We are just eight days into the month of November and every NBA team has played at least six games. With 76 more games to play, to say there will be a lot to unravel would be an extreme understatement. Still, what a number of players are doing early on cannot be ignored.
As of today, there are five players averaging over 30 points per game: DeMar DeRozan (33.7), Damian Lillard (32), James Harden (31.6), Russell Westbrook (30.4), and Anthony Davis (30.4). Each one of those players has had at least a couple absurd scoring performances already, showing that it doesn’t take them getting hot on one particular night. The other thing to note about the five players (really all except DeRozan), they’re the clear number one scoring option on their respective teams.
The question is, can these guys sustain their current scoring averages?
The last time the NBA saw multiple players average 30 points or more per game for the duration of the 82-game season was back in 2005-06. Kobe Bryant (35.4), Allen Iverson (33), and LeBron James (31.4) were the three to do so.
Those three players are three of the top that this game has ever seen. None of the players who are currently achieving this feat are in the vicinity of the three who did it previously. With that being said, it’s a much different league than it was 10 years ago. Pace and scoring are quickly becoming the focal point of team’s plans to build a contender, which means more possessions and more scoring opportunities.
If there were any season that we could see history repeat itself, it’s this one. DeRozan and Davis are guys that will likely see their scoring numbers take a hit. DeRozan is shooting a career-high from the field at 52.4 percent. His game is suited to sustain high scoring numbers taking into mind how many times he visits the free throw line (9.1 per game), but it’s hard to see a player in today’s NBA who relies so heavily on his mid-range game to preserve those type of numbers.
Davis has been on a tear this season despite his team’s 0-6 record. It’s the easy out to pinpoint the fact he has struggled to stay healthy, but with the workload and usage rate (32.6) thus far, you can’t blame him for his body shutting down once we get midway through the season. Even if Davis can remain healthy, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will make their returns eventually, which means the extra 5-10 shots Davis is getting now will go to them. There’s no doubt that Davis will still have to do the majority of scoring even when this team Pelicans team is fully healthy, but if they are sitting in last place of the Western Conference like they are now, you begin to wonder if he’ll continue killing himself night in and night out trying to squeak out wins.
As for Harden, Lillard, and Westbrook, their teams are what they are. It isn’t like one of them is waiting on another piece to come back from injury or that they are just having a streak of games that we’ve never seen.
It’s no secret that Harden would shine in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Now being the designated point guard with above average shooters surrounding him, the opposing defense is at his mercy. Harden is proving this formula successful in terms of individual statistics and has a good chance of leading the league not only in scoring, but assists as well. Last season he averaged 29 per game in a system that didn’t favor his strengths. Now, in an offense that seemed to be created specifically for him, he could easily sustain his production.
Westbrook is the engine that the Thunder run on. Again, this is no secret. Without Durant, Westbrook has free reign to hoist up shots whenever he feels, and his 23.5 field goal attempts per game could attest to that. Unlike the Davis and DeRozan situations, nothing will change here. He is one of the more fiery competitors that the game has seen since prime Kobe, which means no matter if the Thunder are favored to win a game or not, he’s going to do all he can in the scoring department to make sure they come out on top.
Similar to Westbrook, Lillard has a killer’s mentality when it comes to immortalizing his opponents by dropping 40 points on a regular basis. Of these three players, Lillard probably has the worst chance of sustaining a scoring average above 30 though, simply because he shares the backcourt with C.J. McCollum. McCollum needs his shots throughout the course of a game if the Trail Blazers want to get back to the postseason. One argument that could be made for Lillard’s case is his aggressiveness paying off by getting to the free-throw line. Last season he had a free-throw rate of .315 compared to this season’s .489, a significant increase. Yes, it’s still early, but there’s no denying that he looks to be attacking the rim and embracing contact in order to get the foul. As we’ve seen with Harden over the past couple of seasons, more trips to the line can do wonders for scoring averages. Lillard plays with a chip on his shoulder and still believes he is overlooked in comparison with other point guards in the league. Averaging 30 or more and leading his team back to the playoffs would shut those critics up pretty quickly.