There are many ways to measure a player’s greatness. Titles, MVPs, defensive impact, how revered they were by their teammates (looking at you Russel and Duncan) or feared by their peers (MJ, Kobe that’s you guys). Ultimately when it comes down to it the objective of Basketball is to score points by putting the ball in the hoop. Greatness is reflected by those players who have managed to do it the most times.
Who has the most points in NBA History? The NBA’s all time leading points scorer is Kareem Abdul Jabar. He leads the league for Regular season points with 38,387. He ranks third for the Playoffs (5,762) behind Michael Jordan (5,987) and Lebron James who has a massive 7,631 points in the Playoffs so far. In the 2021/22 season Lebron passed Kareem for most combined NBA points amassing 44,693 to the end of that season.
Let’s dive deeper into the numbers and see if we are going to have any movers and shakers this coming season.
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Do Playoffs count in NBA all time scoring lists?
Traditionally when someone discusses a players career stats they are referring to the regular season only, unless stated otherwise. This is mainly due to it being a good equalizer. A great player could have stayed with a franchise that had little playoff success, despite their own personal on court achievements. Using only the regular season, takes away the noise of who played in more playoff games. Being healthy to play as many regular season games as possible and having a long career are things (mostly) within a player’s control.
A list of the NBA all time scorers in order – regular season
Below is a list of the NBAs most prolific scorers, in order of how many points they have scored across their career. Players in bold are active as of the 2022/23 season.
|All Time NBA Leaders – Regular Season|
Is Lebron James the all time leading scorer?
Starting at the top we can see that the player with the second most points in NBA history, Lebron James is still active. Going into his 20th season in the League, has 37,062 regular season points. He trails all time NBA points leader Kareem Abdul-Jabaar by just 1,325. Lebron is averaging 27.1 points per game for his career and last season eclipsed this with 30.3 points per game. Let’s assume as he’s about to turn 38 this season that he’s going to dip a little this year and average “only” 25 points per game. It would take him just 53 games to get past Kareem’s all-time regular season points record. So we can expect a hungry King to gobble up this record before the seasons end. That would leave lebron as the all time leader in both regular seasons and playoff points. Not bad for a man who’s self-proclaimed primary skill is passing.
How does the ABA impact the NBAs all time scoring list??
Next up we have Moses Malone. We have flagged him here in 10th all time in NBA points (27,409) because if we included all the ABA points for all players, he would jump ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Shaq into 9th place. On a similar note if we do the same and look at Julius “Dr Js” Erving, he leaps from 74th all time (18,364) to 8th, ahead of Moses Malone, Shaq and Melo with 30,026 points. Considering he spent almost half of his career in the ABA before coming to the NBA and setting the league on fire, it’s only fair we think of him as a top 10 all time scorer and not ranked down with Zac Randolph, Mark Aguirre and Dolph Schayes.
What Active NBA players can make the top 10 scorers of all time list?
We have highlighted 3 players outside of the top 10 who are currently still active. You may have heard of them.
Kevin Durant ranks 21st all time in NBA scoring with 25,526 points. He is just 2,763 points behind Carmlo Anthony. While Melo is still active, he is not the prolific scorer he once was. Durant should pass him before he retires. However it won’t be this season, even if he matches his last season’s output of 30pts a game and manages all 82 regular season matchups, he would put up 2,460 points. This would leave him 303 + whatever Melo tallies this year behind him. Kevin Durant should move into the top 10 all time scorers list in the 2023/24 season, sometime before the Allstar Game.
Former team mate James Harden isn’t far behind him in 28th place. He has 23,477 points and a career average of 25pts per game. I would estimate that if he continues this Harden will enter the top ten NBA all time scorers the season after Durant. Sometime towards the end of the 2024/25 season.
The final player I wanted to talk about is Steph Curry. The gravitational 3pt shooting supernova Point Guard. He ranks only 47th all time heading into the 2022/23 season with “only” 20,064 points. Despite averaging only a shade under Harden for his career at 24.3 points per game and being almost 2 years older. The two players both entered the league in the same 2009 draft class. Harden has managed to play over 100 more regular season games than Curry. Which one of these offensive juggernauts ends up leading the other by the time they are both retired will depend almost entirely on longevity. Harden has a big edge for now, but has to show he can adapt and age gracefully. I can see a 45 year old Curry spotting up in the corners for 12 easy points a game. The race is on. There is a major scoring category where Curry already leads Harden though.
A list of the NBA all time scorers in order – Playoffs
Below is a list of the NBAs most prolific scorers, in order of how many points they have scored across their Playoff career. Players in bold are active as of the 2022/23 season.
|All Time NBA Leaders – Playoffs|
As we have discussed already, Lebron sits upon his throne at the top of the all time NBA playoff points list. In order behind him, line up the majority of anyone’s top 10 all time list. Jordan, Kareem, Kobe Shaq… the list goes on.
You’ll notice the list has some significant differences to the regular season top 10. The entire second half of the Playoff list does not feature in the Regular season points list. Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Jerry West and Tony Parker all massively out performed in the Playoffs vs their regular season output. It reads like a list of all time winners. With Duncan & Parker leading the Spurs to multiple titles and Finals trips, Jerry West was so good he is the only player to ever win Finals MVP on the losing side and Karl Malone, who would surely have had at least 1 title if he hadn’t faced Jordan everytime he took Utah to the Finals.
Then there is Kevin Durant. As we discussed earlier, Durant (4,559) is almost guaranteed to finish his career in the top ten all-time regular season scorers list, although he currently doesn’t feature. He needs just 203 playoff points to pass Malone (4,761). He should do this if he makes the Playoffs this year. Even just a second round appearance should afford an elite scorer like KD the opportunity to grab 203 points.
After passing Malone the Slim Reaper would have Duncan (5,172) and Shaq (5,250) in his sights. Durant has averaged 29.4 points in the Playoffs for his career so far. In his 13 year career he has made the playoffs 11 times (only missing out due to injury), playing 155 games. This means he usually makes the Playoffs and when he does he averages 14 games. He needs 691 playoff points to crack the top 5 all time. At a conservative 26pts per game it would take Kevin Durant just 27 games to get there.
As long as KD can manage 2 decent playoff runs he should be confident retiring as one of the top 5 playoff scorers of all time.
Harden Vs Curry is an interesting duel across the All-time scoring lists. Harden has the edge in the Regular season. Curry (3570) is just 1 place and X points ahead of 21st placed Harden (3414). Harden had a slow start to his Playoff scoring career, while at OKC he played in a sizable 43 games, but averaged only 13.8 points per game as he came off the bench behind Durant and Westbrook. This depresses his average as well as his playoff totals. With his seeming renewed commitment to winning a title in Philly, we can expect Harden to be much closer to his 28 pts per game playoff average we saw in Houston than any other point in his career in the next few years. Curry who has played less playoff games total than Harden ticks along at a consistent 26.6 pts a game in the playoffs. With just 156 pts separating them, who finishes higher all-time is probably going to come down to who makes the deepest runs in the last few years of their prime.
One thing is for sure, they will both almost certainly eclipse Tony Parker’s 4045 points and knock him out of the top 10.
Who is the NBA leader in points per game?
Looking at this through a points per game lens can throw some interesting light on matters. Who burned brightly, but for a shorter space of time? Who is young and hungry, with the potential to break into the top ten in all time scoring if they keep the pace up?
Regular Season All-time NBA points per game leaders
Below is a list of the NBAs most prolific scorers, in order of how many points per game (PPG) they have scored across their regular season career. Players in bold are active as of the 2022/23 season.
|NBA-all time leaders Points per game – Regular Season|
We’ve taken the top 20 here and will pick out some highlights to talk about.
Kareem – the all time points leader, is ranked 20th. A testament to his longevity and team play, as he leaps from 20th to 1st (for now) purely because he played so much. Hats off to the captain.
The young and the hungry
Trae Young, Zion Williamson, Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic are all yet to reach their primes. They all fall in the top 20 in points per game and have many, many years ahead of themselves to rise up the NBAs all time scoring list. Expect to see these guys appearing in scoring lists in years to come.
The Best of the Best, Top Guns
Kevin Durant (4) and Lebron James (5) both make the top 5 in points per game. Very much elite scorers since they came into the league, they have both amassed careers that see them talked about as the greatest of all time on a regular basis.
The rest of the top 5 is made up of now retired players. Wilt Chamberlain (2), maybe the most dominant physical force vs his peers at any point in NBA history. He once put up 100pts in a single game. Elgin Baylor (3) – An elite scorer and rebounding machine who was a huge part of the Lakers early success. His career was disrupted by politics and injury. In another time and another place he may be considered one of the top 5 all time. As it was, everytime he stepped onto the court he dominated.
Riding high on this list is Michael Jordan. His 30.1 points per game over his entire career is exceptional. Not least when you consider this includes his post retirement, retirement, Wizards career. If you only factor in Jordans Bulls numbers he would have a stunning 31.5 points per game. Jordan is truly the most lethal scorer the NBA has ever seen.
Playoff All-time NBA points per game leaders
Below is a list of the NBAs most prolific scorers, in order of how many points per game (PPG) they have scored across their Playoff career. Players in bold are active as of the 2022/23 season.
|NBA-all time leaders Points per game – Playoffs|
|14||Billy Ray Bates||26.7||6|
Jordan is again number 1 in points per game for the Playoffs. Incredibly his scoring numbers go up vs his regular season numbers. Interestingly, Lebrons also do this.
Luka Doncic is the stand out name here. While he has only played in 3 postseasons he has averaged 32.5 points per game, second only to Michael Jordan. This is particularly interesting when you look at who he has played against. His 3 exits, accounting for 18 of his 28 games, have come against the Clippers (x2) and the Warriors. His 13 games against the Clippers saw them run out the double team of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George against him. His Western Finals loss came to the defense of the Warriors which stacked up statistically as one of the greatest of all time and ultimately led them to a championship in the Finals that followed.
To put it bluntly, Luka Doncic is an elite scorer and gets better when the pressure is on.
In 10 years time he may well be bothering Lebron and Kareem atop the all time scoring list.