Feb 19, 2021 - Sports

The NBA's 40-point explosion

Data: Stathead; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: Stathead; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

40-point games, once a threshold that signaled a rare offensive explosion, have become commonplace in today's NBA.

Why it matters: With teams shooting more threes and scoring more points than ever this season, the league is on pace for a record 143 40-point games.

By the numbers: Since President Biden's inauguration less than a month ago, there have been 32 different 40-point games. In the last nine days alone, there have been 15.

  • 19 players have exactly one 40-point game this season.
  • Six have done it twice: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine, Terry Rozier and Nikola Vučević.
  • Six have done it three times: Bradley Beal, Steph Curry, Luka Dončić, Nikola Jokić, Damian Lillard and Trae Young.

The backdrop: This season's 40-point explosion may stem in part from the pandemic (i.e. limited practice time hurting defenses), but this trend began years before anyone knew what COVID-19 was.

  • Between 1976 (merger) and 2017, there was just one season with more than 100 40-point games (2005-06). Now, it's become the norm.
  • Looking back just one decade helps bring the recent boom into even starker focus. From 2010 to 2016, the NBA averaged 49 40-point games per season. Since then, the league has averaged 123.

What to watch ... James Harden's next 40-point game will make him just the fourth player to record 100.

  • All-time leaders: Wilt Chamberlain (271); Michael Jordan (173); Kobe Bryant (122); Harden (99); Elgin Baylor (88); Allen Iverson (79); Oscar Robertson (77); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (70); Rick Barry (70); George Gervin (68); LeBron James (66); Jerry West (66)
  • Active leaders: Harden (99); James (66); Kevin Durant (56); Russell Westbrook (48); Curry (41); Carmelo Anthony (36); Anthony Davis (35); Lillard (35); Beal (25); Kyrie Irving (19); Kemba Walker (18)

Go deeper: The NBA is literally becoming a make-or-miss league (The Ringer)

Go deeper