Skip to main content

After Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic scored 70-plus, could we see 80, 90, 100 points in an NBA game?

nba scoring: Luka Doncic

On the same night, Joel Embiid had 70 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 62. Then, just a few days later, Luka Doncic scored 73.

Those are examples of what we have been seeing for the past two seasons; we’re in a golden age of points scoring in the NBA.

Now, hold on all of you historians, we know points came in bunches in the old days. The difference is that today’s NBA player is equally skilled in the art of jump shooting, free throw shooting and taking advantage of opponents defending those shots by driving to the basket. And, well, according to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, an emphasis on offense.

“I think a lot of it is the rules,” Kerr told reporters last season. “The NBA has really slanted the rules towards the offensive player. You’re seeing the offensive guys really gain advantages in so many different situations. I think it’s become almost impossible to play defense in a lot of cases the refs will tell you ‘He wasn’t in legal guarding position,’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, but he barreled over my guy.’ What is legal guarding position if somebody just runs right through you?”

So far, there have been 98 games this season in which a player has scored 40 or more points.

Last season, there were 203 40-plus point performances by 57 different players — both broke the previous records of 142 games (from 1961-62) and 47 players (from 2020-21).

Duncic scored 73 points and that ranks in a tie for fourth-most points in a game all time. Embiid’s 70 points against San Antonio got him just outside the Top 10 all time, but did give him the most points in 76ers franchise history.

Related: Joel Embiid could get a record that was believed to be untouchable

Most points in a single game in NBA history

Offensive numbers are up across the board

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
1Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors100March 2, 1962
2Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers81Jan. 22, 2006
3Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors78Dec. 8, 1961
4Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks73Jan. 26, 2023
David Thompson, Denver Nuggets73April 9, 1978
Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco Warriors73Nov. 16, 1962
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors73Jan. 13, 1962
8Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco Warriors72Nov. 3, 1962
9Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers71Feb. 26, 2023
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers71Jan. 2, 2023
David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs71April 24, 1994
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Lakers71Nov. 15, 1960
13Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers70Jan. 22, 2024
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns70March 24, 2017
Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco Warriors70March 10, 1963

Teams are averaging 115.6 points per game this season, the most since 1970. There are 30 teams in the NBA this season and when the league averaged 116.7 in 1970, there were 14.

Field goal percentage is 47.5%, which is just behind the 47.5% last season. Teams are averaging 78.5% from the free throw line and that would break the record of 77.8% set in 2021. The 3-point percentage is 36.7%, and that would tie for the best ever.

Overall, shooting has gotten better because the increase in 3s has been balanced with an emphasis on shots in the paint. Guys are driving to the basket more because of the space created by the volume of 3s attempted and players in lineups capable of attempting them.

Assists are up, too. The league average is 26.6 and that’s on pace to be the most ever. The only other season that was close was 1984-85 when it was 26.3. It would be a full assist, more than the 25.3 average last season.

Even with that, turnovers are down. Defenders are having a harder time forcing bad passes or getting strips because of the space created by having to defend the deep shot.

Related: LeBron James on the verge of ridiculous scoring milestone

Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns examples of the modern player

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Embiid dominated the Spurs because he is much stronger and more physical than San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, even though Wembanyama is about six inches taller.

Embiid was able to muscle by the rookie and create a variety of shots that he couldn’t defend. To be fair, it wasn’t just Wembanyama, it was whoever the Spurs put on him, and there was more than one occasion Embiid scored despite having three defenders on him. Also to be fair, Wembanyama scored 33. That will win you a bar bet.

Towns pulled off pretty much the same feat, bullying past Hornets defenders, most of whom were several inches shorter and dominating when he went to the basket. Towns was also hot from the outside, hitting a Steph Curry-like 10-of-15 from 3-point range. Hard to stop a 7-footer shooting like that.

Both Embiid and Towns can shoot a long jump just as well as they can dominate in the paint, which is a big difference in today’s game.

Related: Top NBA players snubbed by peers for NBA All-Stars, you won’t believe No. 1

NBA players with the most 50-point games

RankPlayerHow many
1Wilt Chamberlain118
2Michael Jordan31
3Kobe Bryant25
4James Harden23
5Elgin Baylor17
6Damian Lillard15
7Rick Barry14
LeBron James14
9Stephen Curry12
10Allen Iverson11
11Kareem Abdul-Jabbar10
12Kevin Durant9
13Bernard King8
Giannis Antetokounmpo8
Joel Embiid8
16Dominique Wilkens7
Devin Booker7
Luka Doncic7
39Karl-Anthony Towns3
Basketball reference; active players in bold

Related: Best NBA players right now

NBA fans on board with offensive production

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The big numbers have brought with it an influx of fans. The NBA set attendance records last season and are on pace to get at least those numbers again this season, despite having some really bad teams at the bottom of the standings, we’re looking at you Detroit, Charlotte, Washington, San Antonio and Portland.

NBA TV ratings were up, with Christmas Day games getting the best numbers of the first half of the season. Earlier in the year, the league announced that NBA game viewership across ESPN and ABC was up 16% from last season, according to Nielsen.

We’re probably not going to see a slow down in offensive numbers any time soon. But, at some point, defenses will evolve and get better. Will we see the slugfests from the early 1990s? Probably not, but there always seems to be adjustments. Until then, we’ll need to enjoy the fireworks.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: