Best NBA Rookies: These 41 NBA rookies averaged 20+ points in their first NBA season

Over the course of NBA history, there have been no shortage of precocious young players coming in from the college ranks. However, it’s quite rare for a rookie to enter the league with huge expectations and to not only live up to them but surpass them.

It’s not a knock on those players that need a few years to adapt the speed and physicality of the NBA. Not everyone is a Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar Larry Bird, LeBron James or Michael Jordan. It just highlights those players that did come into the NBA and continue their high level of play at the next level even more special.

The 40 Highest Scoring NBA Rookies in NBA History

Almost every player selected in the two rounds of the NBA Draft are chosen because of their offensive prowess or potential for putting a lot of points on the board. With that, we’ve collected a list of the approximately 40 rookies that averaged the most points during their first NBA season (with a minimum of 20 ppg).

NBA Rookies That Averaged 20 Points or More
Rank Player Team Rookie Year PPG ROY
1 Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia Warriors 1959–60 37.6 Yes
2 Walt Bellamy Chicago Packers 1961–62 31.6 Yes
3 Oscar Robertson Cincinnati Royals 1960–61 30.5 Yes
4 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Milwaukee Bucks 1969–70 28.8 Yes
5 Elvin Hayes San Diego Rockets 1968–69 28.4 No
6 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls 1984–85 28.2 Yes
7 Rick Barry San Francisco Warriors 1965–66 25.7 Yes
8 Terry Dischinger Chicago Zephyrs 1962–63 25.5 Yes
9 Elgin Baylor Minneapolis Lakers 1958–59 24.9 Yes
10 Geoff Petrie Portland Trail Blazers 1970–71 24.8 Yes
11 Sidney Wicks Portland Trail Blazers 1971–72 24.5 Yes
12 David Robinson San Antonio Spurs 1989–90 24.3 Yes
13 Earl Monroe Baltimore Bullets 1967–68 24.3 Yes
14 Walter Davis Phoenix Suns 1977–78 24.2 Yes
15 Bernard King New Jersey Nets 1977–78 24.2 No
16 Terry Cummings San Diego Clippers 1982–83 23.7 Yes
17 Allen Iverson Philadelphia 76ers 1996–97 23.5 Yes
18 Shaquille O'Neal Orlando Magic 1992–93 23.4 Yes
19 Alex Groza Indianapolis Olympians 1949–50 23.4 N/A
20 Pete Maravich Atlanta Hawks 1970–71 23.2 No
21 Ron Harper Cleveland Cavaliers 1986–87 22.9 No
22 Blake Griffin Los Angeles Clippers 2010–11 22.5 Yes
23 Mitch Richmond Golden State Warriors 1988–89 22 Yes
24 Glenn Robinson Milwaukee Bucks 1994–95 21.9 No
25 Bill Cartwright New York Knicks 1979–80 21.7 No
26 Larry Bird Boston Celtics 1979-80 21.3 Yes
27 Luka Dončić Dallas Mavericks 2018-19 21.2 Yes
28 Tim Duncan San Antonio Spurs 1997-98 21.1 Yes
29 Ralph Sampson Houston Rockets 1983-84 21.0 Yes
30 Alonzo Mourning Charlotte Hornets 1992-93 21.0 No
31 Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets 2003-04 21.0 NO
32 LeBron James Cleveland Cavs 2003-04 20.9 Yes
33 Darrell Griffith Utah Jazz 1980-81 20.6 Yes
34 Hakeem Olajuwon Houston Rockets 1984-85 20.6 No
35 Bob Pettit St. Louis Hawks 1954-55 20.4 Yes
36 Kevin Durant Seattle Supersonics 2007-08 20.3 Yes
37 Adrian Dantley Buffalo Braves 1976-77 20.3 Yes
38 Tyreke Evans Sacramento Kings 2009-10 20.1 Yes
39 Elton Brand Chicago Bulls 1999-00 20.1 Yes
40 Patrick Ewing New York Knicks 1985-86 20.0 Yes
41 Dave Bing Detroit Pistons 1966-67 20.0 Yes

No doubt basketball betting heads are expecting 2019-20 rookie Zion Williamson to join the list after his eye-opening and record-setting performances during the preseason. If Zion can manage at lest 20 points per game his rookie season, he’d follow up on Luka Doncic‘s 21.2 that he averaged in 2018-19.

Prior to Doncic’s Rookie of the Year campaign, he was the first rookie since Blake Griffin put up 22.5 in 2010-11 to average 20 or more points in seven seasons; the longest stretch between such first year performances.

Are These the Best Rookies Ever?

The question is do these make for the best rookies in the history of the NBA?  The short answer is no, but this list probably contains a large portion of the top 20. As we mentioned, most rookies are drafted into the league for their scoring abilities, but there are others that had fantastic rookie campaigns that didn’t rely solely on scoring, players like Magic Johnson, Wes Unseld, and Grant Hill made an impact with their rebounding and passing.

Looking deeper into the list, this list is packed with perennial NBA All-Stars. Outside of the fact that this list actually had this many players (we expected much fewer) and the handful of anomalies like Tyreke Evans, Darrell Griffith, Ron Harper, Bill Cartwright and a couple others.

As Complex mentioned in their article about the Best NBA Rookies Ever,

“Expectations are usually pretty low in a player’s first year. A few examples: Kobe Bryant averaged just 7.6 points per game as a rookie. Think that’s bad? Steve Nash averaged 3.3, and Jimmy Butler only played 8.6 minutes per game in his first season. Development doesn’t usually happen overnight.”

Every decade or so, we have a handful of rookies that are drafted into the right situation and pick up their dominate play, right where they left off in college.

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