Basketball is a team game, but over the years there have been many prolific scorers that have the ability to shoulder a lot of the scoring for their team. This may not always translate over into victories and championships, but the ability that these players possess to score has to be admired. There are some players that have a deadly weapon such as their 3-point shooting ability, a dazzling array of post moves or the ability to finish at the basket, and there are of course many players that are capable of scoring in all kinds of different ways.
Watching a team flawlessly execute offensive sets can be highly entertaining, but we all also like to see individuals go on scoring rampages and rack up 30+ points. When a player gets in the zone there is nothing that can stop them, and all the elite players in NBA history have been able to do this in key games in the postseason to help their team progress, and this is what has helped them to become the legends that they are today.
The best players and scorers in the NBA will all be able to adjust too. There have been countless players to enter the league who possess terrific driving and athletic ability but struggle to shoot the ball, and similarly there have been high percentage shooters that are reluctant to put the ball on the floor and take it to the hoop. NBA defenses are too good and can take your preferred offensive weapon away if you are weak in other areas, so the best players will work tirelessly at their game to be more complete offensively. This is something that players also need to do as they age and begin to lose their athleticism, with many of the greats on this list finding other ways to impact games and score the ball once their body begins to restrict their play.
Here are the top 20 total point scorers in NBA history. All of these players have proven themselves to be elite scorers throughout NBA history, and there are a few active players that will be eager to leapfrog a few of their heroes before hanging up their boots.
* Denotes players that are still active
20 Patrick Ewing (24,815 points)
Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing is one of the toughest big men the game has seen, but despite his best efforts he was never able to win an NBA title. He came agonisingly close in 1994, but his Knicks could not overcome a Houston team led by fellow big man Hakeem Olajuwon. Ewing was not known for his offensive firepower in Georgetown, but he proved himself to be an excellent scorer in the NBA with a reliable jump shot to go along with impressive post play, and his size enabled him to get good looks and second chance opportunities near the basket. It's a shame Patrick Ewing never won a championship, but he will always be remembered as the face of the Knicks throughout the 90’s.
19 Jerry West (25,192 points)
Jerry West’s appearance on this list proves just how dominant he was, as he is the only player to appear on this list that played under 1,000 games (932), and during his career the 3-point line did not exist. He averaged 27 PPG over his 14-year career, but he was of course much more than just a scorer and one of the greatest guards to play the game. His grit and determination is what made him such a dominant guard and elite scorer, and he became famous for knocking down the big shots at the end of games, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Clutch”. Jerry West’s silhouette is used as the NBA logo, one of the most famous logos in the world and a testament to what an incredible player he was.
18 Reggie Miller (25,279 points)
Reggie Miller provided NBA fans with many years of great entertainment during his career, and not just for his incredible shooting ability. Miller had a knack for getting under players' and even fans' skin (especially the Knicks), and he was not one to hide his feelings or emotions. He is one of the greatest shooters to play the game, and also one of the most clutch players too, which would endear him to many but also infuriate others.
Whether you are a fan of Reggie Miller or not, you can’t deny his extraordinary 3-point shooting ability which saw him leave the game as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history, but he has since been overtaken by Ray Allen. The countless battles that he was involved in and “Miller Time” down the stretch of games cement him as an NBA legend, but also one of the best scorers the game has seen.
17 Tim Duncan (25,433 points) *
Unlike the majority of players on this list, I’m sure Tim Duncan is not too fussed about where he stands in the NBA total scorers list. Duncan is a player that is more focused on doing what needs to be done to help the team instead of racking up 30+ points a game, but over his career he has proven that he is more than capable of shouldering the scoring load if need be. ‘The Big Fundamental’ has been remarkably consistent throughout his career and continues to impress, and he has of course been the key player in San Antonio’s dominance. He has fantastic ability in the post, and has become famous for using the glass to extraordinary precision. He may well climb this list, but he will be more focused on adding another ring to his collection before retiring.
16 Paul Pierce (25,506 points) *
Although Paul Pierce is not expected to chip in 20 a game anymore (although he is still capable of doing so), I wouldn’t be surprised for him to add a fair amount more to his tally before retiring. Pierce is now in his 17th season in the NBA, with 15 of these spent in Boston. It was here that he became an elite player and scorer in this league, spending a lot of this time carrying the team before Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were brought in to form a championship team.
Pierce has never been the quickest, but he is a crafty and highly intelligent player that has a fantastic ability to create space to get off a shot. He can also finish strong at the basket, as well as knock down shots from outside. He has knocked down many big buckets in his lengthy career, and although much more than just a scorer, watching him go to work offensively has been a joy to watch over the years.
15 Alex English (25,613 points)
Alex English proved himself to be a prolific scorer throughout the 80’s for the Nuggets, averaging over 23 PPG an impressive nine years in a row. Although his tremendous scoring ability never won him an NBA title, his creativity on the court and down to earth personality off the court made him a fan favorite, but a player often overlooked when discussing the greats. His numbers speak for themselves however, and it takes a supreme scorer to tally more than English did in his career.
14 Kevin Garnett (25,849 points) *
KG has had a sensational career in the NBA, and when the veteran finally hangs up his shoes (which will be soon) he can take a well deserved break and look back on everything that he has achieved. He is in his 20th season, and although it may be beginning to take its toll, KG will always be remembered as a warrior, leader, elite defender and NBA champion.
He spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which seems like an eternity ago, and it is here where he did most of his scoring damage. His length, post-up moves and ability to knock down an 18 foot jumpshot made him a real handful, but anyone that has followed his career will know that Garnett is not a scorer but a complete player with a never say die attitude. He did everything he could do lift the Timberwolves but eventually moved on to the Celtics, where he finally got the ring he deserved.
13 John Havlicek (26,395 points)
John “Hondo” Havlicek spent 16 years in the NBA running defenders ragged, as he was famous for his incredible endurance and tireless efforts for every minute of every game. It was not just his physical fitness which saw him become a prolific scorer and Celtics legend however. He also was a highly intelligent player on both ends of the floor and a great ballhandler. His ability to impact every single area of the game made him a dangerous weapon, and he was integral in helping the Celtics to 8 championships in his 16 years. A one-team player, gifted scorer and defender, amazing athlete and decorated player, John Havlicek is one of the greatest to play the game.
12 Dominique Wilkins (26,668 points)
There is a reason that Wilkins became to be known as “The Human Highlight Film”, as he provided spectacular entertainment with his high flying ability and dunks that he threw down on countless defenders. Perhaps the greatest dunker of all time, Wilkins’s scoring ability is often overshadowed by these highlights. He was a terrific scorer throughout his lengthy career, and it was mainly in 12 seasons with the Hawks in the 80’s that he dominated and helped Atlanta become a top team. Many of his points would come from these dunks and attacking the ring, making him a feared player that could, and would embarrass you given the chance.
11 Oscar Robertson (26,710 points)
It would be unfair to label “Big O” as merely a scorer, as he is famous for much more than this. Robertson is the ultimate all-around player and triple-double king, making him one of the best overall players to play the game. He is the only player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season, when he averaged 30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG, a stunning achievement for a player in any era. His size (6-foot-5), speed and versatility made him a rare player in the 60’s and one that was a huge handful for any defender. A great scorer and amazing basketball player, “Big O” inspired many players that came after him and a number of players on this list.
10 Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946 points)
The NBA has never seen another player with the kind of post moves that Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon possessed. He would embarrass those who tried to defend him with all kinds of shakes, shimmies and fakes which would leave defenders helpless. His incredible scoring ability from these polished moves was only part of what made him such a special player, as he is also one of the finest defenders to have played the game and the best shot blocker we have seen (he still leads the league in total blocked shots). This ability on both ends of the floor saw Hakeem and his Rockets win back-to-back championships, helping to certify himself as one of the best Big Men of all time.
9 Elvin Hayes (27,313 points)
It did not take Elvin Hayes long to make his mark on the NBA, as he poured in 54 points in a game in just his first year in the league. He did not slow down from here, turning his trademark turnaround jumper into a deadly weapon and a shot particularly difficult to guard. Hayes played in the league for 16 seasons, only missing nine games in his entire career. His excellent fitness and durability helped him to secure himself in the record books, and the forward was also an excellent defender as well as a prolific scorer of the ball.
8 Moses Malone (27,409 points)
There is no doubt that Moses Malone is one of the greatest centers to play the game, and he spent a lengthy 21 years proving this to people in both the ABA and NBA. Malone was a monster rebounder as well as a prolific scorer, claiming three MVP awards, an NBA Championship and Finals MVP in his career. As well as sitting 8th in All-Time top scorers, Malone is also 5th in total rebounds, proving his dominance and incredible ability to both score and rebound, essential tools for any Big Man. Malone is also famous for becoming the first player to skip college and go pro from high school.
7 Dirk Nowitzki (27,471 points) *
Dirk Nowitzki recently leapfrogged Malone into 7th place, and the question is now whether or not he will be able to climb any higher. Dirk is having yet another great season, so there is no reason why he can’t play another year or two and especially as he will be desperate to add another ring to his collection. Dirk is in his 17th season and is putting up 18.5 PPG on 46.4 FG%, still sinking jumpshots like they are layups, and is now surrounded by talent with the addition of Rajon Rondo so there is a good chance that he will add a considerable amount to his tally.
Dirk is a revolutionary player and has changed the game being a 7-footer who can shoot from outside, so no matter what happens between now and the time he retires he will always be remembered as one of the greats and an important player in NBA history.
6 Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points)
The way Shaquille O’Neal dominated during his prime will never be forgotten, as his size, strength and intelligence made him a handful in more than one way for any team. He didn’t score many of his 28,596 points from outside the paint, but there was no need as he could use his 325-pound frame to bully his opponents to get off high percentage shots under the hoop (58.2% for his career). Shaq collected five rings in his brilliant 19-year career, and on top of his dominance he is arguably the best personality the NBA has had too, and fortunately he is still ever present in the game as a media personality.
5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points)
Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring antics are legendary, and of course he holds the record for most points in a single game with a jaw dropping 100 points. It is difficult to compare his scoring with other elite players because the game was so different back then and there were a few different rules, but for any player to dominate and score so much over their entire career it is truly remarkable.
In addition to his 100 point game, Wilt the Stilt also had a season averaging 50.4 PPG, so it should really not come as too much of a surprise that he ranks so highly on this list and those that score more will have had quite the career. It was a man against boys for Chamberlain, who used his height to dominate on both ends of the floor.
4 Michael Jordan (32,292 points)
The greatest to play the game, Michael Jordan played around 500 games less than the no.1 spot and around 200 less than those around him, so to rank as highly as he does speaks volumes about what a terrific scorer he was. Completely unstoppable and able to score in all kinds of ways, the game seemed to come so easily to Jordan and his play was breathtaking at times.
In his 15-year career, MJ averaged 30.1 PPG and as high as 35 PPG in 1987-88, and to do this against defenses that were a lot more physical than they are nowadays makes his abilities even more impressive. In the same year he averaged 35 PPG, Jordan also took home the Defensive Player of the Year award, a remarkable accomplishment and evidence that Jordan was much, much more than just a scorer.
3 Kobe Bryant (32,449 points) *
When Kobe leapfrogged Jordan into 3rd earlier this season you got the feeling that it was a huge relief for Bryant, and he perhaps saw it as the last thing to accomplish before retiring. Kobe is struggling (although still averaging 22.7) and will not win another ring, so now he sits 3rd it seems the right time to call it a day. It has been difficult to watch Kobe labour through last few seasons, which is why it is important to remember what an incredible talent and bright star he has been over his career which has lasted 19 seasons.
He has averaged as high as 35.4 PPG, scored 81 in 1 game, dropped 50+ in 4 consecutive games plus dozens more astonishing performances and records, and he also has a polished game and dozens of moves that have wowed fans for many years. Like Jordan, Kobe is much more than just a scorer and is a proven warrior and champion, and we should not forget what an amazing talent he has been.
2 Karl Malone (36,928 points)
The Mailman sits safely in 2nd for the foreseeable future, and he reached this lofty height through incredible consistency throughout his career where he spent 18 seasons with Utah and an injury riddled final season with the Lakers. His rookie year and final year were the only seasons where he did not average at least 20 PPG, and he averaged as high as 31 in 1989-90. In 18 seasons with the Jazz, Malone remarkably only missed 10 games. This consistency helped him to rank so highly, despite not being a scorer quite as explosive as some of the other entries on this list.
This is not to take away from his talent however, as Malone was a strong power forward who could use his strength to attack the basket, but he was also capable of knocking down medium ranged shots and he could run on the break. He formed a deadly duo with John Stockton, with the two running the pick and roll to perfection which certainly contributed a vast amount of Malone’s tally.
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points)
Topping the pack is none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an unstoppable player throughout his career that holds dozens of individual accolades and is a 6-time NBA Champion. The 7-foot-2 center played with incredible grace and elegance for a man of his size, and he is famous for his trademark “sky-hook” shot, a shot which is impossible to defend when done by such a tall player. He played for 20 seasons in the NBA (6 with the Bucks and 14 with the Lakers) averaging a huge 24.6 for his career, and as high as 34.8 PPG one season.
His size, speed, intelligence and versatility allowed him to score at will against defenders, and even with 38,387 points it has to be said that he was much more than a scorer. He was also a fantastic defender and he sits 3rd on the total rebounds list, and has to be included in the conversation of greatest of all time.
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