Stephen Curry still has many years to go in his Hall-of-Fame career, but the Golden State Warriors’ sharpshooter has already cemented his status as one of the most iconic players in the history of the sport. You can easily argue that no player has transformed his sport the way Curry has with the NBA over the past decade.
Curry’s prowess as a shooter has essentially helped to revolutionize the way the entire league plays offense. While there can only be one Steph, we’ve seen countless teams try to replicate the Warriors’ style of play since he burst onto the scene over a decade ago.
After an Injury-Plagued 2019-20 Season, Curry Bounced Back in a Big Way Last Term
The two-time league MVP captured his second career scoring title after averaging a career-best 32 points per game for Golden State. That eclipsed his previous best mark of 30.1 points per game, which he averaged during the team’s historic 2015-16 campaign.
Curry narrowly edged Washington’s Bradley Beal, who finished at 31.3 points per game. No other player in the league averaged more than Damian Lillard’s 28.8 on a nightly basis. Curry is still among the betting favorites to win another scoring title in 2021-22, but Beal is actually the early favorite.
Who Are the Best Bets to Lead the League in Scoring This Season?
Think what you may of Bradley Beal’s off-the-court opinions, but the Wizards’ All-Star guard has developed into one of the NBA’s most lethal scorers. Beal has often been overshadowed after sharing the floor with the likes of John Wall and Russell Westbrook for his entire career, but he finally has the Wizards’ backcourt all to himself.
Westbrook was traded to the Lakers this summer, which means the Wizards’ offense is going to flow entirely through Beal. It’s remarkable that Beal scored as much as he did while sharing the floor with Westbrook a season ago. Russ perennially ranks among the NBA’s assist leaders, but we know he’s also not afraid to shoot. Beal did lead the team with a 34 percent usage rate last season, but Westbrook (30.1 percent) wasn’t far behind.
Rather than getting another scoring guard to replace Russ, the Wizards exchanged the former MVP for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell. The deal addressed some of Washington’s depth concerns at other positions, and it was also a sign that the team is ready to hand the reins to Beal on a full-time basis.
Stat that just caught me off guard: Bradley Beal (13,303) is just 2,248 points shy of Elvin Hayes Wizards/Bullets all-time scoring record (15,551).
So, if he averages 30ppg and plays at least 75 games, he'll break it this year.
In the 773 minutes he played with Westbrook on the bench last season, Beal’s usage rate spiked to 39.9 percent. That’s elite territory we don’t often see these days. Kobe Bryant was posting 40 percent usage rates when he was playing without Shaquille O’Neal, for example. Without a Westbrook proxy on the team’s current roster, Beal will be free to hoist at will all season long. Spencer Dinwiddie won’t soak up nearly as much usage as Russ did for this team.
Beal is the only player in the NBA that has averaged at least 30 points per game in each of the last two seasons. I think the sky’s the limit for him in that regard this season, which is why the +275 odds to win his first career scoring title still look incredibly attackable.
Curry’s Usage Will Take a Hit
Stephen Curry (+600)
Betting against Steph Curry has not been a profitable endeavor over the years. He’s one of the most gifted scorers of his generation, and we know the ball is alway going to be in his hands when the Warriors need a bucket.
Efficiency has always been Curry’s strongest attribute. He averaged 32 points per game last year while shooting 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range, and nearly 92 percent from the free-throw line on incredibly high volume. Curry found himself last season in a very similar role to the one Beal will play this year. The Warriors didn’t have anybody else capable of scoring on a consistent basis, so Curry predictably set a career-high in shot attempts per game (21.7).
He’s still going to post some monster lines this year, but the return of Klay Thompson will likely eat into Curry’s overall usage. Thompson isn’t the kind of classic go-to scorer that Curry is, of course. He does most of his damage in catch-and-shoot situations. That works just fine, though, considering Thompson is one of the most accurate marksmen in NBA history.
Thompson has averaged 21.5 points per game in his career, including averages north of 20 points per game in each of his last five seasons. He may take some time to come around after missing two straight seasons due to injury, but I like his chances of bouncing back considering he’s still only 31. Thompson doesn’t rely too much on athleticism to score, anyway. He’ll be fine.
Curry’s usage rate last season was 34 percent. Between 2015 and 2019 while playing alongside Klay, Curry’s usage rate was south of 30 percent. The race for the scoring crown tends to be a tight one, so those numbers matter quite a bit. Curry’s expected dip in usage means he’s likely not going to be averaging 32 points per game again this year.
At +600, I’ll pass on Steph to repeat as the NBA’s scoring champ.
Luka Doncic (+425)
Luka Doncic entered last season as the betting favorite to win NBA MVP, but those hopes were quickly dashed. Doncic came into last season out of shape, and it took him over a month to find his groove. By then, the damage had been done. Several others had surpassed Luka in the MVP race, and he was ultimately unable to make up the lost ground.
You can say last year was a “down” year by Luka’s standards, but his numbers were still outstanding. His scoring average of 27.7 points per game was just shy of the career-high (28.8) set the previous season. Had he not gotten off to such a ragged start, he may well have eclipsed that 2019-20 mark.
Fortunately, it appears as Luka will enter the upcoming season more focused and ready to play right away. Doncic led Slovenia to a very impressive fourth-place showing at the Summer Olympics, and he seems to have shed some of the baby weight he carried into last season:
Doncic averaged nearly 36 points per game in the Mavs’ first-round loss to the Clippers in the playoffs. Kristaps Porzingis took a backseat to Luka offensively in that series, and it’s worth wondering just how much KP will factor into the team’s offense under first-year head coach Jason Kidd. If anybody knows how to help Luka thrive, it’s a coach like Kidd who shared a comparable skill set during his own playing career.
It’s likely just a matter of time until Luka wins a scoring title. You can make the case that he’s already the best basketball player on the planet, which is rather incredible considering he won’t turn 23 until February. I think Doncic is primed for an absolutely massive season. A scoring crown won’t be a high individual priority for him, but he’s fully capable of putting up 35 points a night if he wants to.
Beating Beal won’t be easy, but the +425 odds on Luka look pretty interesting.
Kevin Durant (+3000)
Kyrie Irving (+4500)
Anthony Davis (+6000)
James Harden (+6000)
LeBron James (+6000)
Unlike guys like Beal and Doncic, the players listed above will all be tasked with sharing the floor with All-Star teammates. The Nets and Lakers are among the betting favorites to win the NBA title this season, but it’s hard to see how any of these guys will have enough opportunities to realistically lead the NBA in scoring.
Of course, these guys are well-represented in terms of winning scoring titles in the past. Kevin Durant has four scoring titles to his name, while James Harden has three more. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook combine to give the Lakers a total of three scoring champs, too.
There’s only one basketball, though. These guys will all make the All-Star team, but it’s hard to imagine any of them garnering enough individual usage to average north of 30 points per game. Injuries will probably play a role at some point, but these guys will cannibalize each other in the end. KD led the Nets with an average of 26.9 points per game last year, and he spent much of the season playing without a third high-usage option in Harden.
Harden will likely be the primary distributor for this team, which leaves Durant and Irving do so most of the damage in the scoring department. The long odds on players like Durant and Irving are compelling, but the path to a scoring title just isn’t there with all three guys playing such major scoring roles.
Out in LA, Davis looks like the best bet to lead the Lakers in scoring, health permitting. LeBron was actually the Lakers’ scoring champ last year at 25 points per game, which is, again, not enough to win a league scoring title. The addition of Westbrook likely results in all three players seeing their scoring averages decline in 2021-22.
What About Embiid?
Joel Embiid (+750)
Joel Embiid has never led the NBA in scoring, but he has consistently ranked among the league leaders in that department. Last year, he wound up finishing third in NBA MVP voting after leading the 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Embiid was tremendous, finishing with a career-best 28.5 points per game on elite efficiency. His field goal percentage of 51.3 percent was his best as a pro, and he also shot nearly 38 percent from three-point range. There simply aren’t any other centers in the league capable of scoring in as many different ways as Embiid can, which makes him a very unique offensive weapon.
Joel Embiid on Philly
“I would not want to be in another city. They care. It’s fair for them to be pissed if when we lose. They work hard for the money they make. Everybody knows Philly is a tough city. I love it” pic.twitter.com/GShZzouWcZ
The Sixers are facing some uncertainty entering this season due to the status of Ben Simmons. Simmons has told the team that he has no plans to play for them again, which will take another scoring presence away from Philadelphia’s offense. Simmons’ lack of shooting prowess is well-documented, but Embiid has actually seen his usage rate increase without Simmons on the floor over the past few years.
Of course, Embiid ranks among the league’s usage leaders regardless of whether Simmons plays. His 33.5 percent usage last year put him right behind Beal near the top of the league. In about 1,070 minutes played without Simmons, his usage rate leapt to 37 percent.
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for Philly this season after crashing out of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion at the hands of Atlanta last spring. Embiid should be particularly hungry after Nikola Jokic beat him to the MVP trophy, so I’d expect another monster season out of the 76ers’ All-NBA big man.
He certainly has the talent to lead the league in scoring, so the +750 odds on Embiid to win the scoring belt are noteworthy.
Who Leads the NBA in Scoring This Season?
A league as rife with talent as the NBA is these days has no shortage of candidates when it comes to the scoring title. Harden and Durant may be the two best scorers of their generation, but neither is likely to win another scoring title as long as they’re on the same team.
Curry’s expected usage decline likely means we get a new champ in 2021-22. As you may expect, I keep coming back to Beal. Westbrook is no longer in DC to suck up that extra usage, which should leave Beal to score at-will on a nightly basis. The Wizards will need him to do just that if they want to crack the Eastern Conference playoff field, as well.
It likely won’t take long for Beal’s +275 odds to come down once the season gets underway. The fact that he has been fairly durable over the course of his career won’t hurt his chances, either. Beal is clearly the best bet, but there is some upside in the odds of some of the other contenders, too.
Here’s how I’ll rank my best bets to win the NBA’s scoring title in 2021-22:
Bradley Beal (+275)
Luka Doncic (+425)
Joel Embiid (+750)
Stephen Curry (+600)
Zion Williamson (+1000)
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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