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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pro Basketball’s 2000 Point Club: Iron Men Who Shoot With a Feathery Touch

This article was originally published in the December 2003 issue of Basketball Digest.

Certain numbers are golden: 1000 yards rushing or receiving, 3000 yards passing, 40 home runs. Yet, in a 16 game NFL season a player can average less than 63 yards a game and accumulate 1000 yards; 17 players rushed for 1000-plus yards in 2002 and more than 20 receivers gained 1000-plus yards. A passer throwing for less than 200 yards a game can amass 3000 yards; 17 NFL quarterbacks did so in 2002. While baseballs are flying out of the park more frequently than in the past, the 40 home run club is still somewhat exclusive, with eight major leaguers earning admission in 2002.

That is a fairly elite group, but pro basketball's 2000 point club admitted that many members in 2001-02 and 2002-03 combined (three in 2001-02 and five in 2002-03). Scoring 2000 points means producing better than 24 ppg in an 82 game season. If a player misses just five games, he must average 26 ppg to surpass 2000 points. Joining the 2000 point club requires productivity and durability.

This was even truer in 1957-58, when the Detroit Pistons' George Yardley founded the 2000 point club during a 72 game NBA season. He led the NBA with 2001 points, averaging 27.8 ppg. Yardley never again passed the 2000 point barrier and Bob Pettit broke his record in 1958-59, scoring 2105 points (29.2 ppg ) to win his second NBA scoring title. The Hawks' Hall of Famer posted four more seasons of 2000-plus points, including a career high 2429 points in 1961-62.

In 1959-60 Wilt Chamberlain became the first rookie member of the 2000 point club, shattering Pettit's mark with 2707 points (37.6 ppg). Chamberlain won the scoring title with 2000-plus points in each of his first seven seasons, including a record three seasons of 3000-plus points, four of the five highest totals ever and the only 4000-point season in pro basketball history. That was the famous 1961-62 campaign in which Chamberlain scored 4029 points (50.4 ppg), capped by his amazing 100 point game versus the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962.

Chamberlain's streak of 2000-plus point seasons was broken in 1966-67, when he voluntarily reduced his scoring and his Philadelphia 76ers rolled to the NBA title after going 68-13 in the regular season. It is clear that Chamberlain's skills were not eroding because (1) he would periodically produce 50 point games whenever a pundit angered him by suggesting that Chamberlain couldn't do that anymore and (2) he led the league in field goal percentage (.683) and rebounds (1957; 24.2 rpg) while ranking third in assists (630; 7.8 apg). All this and he still scored 1956 points, good for 24.1 ppg. In 1967-68 Chamberlain tallied 1992 points (24.3 ppg) while leading the NBA in field goal percentage, rebounds and assists! After that season Chamberlain never again seriously threatened the 2000 point mark.

Oscar Robertson is renowned for averaging a triple-double for the 1961-62 season, but he was also a prolific scorer. Like Chamberlain, he racked up 2000-plus points in each of his first seven seasons. They shared the record for most 2000-plus point seasons and most consecutive 2000-plus point seasons until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke the first mark in 1979-80 and Alex English topped the second one in 1988-89. Robertson and Karl Malone are the only players to post at least seven 2000-plus point seasons without winning a scoring title.

The Los Angeles Lakers' Hall of Fame scoring duo of forward Elgin Baylor and guard Jerry West each had five 2000-plus point seasons. In 1964-65 they became the first teammates to both score 2000 points in the same season, a feat that has only been matched seven other times in pro basketball history (four in the NBA, three in the ABA). West's last 2000-plus point season came in 1969-70, when he won his only scoring title with a 31.2 ppg average. That was the first year that NBA statistical leaders were determined by averages instead of totals; otherwise, Milwaukee Bucks' rookie Abdul-Jabbar (then still known as Lew Alcindor) would have edged West for the scoring title, 2361-2309.

Abdul-Jabbar honed his incomparable skyhook into an unstoppable weapon. His rookie total is still the fifth best ever first year performance and his 2822 points in 1971-72 ranks eighth overall in pro basketball history. He won his second and final scoring title that year en route to nine 2000-plus point seasons and the all-time career scoring record of 38,387 points. Abdul-Jabbar held the record for most 2000-plus point seasons until Michael Jordan and Karl Malone each rang up their 10th such campaign in 1996-97.

While Abdul-Jabbar was rewriting the record book, several exciting, high scoring players began their careers in the ABA. Only 14 rookies have scored 2000-plus points, six of whom did so in the ABA. Five of the six accomplished this within the three season span 1969-70--1971-72. Spencer Haywood became the first "hardship" case (now referred to as "early entry"), paving the way for everyone from Moses Malone to LeBron James, by challenging the established rules and turning pro after his sophomore season. He led the ABA in scoring (30.0 ppg, 2519 points) and rebounding (19.5 rpg, 1637 rebounds) as a rookie for the Denver Rockets.

Haywood's rookie scoring and rebounding totals are each second only to Chamberlain's in pro basketball history. Injuries and off-court problems later short-circuited what could have been a Hall of Fame career. Nevertheless, anyone who believes that his ABA statistics need to somehow be "validated" should note that he averaged 29.2 ppg and 12.9 ppg in 1972-73 for the Seattle Supersonics and made the All-NBA Team four straight years.

Julius Erving scored 2290 points (27.3 ppg) as a Virginia Squires rookie in 1971-72. He and scoring champion Charlie Scott (2524 points, 34.6 ppg) joined Baylor and West on the elite list of teammates who each scored 2000 points in the same season. Scott jumped to the NBA near the end of that campaign and in 1972-73 Erving claimed the first of his three scoring titles. He holds the ABA record with five 2000 point seasons and is tied for fifth place in pro basketball history with seven such years overall. Erving retired as pro basketball's third leading scorer and the first non-center to score over 30,000 career NBA/ABA points. He still ranks fifth on the career scoring list.

The ABA waited four years for another rookie to surpass 2000 points. The Denver Nuggets' David Thompson scored 2158 points (26.0 ppg) in the league's final season (1975-76), ranking third in scoring. He added 2000-plus point campaigns in the first two seasons after the NBA-ABA merger but, like Haywood, injuries and off-court troubles truncated his career. Although "Skywalker" did not reach his full potential, he did make it to the Hall of Fame.

The subject of best rookie scorers cannot be covered without mentioning the mercurial Walt Bellamy, the immensely talented Hall of Fame center whose inconsistent play alternately delighted and mystified coaches for five different franchises. Nearly a decade before Haywood, "Bells" rang up a similar rookie season for the Chicago Packers (ancestor of the Washington Wizards) in 1961-62, totaling 2495 points (31.6 ppg) and 1500 rebounds (19.0 rpg). He never came close to either figure again, but he did manage two more 2000-plus point seasons and averages of 20.1 ppg and 13.7 rpg for his career.

No rookie after Thompson exceeded 2000 points in a season until Michael Jordan did it in 1984-85 (2313 points, 28.2 ppg) and none have done so since then. Notwithstanding the scoring prowess of some early entry players such as Haywood and Erving, this is at least partially due to the increasing number of players entering pro basketball straight out of high school or after only one or two years of college. Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, who may have scored 2000-plus points as rookies if they had attended college even briefly, instead served apprenticeships in the NBA before both blossomed into nearly unstoppable scorers.

Scoring 2000-plus points as a rookie is uncommon, but even rarer is sustaining that level of performance for more than a decade. Michael Jordan and Karl Malone have both staked claims to significant portions of the 2000 point club's record books. Jordan is the only player other than Chamberlain to total 3000-plus points in a season, amassing 3041 points (37.1 ppg) in 1986-87. Despite his foray into minor league baseball that potentially cost him two 2000-plus point seasons, Jordan still totaled 11 such years, winning a record 10 scoring titles.

Malone did not score 2000 points as a rookie, has not won a scoring title and never got close to 3000 points. What he did, with mind numbing consistency, was score at least 2000 points for an amazing 11 straight years, shattering Alex English's record of eight. The lockout season of 1999 cost him a chance at reaching an even dozen in a row but Malone did get his record 12th 2000-plus point season in 1999-2000.

Will anyone from the current crop of stars challenge the standards set by Jordan and Malone? Shaquille O'Neal ranks first among players who have entered the NBA since 1990 with four 2000-plus point seasons despite missing at least 15 games due to injury in four different years. Paul Pierce has scored 2000-plus points the last three seasons, while Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and the injury plagued Vince Carter each have two career 2000-plus point seasons. If someone is going to put together a dozen 2000-plus point seasons it will not happen any time soon.

Note: the following lists accompanied the original article and thus were compiled prior to the completion of the 2003-04 NBA season.

Most 2000 Point Seasons

Player Seasons

Karl Malone 12
Michael Jordan 11
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 9
Alex English 8
Wilt Chamberlain 7
Oscar Robertson 7
Julius Erving* 7
Dominique Wilkins 7
George Gervin 6

*--5 ABA/2 NBA

Most Single Season Rookie Points

Player Points Season

Wilt Chamberlain 2707 1959-60
Spencer Haywood 2519 1969-70^
Walt Bellamy 2495 1961-62
Dan Issel 2480 1970-71^
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 2361 1969-70
Elvin Hayes 2327 1968-69
Michael Jordan 2313 1984-85
Julius Erving 2290 1971-72^
Charlie Scott 2276 1970-71^
Oscar Robertson 2165 1960-61
David Thompson 2158 1975-76^
Rick Barry 2059 1965-66
Sidney Wicks 2009 1971-72
Artis Gilmore 2003 1971-72^


Most Single Season Points

Player Points Season

Wilt Chamberlain 4029 1961-62
Wilt Chamberlain 3586 1962-63
Michael Jordan 3041 1986-87
Wilt Chamberlain 3033 1960-61
Wilt Chamberlain 2948 1963-64
Michael Jordan 2868 1987-88
Bob McAdoo 2831 1974-75
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 2822 1971-72
Rick Barry 2775 1966-67
Michael Jordan 2753 1989-90

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:18 AM



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