Scoring is back on the rise, 3-point shooting is more relevant than ever before and teams are playing as efficient basketball as we’ve seen in the history of the sport.
In the 2017-18 season, NBA teams averaged 106.3 points per game, the most since 1990. The average team made 10.5 3-pointers per game, the most all-time and the scoring champion – James Harden – had an average of 30.0 or more points for the third consecutive year; previously the scoring champion had been below 30.0 points in four of the previous five seasons.
Points, points, points. They’re all the rage, making the scoring champion wager a fun one. There’s also some strategy involved in making the pick, so we look back at a handful of trends that can help make your wager for the annual scoring champion a fruitful one, especially when considering the wager before the season starts.
The magic number here is 20. Even in today’s 3-pointer era, with efficiency off the charts, field-goal attempts still matter greatly with this bet.
Since Adrian Dantley did so in 1984 on 18.2 shots per game, no player has won the scoring title by attempting fewer than 20 shots per game in the 34 seasons that followed.
(The slight caveat here is Kevin Durant did so in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, but he attempted 19.7 shots both years. We’ll round up for the sake of the argument.)
That’s 30+ years of scoring leaders who surpassed the 20-shot-per-game mark, and from 1997-2018 the scoring leader has averaged 22.6 shots per game.
During that same time, the scoring leader has led the league in shots per game 14 times and ranked second in the league six others. Only a pair of Durant seasons (2012 and 2013) did a scoring champ rank outside the top two, and Durant was third and fourth, respectively, in those years.
So if you’re NBA betting fan looking for a dark horse to win the scoring title, make sure you believe he’s going to make a serious jump in shots per game.
It sounds obvious, that scoring leaders shoot a lot. But 20 – that magic number – attempts per game is rare. From 2011 to 2018 here is how many players attempted 20 or more shots: 2, 3, 3, 2, 3, 2, 2 and 3. That’s 20, or 2.5 per season.
Identifying which players were going to hit the 20-shot mark gave you a 40 percent change of identifying the scoring champion with no other qualifier.
Another one that may appear obvious, but helps out if you’re considering a true dark horse candidate. Scoring champions also win games. And they tend to win big.
Beginning in 2000 with Shaquille O’Neal and ending with James Harden in 2018, 18 of the 19 NBA scoring champions played for teams with winning records. Only Tracy McGrady’s abysmal 21-win Magic team in 2004 had a losing record. What’s more, those 18 teams that employed the scoring champion won an average of 51.8 games per year.
So it’s not just that players are scoring on 43 or 44-win teams; they’re usually on heavy hitters. The best scorers are more often than not the best players, and the best players win.
Wings and point guards: The guys with the ball in their hands the most affect the game the most, and at the end of the day find themselves atop the scoring leaderboard.
From 2006 to 2014 the scoring leaders were all wings (Bryant twice, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Durant four times, Carmelo Anthony). Then from 2015 to 2018 all four scoring leaders were point guards (Westbrook twice, Curry and Harden).
The last true bigs to win the scoring title were O’Neal in 2000 and 1995 and David Robinson in 1994.
The common theme here is that they weren’t just scorers; they were the do-it-alls for their respective teams. The statistic usage rate takes into consideration the percentage of team possessions that end with a specific player’s action (a shot attempt, a foul drawn, an assist, a turnover, etc.).
And from 1997 to 2018, the NBA scoring champion ranked first, second or third in usage rate 18 of 22 years. It’s true that the top scorers can put the ball in the basket, but they’ve got the ball in their hands doing everything else for their respective teams, too.
When deciding who to pick for league MVP, it’s important to consider scoring. The same goes for picking the NBA scoring champion.
It’s become a recent trend but four of the last five scoring champs also won league MVP (Durant in 2014, Curry in 2016, Westbrook in 2017 and Harden in 2018). Teams now employ a handful of capable scorers, meaning a player’s impact is about more than just points, but at the end of the day the best players do it more often than others.
Four in five years is a good enough trend to consider your MVP pick to also have a real shot at earning a scoring title. The one exception in that stretch was Westbrook in 2015, who finished fourth in MVP voting despite his scoring title.