Harden Set To Finish Historic Scoring Season

04/09/2019 at 07:04pm

By Brian Martin

With two days left in the 2018-19 NBA season, the MVP race between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains too close to call as many voters have said they will need to see all 82 games to try to find separation between the two stars.

One title not in contention in the closing days of the season is the scoring title, which Harden essentially wrapped up back in January with a scoring streak not seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain. Harden scored at least 30 points for 32 consecutive games, averaging 41.1 points from Dec. 13 to Feb. 21 to lift his scoring average from 30.0 to 36.5 points per game.

Harden enters Houston’s regular season finale against Oklahoma City on Tuesday averaging 36.1 points per game and holds an 8.0-point advantage over the second-leading scorer – Paul George of the Thunder at 28.1 points per game.

Since the scoring title changed from total points to scoring average in 1969-70 season, Harden’s 8.0-point lead is the second-largest scoring title win, bested only by Michael Jordan finishing 8.1 points per game higher than Dominique Wilkins in 1986-87.

Biggest Scoring Title Margins - Since 1969-70

Season Winner Winner PPG Runner Up Runner Up PPG Difference
1986-87Michael Jordan37.1Dominique Wilkins29.08.1
2018-19James Harden36.1Paul George28.18.0
1971-72Kareem Abdul-Jabbar34.8Nate Archibald28.26.6
2013-14Kevin Durant32.0Carmelo Anthony27.44.6
1976-77Pete Maravich31.1Billy Knight26.64.5
1987-88Michael Jordan35.0Dominique Wilkins30.74.3
2001-02Allen Iverson31.4Shaquille O'Neal27.24.2
1984-85Bernard King32.9Larry Bird28.74.2

If Harden scores at least 29 points on Tuesday, he will became just the fourth player in league history to average at least 36 points for an entire NBA season, joining Wilt Chamberlain (five times), Michael Jordan (1986-87) and Elgin Baylor (1961-62).

Now think of all the great scorers that aren’t on that list.

Rick Barry and Kobe Bryant each hit 35 points, but never 36.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the game’s all-time leading scorer – and Bob McAdoo got to 34 points per game, but never 36.

Tiny Archibald, Charlie Scott, George Gervin and Allen Iverson got to 33, but never 36.

By averaging 36 points per game, Harden has placed himself in the rarest of air in NBA scoring history. This will be Harden’s second straight scoring title following three straight second-place finishes. He joins Jordan (who owns the NBA record with 10 career scoring titles) and Chamberlain (who is second at seven scoring titles and the man with the highest scoring game and four highest scoring seasons ever) to average 36 points while meeting the minimum requirement (playing 70% of his team’s games) to qualify as an official league leader.

Officially, Harden would have the seventh-highest scoring season in NBA history as Baylor’s 38.3 points per game average in 1961-62 came in just 48 games, which did not meet the minimum require for an official league leader (at that time the minimum was 65 games played).

Highest Scoring Seasons – NBA History

Rank Player PPG Season
1Wilt Chamberlain50.41961-62
2Wilt Chamberlain 44.81962-63
3Wilt Chamberlain 38.41960-61
4Wilt Chamberlain 37.61959-60
5Michael Jordan37.11986-87
6Wilt Chamberlain 36.91963-64
7James Harden 36.12018-19

Among active players, the closest anyone has come to Harden's 2018-19 season were former teammates Kevin Durant (32.0 in 2013-14) and Russell Westbrook (31.6 in 2016-17) as well as LeBron James (31.4 in 2005-06), as they each surpassed 31 points per game, but still finished at least four points behind where Harden is this season.

Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry are the only active players to ever score at least 30 points in a single season.

Highest Scoring Seasons - Active Players Only

Player PPG Season
James Harden 36.12018-19
Kevin Durant 32.02013-14
Russell Westbrook 31.62016-17
LeBron James 31.42005-06
James Harden 30.42017-18
Dwyane Wade 30.22008-09
Kevin Durant 30.22009-10
Stephen Curry 30.12015-16
LeBron James 30.02007-08

A Rockets’ win on Tuesday coupled with a Nuggets loss in either of their final two games over the next two days, Houston would claim the No. 2 seed in the West by virtue of owning the tiebreaker with the Denver. Harden deserves the bulk load of the credit for the fact that the Rockets are even challenging for a top two seed.

When his scoring streak started, Houston was just 12-14 and in 14th place in the Western Conference standings. With Chris Paul and Clint Capela sidelined for the majority of the streak, it was necessary for Harden to take over for the Rockets to find success. When the streak ended on Feb. 21, the Rockets had climbed to 5th place in the West standings at 33-25. With Paul and Capela back in the fold, it was inevitable that Harden’s scoring pace would slow down over the final third of the season. Even if his scoring average dropped to 30 points per game like it was before the streak started, he would at 34.6 points per game, which would still be a top 15 season all time.

While Harden didn’t consistently score over 30 points a night down the stretch, he had a handful of scoring outbursts that offset his eight games scoring in the 20s, including back-to-back games with 57 and 61 points for 118 points, which matched Kobe Bryant (2006) and Michael Jordan (1990) for the most in a two-game span in the past 50 seasons. Over the 22 games following the 30-point streak, Harden still averaged 35.1 points per game to maintain his 36-point average heading into Tuesday.

An NBA-record 12 different players have scored at least 50 points in a game this season with Harden leading the way with nine such games. Phoenix’s Devin Booker is the only other player with more than one 50-point game this season with two, which is also the number of 60-point games Harden has this season. Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is the only other player to reach 60; Harden’s pair of 61-point games not only represents a career high for Harden, but an NBA season high as well.

With 21 points in Tuesday’s regular season finale, Harden will eclipse 2,800 points for the season. Not only will it be the first such season in the NBA since Kobe in 2005-06 (2832), but also just the 10th such season in NBA history.

Most Total Points In A Season - NBA History

Rank Player Team Season Points
1Wilt ChamberlainPHW1961-624029
2Wilt ChamberlainSFW1962-633586
3Michael JordanCHI1986-873041
4Wilt ChamberlainPHW1960-613033
5Wilt ChamberlainSFW1963-642948
6Michael JordanCHI1987-882868
7Kobe BryantLAL2005-062832
8Bob McAdooBUF1974-752831
9Kareem Abdul-JabbarMIL1971-722822
10James HardenHOU2018-192779