James Harden and five other players we could see going after Kobe's 81Sporting News — (Tom Gatto)
James Harden could have challenged Kobe Bryant's famous 81-point total Saturday if he was needed for the fourth quarter. Alas, the Rockets star got the final 12 minutes off after dropping 60 on the Hawks in a 158-111 Houston victory.
As eye-popping as Harden's stat line was (16 for 24 from the field, 8 of 14 from 3, 20 for 23 from the line), it got him just three-fifths of the way to Wilt Chamberlain's NBA record of 100. That's why the Kobe comps were more realistic.
In terms of volume scoring this year, Harden is in his own class with 38.9-point average through Saturday, but there are other NBA stars who could take a run at 81 on their best nights. SN tried to find the five who are most disposed right now after "The Beard," based on a combination of average field goal attempts per game, average free throw attempts per game and usage rate prior to Saturday. (And, coincidentally, because they're among the league leaders in scoring.)
Unscientific, yes, but still a useful list.
Luka Doncic: 20.2 FGA/G, 9.8 FTA/G, 35.8% usage
We know Doncic isn't afraid to put it up; his season-high for shot attempts is 30. We know he loves to shoot the 3; his season-high there is 14 attempts. We know he'll get to the line; he has had games of 19 and 18 free throws. If he gets within range of 81 on a hot night, we know he'll be ready to keep shooting. And the Mavs are up-and-down enough that hot Doncic nights don't always mean total blowouts.
Trae Young: 20.7 FGA/G, 7.3 FTA/G, 34.4% usage
See Doncic as it relates to shots (30 FGA, 15 3-point attempts, 17 FTA as season-highs). Young watched Harden do his thing up close Saturday, and he was still on the floor in the fourth quarter before leaving with 37. Young has already gone for 49 twice in his career.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 20.6 FGA/G, 11.3 FTA/G, 36.9% usage
How long have we heard that the Greek Freak is unstoppable? If there's a game in which he's impossible to guard, then 81 would seem approachable. As with all these players, we're assuming a high shooting percentage and a ton of minutes in a competitive game, which, we admit, lowers the probability, but maybe Giannis can just dunk his way to it. His 31.2 points per game this season are certainly an indicator of how consistently dominant he has become.
Damian Lillard: 19.0 FGA/G, 7.7 FTA/G, 28.3% usage
Dame is here because he has already dropped 60 this season, against the Nets. He put up 33 shots in that game, too, 16 of them from 3. Volume, volume, volume. But to give you an idea of just how difficult it would be to get to 81, Bryant took 46 shots, making 28 (seven from 3), the night he did it. He was also 18 for 20 from the line in an 18-point Lakers win over the Raptors.
LeBron James: 19.7 FGA/G, 5.8 FTA/G, 31.8% usage
James' averages trail the others on this list, so this is more a case of believing he could if he wanted to, even at 35. It's also a case of wanting to see him take a run at Kobe while he's a Laker. James' career high is 61, set in 2014 while with the Heat. If there's a night where Anthony Davis is unavailable and LeBron has to carry the offense and he can get to the rim with regularity . . . well, it's nice to dream, anyway.
The list could be larger, of course (think injured Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, streak shooters and scorers of the highest order, and even big-time scorers like Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal), but these five are a good start.