing second in the league in scoring and third in rebounding. During the season, his 46-point, 25-rebound game had him join Wilt Chamberlain as the only rookie to score at least 40 points and pull down 25 rebounds. He also set a rookie record with 10 or more games of 20+ points scored during the playoffs, which was tied by Jayson Tatum in 2018.
3. Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals)
Rookie Stats: 30.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 9.7 APG (1960-61)
Robertson led Cincinnati to a combined 79-9 overall record in three seasons, including two trips to the Final Four. When he left the school, he was the all-time leading scorer until future Hall of Famer Pete Maravich topped him in 1970. He remains at the top of the record books at Cincy, which includes points in a game (62), career rebounds, and career points.
In the NBA, Robertson was a territorial pick, which meant that since he attended Cincy he was going to join the Royals. Before Russell Westbrook in 2017, Robertson was the only player to average a triple-double in a season, something he did his sophomore year. In his rookie season, he nearly did it right off the bat. Robertson made All-NBA First Team and won the Rookie of the Year despite only winning 33 games as a team.
2. Walt Bellamy (Chicago Packers)
Rookie Stats: 31.6 PPG, 19.0 RPG, 2.7 APG (1961-62)
Bellamy was a force at Indiana University where he set the school record for career rebounds with 1,087 in 70 games. He still holds the Big Ten Conference record for rebounds in a game with 33 in a win over Michigan. When he entered the NBA and set the second-best scoring mark as a rookie, it might have taken some by surprise.
In the 1961 NBA Draft, Bellamy was taken with the No. 1 overall pick and became the first Indiana player to become Rookie of the Year. His rookie season is the second-best mark in NBA history. His scoring is second-most, while his rebounding is his third most. No NBA rookie has surpassed his 973 field goals in a season, while he also led the NBA in field goal percentage.
1. Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia Warriors)
Rookie Stats: 37.6 PPG, 27.0 RPG, 2.3 APG (1959-60)
Chamberlain tried to go pro after his junior year at Kansas, but the NBA did not accept players until after their college graduating class had been completed. That led to Chamberlain joining the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 for a salary that would be worth $449,000 today. Chamberlain was eventually drafted with a territorial pick by Philadelphia and he showcased the greatest rookie season we have ever seen.
Chamberlain broke the all-time regular-season scoring record of Bob Pettit. He needed only 56 games in comparison to Pettit’s 72 games. He was named the regular season MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. He capped off his rookie season by being named the All-Star Game MVP with a 23-point, 25-rebound performance. At the end of the year, Chamberlain threatened retirement because of all the double and triple teams defenses threw at him. In the end, he received a salary raise of $40,000, which was enough to keep him in the league.