Nothing But Net: the Highest Scoring Basketball Players of the 20th Century

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Basketball is a beautiful and complex game filled with intricacies, subtleties, and minutia that perhaps only the most attentive fan can truly appreciate. But let’s be honest, all anybody really cares about is seeing the ball go in the hoop.

There are few things in sports more entertaining than a dominant scorer in basketball. When talking about the greatest players of all time, few mention the most staunch defenders or the savviest assist men, because it always comes down to the guys who can light up the scoreboard.

These are the top five highest scorers of the twentieth century.

5 Bob Pettit

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26.36 PPG

If you have no idea who Bob Pettit is, it’s probably because he played for the Hawks from 1954 to 1965. But Pettit averaged an impressive 26.36 points per game for his career and is still the only player in NBA history to average more than 20 points per game in every single season he played. Everyone looks at Dominique Wilkins as the greatest player in Hawks history, but Pettit trumps his career scoring average by almost two points, and also played his entire career with the franchise.

4 Jerry West

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27.03 PPG

Mr. Logo himself, Jerry West was not only the inspiration for the NBA’s famous symbol, but also one of the most prolific scorers in league history. Often lost in the midst of the Lakers all-time greats, people forget that West averaged more than 30 points per game four times in his career, retiring with a 27.03 points-per-game average. To this day, the man that teammates called “Mr. Clutch” sits at number five on the league’s list of all-time points-per-game leaders.

3 Elgin Baylor

27.36 PPG

Drafted number one overall by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958, Baylor made good on the pick by winning the Rookie of the Year and spending his entire career as a Laker (they moved to LA after his second season). He was a versatile scorer who all but invented the hanging jump shot, and was a perennial All-Star throughout the 1960s. In his prime, Baylor averaged more than 34 points per game three seasons in a row and scored 71 points in a single game, eventually retiring with a stellar 27.36 points-per-game average and easily earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.

2 Wilt Chamberlain

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30.07 PPG

Thirty isn’t just the supposed average of women Wilt Chamberlain slept with each month, it’s also his hugely impressive career scoring average. The Stilt was absolutely unstoppable in his early years in the league, averaging an unfathomable 50.4 points per game in just his third season. 50.4! Let that sink in. There are college basketball teams that struggle to put in 50 points per game. Wilt continued his dominance over the course of his illustrious 16-year career, averaging less than 20 points in only his last two seasons, winning seven scoring titles, and taking home four MVP Awards.

1 Michael Jordan

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30.68 Points per Game (PPG)

Since this is a tally of 20th-century scorers, we can safely ignore the two sacrilegious seasons that Michael Jordan suited up for the Washington Wizards in the 2000s. Minus those, his career point-per-game average is an astounding 30.68 ppg (and he’s still the all-time leader even if you include those years)! In Michael’s career with the Bulls from 1984 to 1998, he averaged more than 30 points per game a ridiculous eight seasons, led the league in scoring ten times, and was an All-Star in every full season he played. His Airness was the purest scorer the game has ever seen, hands down.

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