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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson: More Top 40 Hits Than Anyone on the Billboard Charts

Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson are steadily moving up the all-time charts for 40-point games. Bryant, who has never won a scoring title, currently leads the league in scoring with 35.0 ppg--the best average since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87—and has 19 40-point games in 2005-06. Iverson, a three-time NBA scoring champion, is averaging a career-high 33.2 ppg in 2005-06 and has 13 40-point games this season.

It is undoubtedly true that rules changes restricting physical contact by defensive players against offensive players on the perimeter have boosted scoring, both for individual players and for teams—but Bryant and Iverson were logging 40-point games on a regular basis under the old rules, too. Iverson set a record with five straight 40-point games as a rookie in 1996-97. Bryant had 19 40-point games in 2002-03, including a stretch of nine straight 40-point games, the fourth longest such streak in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain had two 14 game streaks and a 10 game streak).

Bryant has had two particularly remarkable performances this season: an 81 point game, which ranks second only to Chamberlain’s legendary 100 point game, and a 62 point game in which he did not play in the fourth quarter after outscoring the entire Mavericks team by himself in the first three quarters. Bryant averaged 43.4 ppg in January, the eighth best scoring average for a month in NBA history (Chamberlain owns the top seven marks). Elgin Baylor is the only other player to average 40-plus ppg in a month; Bryant is the only player other than Chamberlain to have multiple 40-plus ppg months (Bryant averaged 40.6 ppg in February 2003).

Bryant had 40-plus points in five straight games earlier this season and just had a four game streak, which included a 40 point outing in a 105-94 victory over the defensive minded Detroit Pistons on March 4. Bryant also had a streak of four straight games of 45-plus points this season, a feat which has only been done by Chamberlain and Baylor. Bryant’s best four game span this season is 188 points, the most productive such streak since Michael Jordan had 194 points in four games during the 1989-90 season; Bryant had a four game run of 187 points in 2002-03.

Bryant is known as the NBA’s best “closer” and for good reason: he has scored 18 or more points in five fourth quarters this year, something that no other NBA player has accomplished more than twice in 2005-06. Bryant leads the NBA in fourth quarter scoring at nearly 10 ppg (Iverson is second at just over 8 ppg). At this pace Bryant will easily surpass Tracy McGrady’s 8.6 ppg in 2002-03 fourth quarters, the best mark for a complete season in this category since the Elias Sports Bureau began keeping track of individual fourth quarter scoring in 1997-98.

Iverson had five 40-point games in the first 20 games of the 2005-06 season, the first player to accomplish this since Jordan had five in the Bulls’ first 19 games in 1989-90. Iverson has been combining high point totals with high assist totals in many of these games, setting an NBA record by leading his team in points and assists in each of the first 14 games of the season, breaking Oscar Robertson’s record of 13 set in 1962-63. Iverson became only the seventh player in NBA history to have both 40-plus points and 10-plus assists in two consecutive games when he had 40 and 10 versus Houston on Wednesday March 1 and 47 and 12 in a 119-113 victory over Washington on Friday March 3. Jordan and Nate Archibald are the only players to ever have three such consecutive games.

The suggestion that Bryant and Iverson hurt their teams by taking a lot of shots and scoring a lot of points is demonstrably false. Bryant’s teams are 40-19 in his 40-point games during his career, including 12-7 in 2005-06; Iverson’s career record in such games is 49-23, including 8-5 in 2005-06.

Bryant and Iverson’s impressive production this season inevitably inspires an examination of the record book to obtain some historical perspective on what we are witnessing. Chamberlain is the standard bearer in the category of 40-point games, as he is regarding most statistics relating to scoring and rebounding. No one is going to even approach his records, let alone catch them, but they are worth mentioning here just as a reminder of how ridiculously dominant he was: 271 career 40-point games; a 14 game streak of 40-plus points; a nine game streak of 45-plus points; 63 40-point games in one season (1961-62; also had 52 40-point games in 1962-63).

As some additional food for thought, here is the top ten list for career regular season 40-point games by NBA players:

Wilt Chamberlain 271
Michael Jordan 173
Elgin Baylor 88
Oscar Robertson 77
Allen Iverson 72
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 70
Rick Barry 70
George Gervin 68
Jerry West 66
Kobe Bryant 59

Bryant recently passed Bob McAdoo, who now ranks 11th with 58 40-point games. Barry had an additional 45 regular season 40-point games during his four year ABA career, so he actually ranks third on the list of professional regular season 40-point games behind only Chamberlain and Jordan. Only the totals posted by Chamberlain, Jordan and Barry (counting his efforts from both leagues) seem to be definitely out of reach for Bryant and Iverson.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:24 PM

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