We do not know who will do it, and we don’t know exactly when it can occur. But we do know that any individual sometime soon will rating 50 points in an N.B.A. game. After which it can occur again. And many times and again.
The headlines have began to sound familiar. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 55 on Jan. 3. Klay Thompson scored 54 and Donovan Mitchell scored 71 on Jan. 2. Luka Doncic scored 50 and 60 and 51. Pascal Siakam and Darius Garland have 50-point games this season. Lauri Markkanen just missed, with a 49-point game on Thursday. Who’s next? Kevon Looney?
An event that was a rarity as little as a decade ago is now becoming commonplace, and this season specifically, players are going off for 50 or more repeatedly.
Ten years ago, in 2012-13, only three players had 50-point games. Going back through the ’90s, ’80s and ’70s, the variety of 50-point games per season was almost uniformly in the only digits.
But currently, 50-point games have taken off, with a median of nearly 20 over the previous 4 seasons. To date this 12 months, with a little bit lower than half of the season complete, there have been 14.
So what’s occurring?
To start out with, teams as an entire are scoring more. The typical N.B.A. team has scored 113.8 points a game this 12 months, the best total since 1970. Ten years ago the common was 98.1. The pace of games has also sped up, with teams averaging nearly 100 possessions every 48 minutes over the past five seasons, which had not been done because the Nineteen Eighties. More possession, more shots, more points for everybody.
A variety of that offense has been driven by a drastic increase in 3-pointers. Within the late Nineties, teams made a median of 4 to 6 3s per game. Ten years ago, they made 7.2. In 2017-18, the full passed 10 for the primary time, and this season the common is 12.2, off 34.3 attempts.
In eight of the 14 50-point games this season, the player made not less than six 3s, with Thompson and Garland sinking 10 each. (Shout-out to Antetokounmpo for scoring 55 while shooting 0-for-3 from 3.)
Golden State Coach Steve Kerr this week pointed to 3-point shooting and pace as key aspects within the surge of 50-point performances. He also blamed defense.
“Transition defense is at an all-time low on this league,” he said. “Each night on League Pass, you see five guys standing there, any individual shoots, any individual runs long, and everybody goes: ‘Oh, the guy’s laying it up down there.’
“We do it, every team does it. I feel the sport has gotten really loose and the players are so talented, it’s made for a whole lot of big scoring nights.”
The 14 games this season were achieved by 10 different players, and the trend over the past few years has wrapped in players with far smaller profiles than that of Antetokounmpo or Doncic. Detroit’s Saddiq Bey had 51 points last March. Fred VanVleet of the Raptors did it in 2021, and T.J. Warren had 53 points in a game for Indiana in 2020.
Previously, 50-point games were typically the reserve of the greats. Wilt Chamberlain had 118 of them (certainly one of them, after all, reaching 100 points). Next are Michael Jordan with 31 and Kobe Bryant with 25.
Though some less expected names are popping for 50 today, the large names are literally doing it less often than the Chamberlains and Jordans and Bryants. Amongst energetic players, James Harden has 23, LeBron James has 14 and Damian Lillard has 12. Of the players who scored 50 this season, Stephen Curry is tops with 11 profession 50-point games.
As you may expect, with 50-point games up a lot, so are games within the 40-to-49-point range. Ten years ago, there have been only 33 such games. In recent seasons there have typically been about 100. But this season there are already 76.
A single player scoring 40 points in an N.B.A. game? Ho-hum.