Why NBA players hitting the big 5-0 with regularity
22nd December 2018

'Tis the season to score 50. 

At least, in the NBA it is. 

One week into the season, Detroit’s Blake Griffin scored 50 points. The next night, Golden State’s Steph Curry had 51. Five days later, Klay Thompson, Curry’s teammate, scored 52. Two days later, Minnesota’s Derrick Rose dropped 50.

In November, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Kevin Durant scored at least 50 points, and last week, Harden had a 50-point triple-double.

Players are scoring 50 or more at a rapid rate – nine times already through two months this season. If the pace continues, the NBA will have the most 50-point individual performances in a season since it happened 18 times in 2006-07.

“It’s the evolution of basketball,” said Thompson, who has three career 50-point games. “There are so many talented players, so many guys who can put the ball in the hoop. … and it can happen on any given night because so many guys are offensively gifted in this league right now.”

Thompson is correct on both points. There are several players capable of scoring 50 in a game. Besides the players who already have done it this season, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Chicago’s Zach LaVine are among those who can rack up the points.

The evolution is a significant factor in the scoring explosion. The three-point shot has never been more important than it is now. Though no one scored 50 in Houston's win over Washington on Wednesday, the Rockets made an NBA-record 26 three-pointers.

It's hard to win without three-point shooters. Players are taking and making more threes this season than any previous season, and every player who posted 50-plus this season made at least four three-pointers in the game: Thompson set an NBA single-game record with 14, Curry 11, Harden seven and James and Walker six.

This season, rule enforcement has led to a more free-flowing offense. The NBA wants players to have freedom of movement and have instructed referees to call fouls on defenders impeding that movement. It gives the offense a decided advantage. In certain situations, it can lead to considerable free throw attempts.

Harden made 18 and 13 free throws in his 50-pointers, Walker 12, Durant 11 and Curry 10. All but Thompson attempted at least 10 free throws.

“When you look at free throw attempts by some of the star players and how the game is being called, everything right now rule-wise, interpretation-wise is  tilted toward the offense," ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. "And we have some incredibly skilled players in the league, particularly with size. It’s just hard to deal with them."

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