The 2021-2022 season has begun with a fizzle. During these early stages, scoring is down compared to last year, mainly because of NBA rule changes limiting fouls on non-basketball-type plays.
Still, 48 players are averaging 18.0 points per game or more, and with the type of offensive talent pulsing through the league, those numbers should climb as more players adjust and learn to function within this new version of the NBA.
Next, we’ll swoop through the best shot-makers in the league and determine which offensive assassin has the best chance of winning this year’s scoring award.
LaVine can score with the best of them. The Chicago Bulls have blasted out of the gate at 4-1 and look legit for the first time since Derrick Rose hefted his one and only MVP trophy. But this team is stacked with offensive talent. DeMar DeRozan has averaged over 20 PPG for his career, Lonzo Ball’s increased his three-point accuracy every year he’s been in the league, and Nikola Vucevic is a smooth shooting center who can score inside and out. In the end, Zach LaVine should make his second consecutive All-Star team, but he won’t get enough shots to win the scoring award.
Throughout Lillard’s first four games, he’s averaging 17.8 points per game off of 18.0 attempts while shooting 33.3% from the field and 17.1% from deep. Four games are a tiny sample, and he’s going to shoot better. Still, Lillard’s heart doesn’t seem in right now. It feels like this rendition of the Trail Blazers’ has no chance of making it out of the first round, and Lillard knows it.
5. Jayson Tatum
11th in scoring
10th in scoring
Last season’s offensive specialists, Kemba Walker (19.3 PPG) and Evan Fournier (13.0 PPG), landed in New York in the summer. New Celtics president Brad Stevens replaced their production over the offseason with so-so shot makers Dennis Schroder and Al Horford, giving Beantown one of the most barren offenses in the association.
This season, the Celtics’ two All-Star wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, will have to manufacture a surplus of points just for Boston to compete. Both men are exceptional at putting the ball in the hoop, but Tatum’s ability to score at every level of the court separates him from his running mate, Brown, and should help push his scoring average above 30 points per game for the season.
Check out Jayson Tatum’s shooting percentages from last season:
73.5% at the rim
42.2% from 16 feet to the arc
38.6% from three-point range
At 6-8, 210 pounds, Jayson Tatum blends physicality in the lane with a soft touch behind the arc in a way that you just don’t see in the NBA. In some ways, he’s like a young LeBron James with a better outside touch. Unfortunately, his passing ability and IQ aren’t near LBJ’s, limiting his overall gravity and effect on the game. Still, Tatum’s averaging 23.6 shots per game this young season, up from 20.6 last year. And that doesn’t feel like too many attempts on this team.
Look for Tatum to turn his 23.6 FGA’s per game into something like a 28.0-point average for the season.
4. Paul George
27th in scoring
Tied 18th in scoring
Paul George’s Clippers running mate on the wing, Kawhi Leonard, is most likely out for the season as he recovers from a partially torn ACL in his right knee. George and Leonard teamed up two years ago, and during that time, Paul was Robin to Kawhi’s Batman; now, Batman and his 17.5 shot attempts per game are gone.
Paul George last suited up without Kawhi for the Thunder during the 2018-2019 season. That year he played alongside Russell Westbrook and a group of defensive-minded role players like Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Dennis Schroder, and Nerlens Noel. Paul George ended the season second in the league in scoring at 28.0 PPG off of 21 attempts and finished 3rd in MVP voting.
This year Paul George finds himself once again surrounded by a group of solid role players in Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Eric Bledsoe, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, and Ivica Zubac. Each man brings value to the court, but none of them is close to making the All-Star team, and none can create a shot from nothing in the half-court.
Thus far, the Clippers are 1-3, and George has found himself thrust into a different role than the last two years. Now, he’s driving to the rack more than ever, where he’s finishing a monster 70.6 percent of his shots. When George isn’t attacking the rim, he’s taking nearly half of his shots from beyond the arc, connecting on only 30.8 percent of his attempts.
PG13 rarely messes around in the mid-court. He’s gone with the new school model of rim runs or long distance bombs, and the analytics show us that this is the best way for a player to increase his scoring efficiency and point totals.
As Paul George carries the load on offense for the under-manned Clippers, look for him to continue avoiding the mid-court and stick to “Moreyball” by attacking the rim and bombing away from deep. As the regular season winds down George’s three-point percentage will settle down somewhere around his career average of 38.3 percent. George should end up with a 29.0-point average for the season as he does his best to drag this Kawhi-less version of the Clippers into the playoffs in the deep and talented Western Conference.
3. Stephen Curry
1st in scoring
Tied 1st in scoring
If you’re an NBA fan and you haven’t been trapped under a rock for the last half-decade, you know Stephen Curry gets buckets. He’s the best three-point shooter ever. He makes off-the-dribble shots from five feet beyond the arc look easy, and his ability to connect from anywhere on the court gives opposing head coaches anxiety attacks.
Stephen Curry led the league in scoring last year as he did his best to help propel his Golden State Warriors into the postseason before losing two play-in games to the Lakers and then the Grizzlies. This year, Stephen Curry’s back to his old tricks. He’s in the top-five in scoring, and during these early stages, he leads the league in three-point attempts by a wide margin at 13.0 per game.
Here’s the thing, though: The Golden State Warriors are much better this season than last. The Warriors are 4-1 and currently sit second out west. Bob Meyers, the Warriors’ GM, didn’t reconstruct the roster during the offseason. Instead, returning players have stepped up their games. Young guns Jordan Poole and Damian Lee have slowly turned into solid offensive weapons, averaging 14.0 PPG and 14.2 PPG, respectively.
The former number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, has never lived up to his massive potential, but he’s rounded into a solid NBA wing who’s one tier below All-Star level. Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, implored former Defensive Player of the year, Draymond Green, to step up his offensive game. So far, the long-time Warrior Big has obliged, connecting on 66.7 percent of his three-point shots while dishing out nearly seven assists per game.
More help is on the way. We’re slowly nearing Klay Thompson’s return, and all signs point toward his full recovery, adding perhaps the second-best three-point marksmen of all time to an already solid roster.
Stephen Curry could lead the league in scoring this year, but he doesn’t need to. The Warriors are deep and talented. Look for Curry to inch back his field goal attempts and minutes as the season progresses and average 29.0 points per game.
2. Ja Morant
51st in scoring
Tied 1st in scoring
Ja Morant was outside the top 50 in scoring last season, but you can throw those scoring numbers away. Instead, look at his playoff production, where he decided to take matters into his own hands by upping his field goal attempts from 15.2 in the regular season to 22.6 throughout five tough first-round games against the Utah Jazz. Morant finished that series, averaging over 30 points per game, and put the league on notice that he would no longer shove his massive talent into the cupboard for long stretches of games.
Fast forward to the start of this season, and Morant’s leading the league in points at 30.4 per contest, and he’s tenth in field goal attempts, averaging 20.6 per game. We’ve seen enough of this fully unleashed version of Morant to know he’s an unstoppable force with the ball in his hands. He’s shifty, agile, and explosive in a way we haven’t seen since pre-injury Derrick Rose won the MVP Award.
Some squad’s like the Lakers are fortunate enough to have a Big-3 with three sure-fire Hall-of-Famers in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. Other potential playoff teams like the Nets and Suns feature two All-Stars with Kevin Durant and James Harden out east and Chris Paul and Devin Booker running in the desert. The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t so lucky. They have a solid playoff core, but they feature a Big-1 of Ja Morant.
Morant’s going to put the ball up this season; that’s a certainty. What’s much less certain is whether he’s genuinely turned into a solid three-point shooter. Early on, he’s hitting 40.6 percent of his 6.4 shots from beyond the arc, which is a massive 10 percentage points higher than last season. It’s rare for a player to morph from one of the worst three-point shooters in the league to one of the best. Morant’s long distance numbers will drop. The question is: How much?
We’re betting he shows modest improvement from deep and finishes the year connecting on a league-average 36 percent of his attempts. In the end, as his long distance shooting numbers come back toward the mean, we should see a slight drop in scoring output, meaning he’ll average 30.0 points per game for the season.
1. Kevin Durant
9th in scoring
3rd in scoring
This season Kevin Durant’s playing another game than every other NBA player. His shooting splits are like nothing we’ve ever seen in the NBA:
0-3 feet: 71.4%
3-10 feet: 60.0%
10-16 feet: 59.0%
His shooting numbers from inside the arc are ridiculous, but unlike Ja Morant’s early numbers from deep, this doesn’t feel like an outlier. If you’re an NBA fan, you know the book on Durant. He’s a 6-10 forward with a 7-5 wingspan, who moves like a guard, and shoots over everyone without having to fade away like his predecessors, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, giving him an advantage we’ve never seen before.
Durant makes scoring over massively talented NBA players look as effortless as drinking a glass of water. He’s unstoppable.
He’s currently averaging a tad under 30 points per game while shooting 36.0 percent from deep. His three-point accuracy will rise towards his career 38.4 percent from deep. His field goal attempts will also rise because the Nets are without All-Star Kyrie Irving and less heralded, but solid offensively, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet.
Last season the Nets had one of the best point differentials in the league, meaning they blew out a lot of teams. This year won’t be as easy. The Nets are still nowhere near elite on defense, and their offense has taken a step back. Kevin Durant will have to score, especially late in games, for Brooklyn to win. It’s easy to see Durant ending the season up around 32 points per game and winning the 2021-2022 scoring title.