(STL.News) Basketball is a sport that rewards all-around play, but perhaps the most effective, not to mention the most exciting, way to dominate the competition is through scoring. The evolution of the sport has brought about a multitude of innovations in the scoring department, but there are few who have truly mastered the art of getting buckets.
NBA fans throughout history have been fortunate to witness these scoring machines, which provide the entertainment that the NBA is known for. These players have not just garnered significant accolades throughout their careers but have also stuffed scoring sheets each night. In fact, some players on this list are still in the NBA and are on pace to climb even higher in the scoring ranks.
These are the 15 highest scorers in the history of the NBA:
Melo was the third pick in the esteemed 2003 draft class. Throughout his career and especially during his early days, he was touted as a formidable rival to LeBron and even came into the league with a much wider scoring arsenal than the King.
Carmelo Anthony had every move imaginable. He could use his size to bully his opponents in the post or his skill for a deft turnaround jumper. His shooting ability made him one of the most unpredictable players with the ball in his hands. Melo had the ability to smother the defense with jab steps for a few seconds, threatening a powerful drive that will most likely find success due to his finishing ability, before pulling up for a three-pointer that would hit nothing but net.
Anthony currently plays for the Trailblazers and enters this season with 26,447 points for 15th on the scoring list. The ten-time NBA All-Star and 2013 NBA scoring champion still have gas left in his tank, and it wouldn’t take long for him to climb even further up these rankings.
Tim Duncan, also known as The Big Fundamental, is one of the game’s modern-day legends. His game did not revolve around flashy plays that embarrass the opposition, but he methodically broke defenses down with his consistent arsenal and showed how a player could dominate through mastering the fundamentals.
Duncan had an array of post moves, and a reliable midrange bank shot that he could use whenever his team needed a bucket. Of course, his 6’11 frame helped. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes how the Spurs legend wasn’t necessarily the most exciting player to watch, yet he climbed the scoring ranks and finished as one of the highest scorers of all time.
The five-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, and two-time NBA MVP have a collection of other accolades under his belt, but one of the most telling, if not surprising, aspects of his dominance was that he was able to score 26,496 points in his 19-year career.
Dominique Wilkins was more than a Human Highlight Reel. Sure, his powerful dunks were electrifying to watch, but that was but one feature of his diverse collection of moves on the offensive end.
The high-flying forward used his leaping abilities to more than just dunk and outplayed the defense every trip down the floor. His speed made it difficult to prevent him from getting the ball in his hands, and he could outmuscle and outjump the defense for an easy basket.
Wilkins finished his career as the all-time leading scorer of the Atlanta Hawks. The Hall of Famer finished his career with 26,668 points and garnered nine All-Star Selections and one scoring title in his career.
The Big O is perhaps most renowned for being the first player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season, but his legendary career wouldn’t be possible if not for his superb scoring ability as well.
Robertson owned an impressive array of moves that in his time was extremely difficult to replicate. Apart from his impressive playmaking ability, he could score from both inside and outside and keep the defense on its toes every possession. His scoring arsenal was ahead of its time, and he could overwhelm his opponents with fakes before fading away for a jump shot.
Oscar Robertson finished his career as one of the greatest players of all-time, and his status as one of the greats remains unchallenged thanks to what he has contributed to the game. In an era without the three-point line, the 12-time All-Star, one-time MVP, and one-time NBA Champion scored 26,710 points.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was the first pick of the legendary 1984 Draft and was remarkably picked ahead of Michael Jordan, but justifiably so. Olajuwon was the perfect cornerstone for the Houston Rockets and was definitely one of the greatest talents not just in his class but also in NBA history.
Olajuwon is the prototype for today’s post players. The 7-foot center had the power to back his way down in the post for an easy basket yet also had the grace to maneuver around stronger opponents and out fake them for an open shot. The Dream is known for his “Dream Shake,” where he would flood the defense with fakes until his defender inevitably bites, and Olajuwon goes up for an uncontested field goal.
His magnificent footwork and post play, together with his exceptional all-around game, has put him in the Hall of Fame, won him two NBA Championships, an MVP Award, and garnered him 12 All-Star selections. He finished his career with 26,946 points.
Elvin Hayes is one of the game’s underrated legends. He is rarely talked about when discussing the game’s past greats, yet his track record speaks for itself.
The Big E is one of the most talented big men to play basketball and is one of the pioneers of the turnaround jumper. He utilized his perfected turnaround jumper to get countless buckets, and defenses could not do anything to stop him. His skill for a big man was ahead of his time, and he used this skill to be the 10th highest-scoring player in the history of the game.
Hayes scored 27,313 points in his career, and retired an NBA Champion, a 12-time NBA All-Star, a one-time scoring champion, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
You can’t leave Moses Malone out of the conversation when talking about the best big men in NBA history. The Hall of Fame center was simply one of the best and most powerful of his time.
Malone prevailed over defenses through using his sheer power to bully his way into easy baskets, and few, if any, defenders were successful in keeping him away from scoring. He utilized his size and his rebounding prowess to get buckets that few big men can get. His physicality was unmatched, thus earning him the nickname “Chairman of the Boards.”
Moses Malone retired as a one-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP and has won the NBA MVP Award three times. The late legendary big man wrapped up his career with 27,409 points.
There is perhaps no big man in NBA history who posed a bigger threat to the opposition than Shaq. The 7’1, 325-pound center is arguably the most dominant player in NBA history.
O’Neal used his superb strength, size, and physicality to get bucket after bucket and leave defenses desperate for solutions. Once he got the ball in the post, he could easily back down whoever was guarding him and use his fabled drop step to get an easy layup or a powerful dunk. Whoever Shaq played against was fortunate if they weren’t put on a poster.
Shaquille O’Neal’s overpowering presence won him four NBA Championships, three Finals MVPs, and one regular-season MVP award, along with 15 NBA-All Star and 14 All-NBA selections. The
NBA legend scored 28,596 points in his 19-year career.
The argument for Shaquille O’Neal as the most dominant player in NBA history would have been a closed case if not for Wilt Chamberlain’s career. Chamberlain was perhaps the template for physically superior centers who used their physical gifts to overwhelm the opposition.
“Wilt the Stilt” used his 7’1 frame and his extraordinary athleticism to conquer defenses. His epic 100-point game remains unmatched and, along with the numerous records that he has set, is a testament to how Chamberlain could easily crush the opposition.
Chamberlain retired as a seven-time scoring champion, a four-time NBA MVP, and a two-time NBA champion and has scored a tremendous 31,560 points in his career.
The role of today’s power forwards has been expanded to include stretching the floor, and the present game’s best power forwards would not be as good as they were without their shooting ability. However, when Dirk Nowitzki entered the league, a 7-footer shot the ball from the three-point line, even better than some guards were unheard of.
Nowitzki’s shooting ability had opposing defenses searching for answers that they couldn’t find. He had the ability to score from all levels of the floor, and his one-legged midrange turnaround jumper is one of the most unstoppable moves in the history of the game.
Dirk is one of the most influential big men in the game and has played a huge part in changing how it is played today. He is also widely regarded as the greatest European basketball player of all time. The one-time NBA Champion, Finals MVP, and NBA MVP also made the elusive 50-40-90 club once in his career and retired with 31,560 points.
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time due to his competitiveness. His tenacity and his Bulls’ utterly dominant run in the 1990s. None of that would have been possible if not for his deep-scoring arsenal.
His Airness effortlessly flew over defenses for flashy dunks and acrobatic layups that left opposing teams scratching their heads, and later on in his career; he relied on his nearly automatic fadeaway jumper to outplay the defense. The only way to stop Jordan from scoring was to not let him get the ball in his hands, but that alone was a difficult task thanks to MJ’s extraordinary combination of speed and power.
Air Jordan was a 10-time NBA scoring champion, a six-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP, a five-time MVP, and concluded his career with 32,292 points. That by itself is already outstanding, but what’s even more impressive is that he temporarily retired from the game of basketball while he was still in his prime. Who knows what he would’ve accomplished if he didn’t leave the game at the height of his talents and in the middle of the Bulls’ takeover of the ’90s?
Many people wondered if there would be the second coming of Michael Jordan, and many people believe that Kobe Bryant was the closest thing to the G.O.A.T. There are indeed impeccable similarities between the playing styles of the undisputed two greatest shooting guards of all time, but the late Bryant created his legend in his own right.
The Black Mamba took no prisoners. Everyone on the opposing team was prey, and Kobe meticulously sliced up defenses with his vast and smooth array of moves, from up-and-under layups, fadeaway midrange jumpers, and pull-up three-pointers. While he depended on his athleticism for high-flying dunks and nimble layups early in his career, his skill and finesse put him in a higher class than the other good scorers in the game. Bryant is renowned for his relentless work ethic, which he utilized to constantly hone this game. He became a master of footwork, and his post play for his position was second to none.
Kobe had the ability to make shots that seemed impossible and were unarguably one of the players you’d want with the ball in his hand when the game is on the line. The 18-time All-Star concluded his illustrious career with five NBA Championships, two Finals MVP awards, an MVP award, and two scoring titles, together with racking up 33,643 points in his legendary 20-year stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James has his sights on establishing himself as the unquestioned greatest player of all time, and even though there seems to be no sight of his career’s end, he already has the résumé to be included in the conversation. While LeBron is undeniably one of the greatest passers and all-around players of all time, his scoring prowess puts his game in near-unstoppable status.
The King entered the NBA as an athletic powerhouse who can leap over defenses for thunderous slam dunks and can muscle his way into finishing tough layups, and his athleticism on the fast break makes it almost impossible for the defense to catch up to him. But as the years went by, LeBron developed his game even further to prove that he had the longevity to stay as one of the top players of the game despite his years. King James inexplicably still has the speed and bounce to make flashy plays, but he also has the skillset to slice defenses open with his ability to shoot from practically anywhere past the half-court line.
LeBron just passed Kobe for third on the all-time scoring list last season and entered this season with 34,241 points. He is now on year 18 of his already distinguished career with four NBA Championships, Finals MVPs, and regular-season MVPs under his belt, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Only time will tell if he can catch up to the next two players on this list.
Karl Malone was dubbed “The Mailman” because he consistently delivered. Malone made the most formidable pick-and-roll duo in history with John Stockton in the Utah Jazz, and Stockton’s court vision definitely played a huge role in the Jazz’s excellence, yet the system would not have been possible without Malone’s scoring ability.
Malone had not just the power to handle the physicality in the paint but also the speed to run the fast break to convert Stockton’s passes into field goals. While the pick-and-roll was his bread and butter, Malone also had an extensive repertoire in the low post and was an exceptional rebounder which helped him grab second-chance points for his team.
While Malone and the Jazz weren’t able to win a ring due to the dominance of Jordan’s Bulls, he remains one of the greatest players in NBA history, having been awarded the MVP award twice, as well as being named an All-Star and getting voted into an All-NBA team fourteen times. He retired after scoring 36,928 points in his storied career.
No other move in NBA history is as unstoppable as Kareem-Abdul Jabbar’s skyhook. Abdul-Jabbar absolutely decimated defenders with his trademark shot as well as his incredible low post skillset.
Despite his relative lack of bulk for his position, Abdul-Jabbar used his 7’2 frame and his textbook finesse to score over virtually anyone in the league. No defender found an answer for his masterful hook shot. Later in his career, he utilized his quickness to run the famous Showtime fast break with Magic Johnson to get easy buckets off Johnson’s flamboyant yet accurate passes.
Kareem was a two-time scoring champion, a six-time NBA Champion, two-time Finals MVP, a record-holding six-time NBA MVP, and garnered a host of accolades in his career. We are yet to see any immediate challengers to his incredible 38,387 scoring total.