With opening night around the corner, our NBA.com Staff has been rolling out predictions for the upcoming season.
Today, we're focusing on who will lead the league in scoring this season.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I'm going to go with the guy who has led the league in scoring in each of the last two seasons: James Harden.
This doesn't have to be complicated. Harden averaged 30.4 points per game in 2017-18 and 36.1 points per game in 2018-19. The latter was the seventh-highest mark in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain (five times) and Michael Jordan (once) being the only players who have ever averaged more points over an entire season.
Harden could very well put up similar numbers this season. Maybe not quite as much as last season, but 30-plus points is certainly on the cards again.
The only thing really standing in Harden's way of leading the league in scoring again is Russell Westbrook considering he's consistently among the league leaders in scoring, field goals attempts and usage himself. However, in playing alongside Westbrook, Harden might not need to do as much heavy lifting this season. Instead of dribbling the air out of the ball every possession, he will be able to spot-up more this season than he has in the past. Harden gets a lot more attention for his off-the-dribble shooting, but he's more than capable of knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s. He made 41.4 percent of those opportunities in 2018-19 and 36.7 percent in 2017-18.
If Harden can sustain those levels of efficiency over a larger sample size, it could make up for some of the possessions Westbrook takes away from him, paving the way for him to lead the league in scoring for the third straight season.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): It's hard for me to pick against James Harden winning the scoring title for a third-straight year.
Naturally, one might think that the addition of Russell Westbrook would be a detriment to Harden's production this upcoming season, but two things lead me to believe otherwise:
- As Scott mentioned, Harden's scoring average was such a large figure that the margin over the league's second-leading scorer was greater than eight points. All this means is that Harden has room for his production to dip and still win the scoring title.
- Who was second you ask? Paul Geroge, who played alongside - you guessed it - Russell Westbrook last season. If Russ wasn't detrimental to the success of George, why would he be the reason Harden's production dips?
It comes down to this for me: Harden is by far one of the most talented scorers this league has ever seen and given his innovation and craftiness on the offensive end, he will find a way to put up league-leading numbers regardless of the situation.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Giannis Antetokounmpo finished third in scoring last year and he couldn't yet shoot.
Like, at all.
It's not exactly a ground-breaking revelation that Antetokounmpo struggles from the outside. But where the popular sentiment is wrong is the assumption that those struggles are reserved for 3-point shooting and jumpers off the dribble. Those limitations in 2018-19 were far more pronounced.
Earlier in the offseason, we explored the notion that he's only reached 60 percent of his potential. A major part of that discussion was articulating just how far he has to go as a scorer.
Did you know that there were 62 players last season took at least 100 shots from 5-9 feet? And that among them, Giannis ranked 61st ahead of only Josh Jackson?
Again, that's 5-9 feet, not 15-19 feet or from beyond the arc.
It stands within reason that despite a summer spent with the Greece national team, the reigning MVP will come back with a few more tricks in his bag. Add in the departure of Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, and it also stands within reason that he's likely to take on even more of a scoring load.
With Russell Westbrook's arrival in Houston surely pulling James Harden back to the scoring pack, I expect an improved Greek Freak to lead the league in scoring.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm going with Stephen Curry.
We all remember what happened the last time that Curry was the sole No. 1 scoring option - he won the scoring title averaging 30.1 points per game while shooting 50-40-90 on his way to becoming the first-ever unanimous NBA MVP.
Curry still averaged 27.3 points per game last season with Kevin Durant by his side and Klay Thompson healthy. Now that Durant is gone and Thompson is likely to miss the entire season due to the injury he suffered in the Finals, Curry will have the ultimate green light to shoot as many times as he wants.
The guy already posted a 40-point game in just 25 minutes in the preseason!
That couldn't be more of a fair warning as to what we can expect from the two-time league MVP this season.
Curry's going to win the scoring title this year, and it's going to be on a career-high in points per game - book him for averaging over 30.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): No question, it's going to be Stephen Curry. Kyle has already summed up pretty well why the baby-faced assassin is a favourite to win the second scoring title of his career.
No one in the league can catch fire and turn the game on its head as frequently as Curry can. Just take his recent 40-point game as an example.
☔️ @StephenCurry30 erupts for 40 PTS, 6 3PM, 6 REB, 6 AST in 3 quarters of game action for the @warriors! #NBAPreseason pic.twitter.com/9cmG7wn9ju- NBA (@NBA) October 11, 2019
Now, to eliminate his opposition.
This offseason, the league transitioned into an era of super duos, in the East and West. Barring major injuries, those on the same teams are bound to take shots off of each other, which eliminates the superstars on the Los Angeles Lakers (LeBron James, Anthony Davis), Philadelphia 76ers (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons), LA Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George) and Houston Rockets (James Harden, Russell Westbrook).
The 2019-20 NBA scoring title is Curry's to lose.
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