Durant ranked 24th in scoring as a rookie at 20.3 points per game, but this season that same total would put him at 12th. And while the Oklahoma City Thunder forward has kept up his high-scoring rate — Durant is on pace to become just the fifth player to win four NBA scoring titles — the number of other players who have maintained a 20-point scoring average has continually declined.
Twelve players averaged 20 points last season during the lockout-shortened campaign. That number has dropped to 11 this season, which would be the lowest total since 1965-66 – when the NBA had just nine teams.
“It’s very difficult to be a scorer in our game,” Nuggets Coach George Karl said. “Everybody thinks it’s easy, and everybody kind of wants to be that guy – most players think they can make their careers scoring points — but the truth of the matter is, when the defenses are designed to stop you, it’s very difficult to be a successful scorer every night. The guys who get 25 to 30 every night, it’s a pretty incredible talent.”
Reasons for the decline
That number can now probably be brought down to 20 to 25 points, because of several factors that have contributed to a decline in big-time offensive weapons.
Defenses have adjusted to create schemes that crowd one side of the floor to limit scoring opportunities for individuals. Coaches have changed offensive approaches to focus more on ball movement than isolation, leading to more balanced attacks. And the number of players capable of erupting for big games has been reduced with the establishment of super teams that are stocked with above-average players to provide more help for all-star talents.
Of the 11 active players with career averages of at least 20 points, Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are the only players who are scoring at that clip this season. Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Amare Stoudemire, Vince Carter and Tim Duncan are all well below career averages, which has a lot do with advancing age and injuries.
The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose, who has averaged 21 points over his career, has missed the entire season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, robbing the league of one of its most dynamic scorers. And Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, who has averaged at least 20 points the past two seasons, has missed most of the year with a broken hand.
“There are fewer prolific scorers,” said NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who ranks 11th all-time in scoring at 26,668 points and averaged 24.8 points in 15 seasons. In Wilkins’s first 10 seasons from 1982-83 to 1991-92, the NBA never had fewer than 20 20-point scorers and averaged about 25 each season.