What Does PPG Mean in Basketball? Basketball 101

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If you are new to a sport, you may sometimes come across a term or jargon that you’re not familiar with. The same is true with basketball. There are dozens of terms that beginners or casual fans may not know of. Some may be related to rules, while some could be related to statistics. One of these terms that fall in the latter category is the acronym PPG. What does PPG mean in basketball?

What is the Definition of PPG in BasketballWhat is the Definition of PPG in Basketball?

PPG is a stat that has something to do with the most crucial statistic in basketball: points. The abbreviation stands for Points Per Game, which is basically the average points scored by a player per game.

Here’s a more concrete example: The NBA, for instance, typically has an 82-game season (unless, of course, a pandemic or a lockout happens). Player A scores points in all the games he has played during the season. The total points scored divided by the number of games he participated in is what is called Points Per Game or PPG. If said player scores a total of 2,100 points in 70 games played, then it is said that he is averaging 30 PPG (points per game).

From the formula presented, PPG is an individual scoring statistic. It would also follow that the best players in the sport or the NBA are among those with the highest PPG average. Last year’s NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaged 27.7 PPG in the 2018-19 season, good for third overall in the league behind James Harden (36.1 PPG) and Paul George (28.0 PPG).

What is an Average PPG in BasketballWhat is an Average PPG in Basketball?

In the 2019-20 season, 500 players out of 514 that saw playing time scored points. The total point output of everyone who has scored is 216, 429, while the total number of games that players have appeared is 20,501. Therefore, the TOTAL NUMBER OF POINTS/TOTAL NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED (216,429/ 20,501) is 10.55 points per game (PPG) for the average NBA player.

There is no current metric that determines what an average PPG in basketball is. We know that in the 259 players who have appeared in at least 48 games in the NBA this season, 121 of them are averaging 10.5 PPG, the same number we have determined as the PPG for the average NBA player.

What is a Good PPG in BasketballWhat is a Good PPG in Basketball?

We don’t know if we can objectively say that a certain PPG average can be described as “good” now that we are in an era where all the advantages go to the offensive player. To prove this point, in the current 2019-20 NBA season, there are 27 players that averaged at least 20 points per game. Ten seasons ago in 2009-10, only 16 players have achieved the same feat.

What is a Good PPG in Basketball

Nevertheless, getting that point production in the 20s is extremely hard in basketball regardless of era. That is why if someone averages at least 20 PPG in basketball, that can be considered as a good PPG in basketball and the player may even receive All-Star consideration in the NBA. Of course, getting an All-Star nod would also depend on other factors, but reaching the 20 PPG mark is often considered elite in basketball, even in the NBA.

How is PPG Calculated in BasketballHow is PPG Calculated in Basketball?

Simply put, the PPG or points per game in basketball is determined by dividing a player’s total number of points by the number of games that he has appeared in. 

As an example, let’s take James Harden, who has now paced the league in that category for four straight seasons. Harden has appeared in 61 games so far this season and scored 2096 points. From there, we can calculate (2096/61) that Harden is averaging 34.4 PPG.

Who Has Had the Highest PPGs in the NBAWho Has Had the Highest PPGs in the NBA?

While it is true that the NBA, in general, has produced more points than it has ever been at any point in its history, the owners of the highest PPGs in the NBA do not play in this era. Let’s take a look at some of the most prolific scorers the league has ever seen, based on the highest PPG average. A sort of disclaimer: Wilt Chamberlain owns six of the ten highest-scoring seasons in the history of the NBA.

1. Wilt Chamberlain, 50.4 PPG, 1961-62. Chamberlain, also known as the Big Dipper, was famous for his last seasons for the Lakers, where he won a championship and a Finals MVP in 1972. However, before taking his talents to California, Chamberlain was setting scoring records for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors and then traded to the Sixers (who are now in Philadelphia). In 1961-62, Wilt recorded 100 points in a game en route to a 50.4 PPG season, a record that still stands up to this day.

2. Wilt Chamberlain, 44.8 PPG, 1962-63. Nothing new here. Just usual Wilt Chamberlain stuff.

3. Wilt Chamberlain, 38.4 PPG, 1960-61.

4. Wilt Chamberlain, 37.6 PPG, 1959-60.

5. Michael Jordan, 37.1 PPG, 1986-87. Jordan is highly-regarded as the Greatest Of All Time, the best that ever wore a pair of basketball sneakers. MJ is the fifth all-time in total points scored and has the fifth-best PPG season in 1986-87, where he was named to his first All-NBA first team selection. If you’re curious about what position did Michael Jordan play in the NBA, we’ve written an article on that here.

6. Wilt Chamberlain, 36.9 PPG, 1963-64.

7. James Harden, 36.1 PPG, 2018-19. Harden has led the league in scoring for four seasons in a row, and with only a handful of games remaining to be played in the Covid-19 shortened 2019-20 season, it looks like he will not relinquish the PPG throne anytime soon.

8. Rick Barry, 35.5 PPG, 1966-67. Barry was a high-scorer known for making the underhanded free throw popular, but to be honest, the 35.5 PPG average came out of nowhere in his second season in the pros.

9. Kobe Bryant, 35.4 PPG, 2005-06. Bryant was known as a scorer without a conscience, but he has only averaged at least 30 PPG three times in 20 seasons. That includes the 35.4 PPF output in 2005-06, where he also recorded 81 points in a single game vs Toronto, the second-highest scoring game in NBA history.

10. Michael Jordan, 35.0 PPG, 1987-88. Even though he trails Bryant in the NBA’s all-time scoring list, MJ has eight seasons where he averaged at least 30 PPG. That only trails Chamberlain, who had nine of such seasons under his belt.

Who Has Had the Highest PPGs in the NBA

The PPG stats above were for the highest single-season PPG, but if we’re talking the whole body of work, here is the top 10 list.

Player Points per Game
1. Michael Jordan 30.12
2. Wilt Chamberlain 30.07
3. Elgin Baylor 27.4
4. LeBron James 27.1
5. Jerry West 27.03
6. Kevin Durant 27.02
7. Allen Iverson 26.66
8. Bob Pettit 26.36
9. George Gervin 26.18
10. Oscar Robertson 25.68

What is the Importance of PPG in BasketballWhat is the Importance of PPG in Basketball?

Basketball is a simple game; you have to score more points than your opponent, and you win. That’s how vital PPG is in basketball. Without a legitimate scorer, don’t expect to win. In fact, since 2004, only three NBA championship teams– the 2004 Pistons, the 2008 Celtics, and the 2014 Spurs– do not have a 20 PPG scorer. 

All the other squads that hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy during that time frame had the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, or Dirk Nowitzki, all legitimate 25 PPG scorers. Even in 2008, the Celtics were paced with Paul Pierce, who scored 19.6 PPG, which, of course, is not exactly 20, but pretty close.

However, basketball is a much more intricate game than just focusing on the number of times you put the ball in the basket. Putting too much of a premium on PPG downplays the importance of the other essential things in basketball, such as defense, rebounding, and setting up teammates for an easy score.

The statistic itself is, in some ways, flawed. It fails to show the effectiveness and context of how players scored or how the coaches were using the players. Player A may score 25 points per game on awful efficiency, or Player B may score 20 PPG against opposing benches while having all the green light in the world. See, PPG may be important, but it must be taken into the proper context to know its real value.

Best Players Who Have High PPGs Each SeasonBest Players Who Have High PPGs Each SeasonBest Players Who Have High PPGs Each Season

We have already mentioned the highest PPG season in NBA history. You may have noticed that the ones responsible for those bodies of work were considered all-time greats. However, have you ever asked yourself who had the most seasons among the highest PPG? Let’s take a closer look.

  • LeBron James. Bron is not even done, but he already has 16 straight seasons averaging at least 25 PPG. 
  • Kobe Bryant. Kobe started out playing scrap minutes behind Eddie Jones, but he ended up averaging over 25 PPG in 12 seasons.
  • Michael Jordan. MJ also had twelve 25+ PPG seasons, but unlike Kobe, he only had 15 seasons to try while Kobe had 20. Still, Jordan had the highest PPG in NBA history with 30.12. 
  • Karl Malone. Malone’s longevity is insane, and to consider, he was among the top NBA scorers of all time. Like Kobe and MJ, he also had 12 seasons under his belt, where he scored at least 25 PPG.
  • Kevin Durant, Jerry West, and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. KD, The Logo, and Cap all had 11 seasons averaging over 25 PPG, but since Durant still has a lot of basketball left, he may overtake the trio of Kobe, MJ, and Malone over the next seasons.

Just something to add out there, the highest average PPG in college basketball is 44.2 by “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Maravich’s collegiate scoring spree for LSU happened in 1968-70 and has never been equaled since.

Wrapping Things Up: PPG in Basketball

Points per game (or PPG) in basketball is the points a player average per game. It is calculated by coming up with the total points scored by the said player and dividing it with the number of games he has played. This statistic is fundamental because, well, the name of the game is scoring more than your opponent. That is why players who had the highest PPG get paid and often achieve superstar status.

Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan had the highest PPG in NBA history. Chamberlain once averaged over 50 PPG in a single season while Jordan owns the highest career PPG in NBA history at 30.12. Additionally, LeBron James had 16 seasons (and counting) of scoring over 25 PPG and counting followed by Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Karl Malone. Not surprisingly, all four are in the top five of the NBA’s all-time scoring list with Kareem-Abdul Jabbar sitting on top.

Even so, while PPG in basketball is highly critical, it should not be viewed as the holy grail of statistics. There is more to basketball than just scoring, and sometimes, our focus on PPG blurs that fact. Just like another metric, we have to take everything into the proper context and that includes PPG in basketball. 

If you found this post helpful, you’re definitely going to like our other FAQ articles here.

More engaging basketball FAQ posts here:

> What Does +/- Mean in Basketball?

> What is a Double Double in Basketball?

> What is a Triple Double in Basketball?

> What Does Bonus Mean in Basketball?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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