The Wildest NBA Scoring Week

   Feb 18, 2024     3 min read

January of 2024 was a month of outlier scoring in the NBA to a quantity and degree that hasn’t been matched in over 40 years of games. First, on January 22nd, 2024 Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid went for 70 points in a win against the San Antonio Spurs. Later that night, Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns had 62 points in a rather ignominious loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Four days later Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker had 62 points, also in a loss, to the Indiana Pacers. That same evening, Mavericks wing Luka Dončić had 73 points in a victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the highest point total in a game since Kobe Bryant’s legendary 81 point thrashing of the Toronto Raptors on January 22nd, 2006.

This amount of high scoring performances in such a short time period felt somewhat unprecedented, and the historical data does back it up: this is only the third week in over 40 years of NBA history that had four outlier scoring performances. An outlier here being more than the sum of three times the interquartile range and the 75th scoring percentile of a 12-week trailing average of scoring in weekly games. The last was the week of March 12th 2022 which saw Kevin Durant hang 53 on the Knicks for the cross-town Nets on March 13th, Karl-Anthony Towns post 60 against the Spurs the next night, Kyrie Irving put up a career-high 60 against the Magic, and Saddiq Bey put up 51 against the same Magic team two nights later.

Twenty years earlier the week of New Years 2001 saw Tony Delk drop 53 for the Suns in an overtime loss to the Kings, Jerry Stackhouse throw up 46 in a loss to the Rockets, Chris Webber rack up 51 in an overtime loss to the Pacers, and Allen Iverson explode for 54 in a win over the Cavaliers.

Though these performances were much less common place in the past – with an average of about 4 per season for most of the 80s and 90s – a combination of officiating changes that regulated out hand-checking defense in 2004 as well as 3 point shot selection exploding after 2013 has led to higher scoring variance performances from some of the league’s highest-usage players, particularly if they can shoot well from beyond the 3 point arc. In fact, in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic-altered 2020 seasons there were 24 outlier scoring performances each. Although numbers have dropped off slightly in the following season, they still have all eclipsed over 10 such scoring barrages each.

No player exemplifies the pinnacle of the outlier scoring era in the NBA more than James Harden, particularly from his time with the Houston Rockets. Between the ‘16-’17 and ‘19-’20 seasons Harden posted 23 outlier scoring regular season performances. His current total of 30 is only matched by Kobe Bryant who also had 30 in his career. Michael Jordan is currently the only other player with over 20 in his career.