The NBA is going through a wild offseason. With teams around the league scrambling to load up with enough weapons to challenge the Golden State Warriors, there have been several big trades and several more moves to come. As the dust begins to settle a bit, however, we'll try and take a look at one of the most important parts of professional basketball: scoring. Specifically, who will do the most of it during the next NBA season.
Scoring is critical to a team's success, and the individual scoring race is always an exciting one, with the players at the top of the list representing the best players in the NBA. Last season, the best scorer in the NBA, Russell Westbrook, also took home MVP honors, with his mind-boggling numbers a main factor.
Things change from year to year, and while you will certainly recognize all the names on this list, several have shifted places, and a few notable ones have dropped off the list altogether. You won't find Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, or Karl-Anthony Towns, all of whom finished in the top 15 last year, on this list, as a direct result of recent moves and developments that will affect how next year unfolds.
You will, however, see my predictions for the top fifteen scorers in what will be a thrilling NBA season next year. Without further ado, let's get into it.
15 Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis' game has been evolving since he arrived in the NBA. He seems to have finally settled as a dominant power forward with the ability to step out and drain shots from three. With the addition of top-three center DeMarcus Cousins, Davis will be more free than ever to flex his midrange and deep game, as well as getting ample opportunities to put in a steady diet of points from the low block and off rebounds.
New Orleans fans are giddy to see what their frontcourt can look like after a full offseason for Cousins and Davis to work together. While Davis' numbers will fall a bit from his fourth place finish in last year's scoring race, lower scoring will mean more team success as the Pelicans look to make a playoff run.
14 Brandon Ingram
It would be hard to find a young player facing more scrutiny this year than Brandon Ingram. The highly touted Laker with Kevin Durant size and length failed to live up to the expectations placed on his shoulders in his first year on a young team, averaging less than ten points per game. He seems very much a boom or bust player heading into next season, but with the addition of UCLA product Lonzo Ball, the situation is perfect for him to thrive. Ball is a pass-first point guard who instantly makes his teammates better, and if he and Ingram click, the young duo could form a scoring machine for years to come.
It's no secret the Lakers are in rebuild mode, but if Ball plays well at the next level, Brandon Ingram finds his shooting touch, and Paul George arrives next year as promised, they could be back in the playoffs much sooner than anyone expects.
13 Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo has seen his numbers steadily climb in his first four seasons in the NBA, and was just awarded the honor of Most Improved Player. He is also still just 22 years old. The Greek Freak has all the tools to be a superstar in the NBA, standing 6'11" but with the ball-handling skills of a point guard. He is unquestionably the man in Milwaukee, leading the team in every major statistical category last year, and the Bucks offense runs through him.
Antetokounmpo has no problem using his length and athleticism to euro-step his way through a defense or attack the rim, and will doubtless spend a lot of time this offseason making sure his jump shot commands respect from mid-range or beyond the arc. Look for him to put it all together this coming year and don't be surprised to hear his name in the MVP conversation.
12 Kyrie Irving
Unquestionably a top finisher in the NBA, Kyrie Irving makes jaws drop on a regular basis as he dribbles through a defense, attacks the paint, contorts his body, and somehow spins the ball at just the right angle off the glass to drop cleanly through the net for two with a defenders hand in his face. His finals performances in a losing cause were still incredible, and as long as he and LeBron are on the same team, the Warriors will need to work to defend their title.
While he plays on the same team as the best player in the world, James will doubtless take it easy next season and keep his body fresh for the postseason, leaving a more than capable Irving to shoulder more scoring duties. Look for Kyrie to dazzle on a nightly basis next season and finish just outside the top ten in scoring.
11 DeMar DeRozan
Coming off 27.3 points per game for Toronto last season, look for DeMar DeRozan to once again contribute a steady stream of points for the Raptors during the 2017-18 season. This is an uncertain offseason in Toronto, as many frustrating years of having All-Stars DeRozen and Kyle Lowry but being unable to get past LeBron James in the Eastern Conference have Toronto fans wondering if it's time to blow this team up. Lowry is a free agent, and the next few weeks will determine what the 2017-18 Raptors will look like.
The team would certainly be different if Lowry bolts, but DeRozan has proved loyal to Toronto's cause, and would shoulder the team's scoring load largely on his own. As long as DeMar is around, the playoffs are always within reach for Toronto.
10 John Wall
John Wall doubled as both a facilitator and a scorer last year for Washington, averaging 23.1 points per game, good for 18th in the league, and 10.7 assists. Wall went off during the postseason, dropping 27.2 points per night during the Wizard's run, which ended with a tough game seven loss to the Boston Celtics.
The Eastern Conference will be a scramble for second place next year, with teams like Boston, Toronto, and Washington duking it out during the regular season to put themselves in the best position to challenge King James and his Cavaliers in the playoffs. Look for John Wall to continue to get buckets from his point guard position as part of an All-Star campaign in 2018.
9 LeBron James
It's becoming a yearly tradition: LeBron James doesn't necessarily play his best during the regular season, letting his teammates help him carry the Cavaliers to a high playoff seed, and whispers start about him maybe not being the best player in the league, maybe losing a step, etc. Then the playoffs start and LeBron goes into god-mode. Sweeping through the Eastern conference and leaving little question as to who the best player in the world is.
Last year, LeBron's "relaxed" regular season involved him scoring 26.4 points a night, good for eighth in the league. I would expect him to end up around the same next season, not looking like an MVP during the regular season, but hanging around the top ten in points per game to keep himself sharp for playoff time.
8 Steph Curry
The best shooter of all-time is in a dream situation. Golden State is so stacked with weapons that Steph Curry is under no obligation to carry the team, or star every night, or even need to be clicking from deep in any given game for the Warriors to win. But when he is clicking, which is more often than not, the attention Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and the rest of the Warriors weapons commands means Steph will get his fair share of open looks from deep, or opportunities in space against an opposing team's power forward or center off a pick.
In a different situation, Steph might be a perennial scoring leader. But he's more than happy coming somewhere in the top ten and leading one of the best teams of all-time to the finals year after year. 2018 should be no different.
7 Paul George
It's no secret the Pacers are actively shopping Paul George, who has announced his intention to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in the 2018 offseason. The Pacers are trying to get some value back for their superstar small forward, and rumors have swirled linking George to Cleveland, Washington, and Boston, among other teams. The uncertain surrounding George makes it a bit difficult to predict where he'll land among next year's scoring leaders, but unless he goes to Cleveland it's likely he'll instantly become top dog wherever he goes.
George is an incredible athlete who has improved his shooting touch, and where he lands this offseason has potential to dramatically affect how next season's playoffs unfold. Wherever he goes, expect him to go on a tear and finish in the top ten in scoring next season.
6 Kevin Durant
Seven footers with skill, athleticism, and shooting ability like Kevin Durant are a rarity in the NBA, and on any other team Durant would be a lock to finish top three in the league in scoring. Evidently, however, that's not what he's after, as he left the Thunder to chase rings, not scoring titles, with the Warriors. Durant, like Curry, benefits from the talent around him and does not have to carry the team on a nightly basis, but will undoubtedly put up monster numbers next season after averaging over 28 points per game on .556 shooting in this year's playoffs.
Durant is trying to build a legacy after years of being in LeBron's shadow, and will look to continue to establish himself as the guy in Golden State, and not just be remembered as a good player who joined one of the best teams in NBA history.
5 Kawhi Leonard
When we last saw the NBA's quietest superstar, he was writhing on the ground in pain as the Spur's chances of stopping the Warrior's march to the NBA finals trickled away in this year's Western Conference finals. Leonard and the Spurs won't forget what many thought was a cheap shot by Zaza Pachulia, and will do their best to spoil the Warriors season in 2018.
Kawhi Leonard has long been known for his defensive prowess, but blossomed into a true two-way player last season, dropping 25.5 points per game as San Antonio's unquestioned franchise player. While the Spurs hoped to add Chris Paul this offseason, they will still have no problems competing in a strong Western Conference as long as Kawhi is healthy and commanding both ends of the floor.
4 Damien Lillard
While Damien Lillard's Trailblazers were one of many talented young teams eclipsed by the Warrior's juggernaut, Lillard himself stood out in a league full of dominant point guards. Lillard put up monster numbers in a career year, averaging 27 points per game, but was still conspicuously absent from the NBA All-Star team, which has happened several times in recent years.
Lillard still evidently has something to prove to the NBA, and look for him to rip off a dominant regular season, finish in the top five in scoring, and finally get his All-Star nod, despite the multiplicity of good Western Conference point guards.
3 Jimmy Butler
After a disappointing season and deteriorating relationship with the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler is on the move, getting the trade he wanted and moving to play with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves gave up Zach LaVine, a promising and athletic shooting guard, but Butler's veteran presence at small forward should provide a stabilizing presence for Minnesota and Karl-Anthony Towns's continued development, while propelling Butler to top three in the league in scoring.
While it seems like facilitating point guard Ricky Rubio could be on the move, Butler should still see his numbers rise in Minnesota as he teams up with Towns.
2 Russell Westbrook
After his former buddy Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook showed just how dominant he can be, averaging a triple double with 31.6 points per game, and leading a mediocre Thunder roster to the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder live and die by Westbrook, who is not the strongest three-point shooter nor the best facilitator, but his incredible athletic ability, relentless nature, and will to win resulted in one of the greatest individual seasons we have ever seen in the NBA.
Things are unlikely to change next season, as Westbrook simply gives the Thunder their best chance at winning when he puts up 20+ shots a game and drives the offense. While some development from Victor Oladipo would certainly help the Thunder overall, Westbrook is primed for another 30+ points per game season.
1 James Harden
James Harden finishes second in the league in scoring last season, despite playing much more of a point guard role with Houston. A blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, however, has landed Houston maybe the best pure point guard of the last decade in Chris Paul. Chris Paul won't cut into Harden's scoring number, and should instead bolster them, as he takes the facilitating load off of Harden's shoulders and allows the talented lefty to focus on putting the basketball through the hoop, something he does very well.
With less pressure, look for Harden to thrive in Houston, score over 30 points per game, and win the MVP award as the Rockets emerge as a threat to Golden State in the Western Conference title race.