Well, this is weird. The NBA rightfully shut down operations due to the coronavirus, and now those of us who cover the sport are left in an odd position with no games to discuss or player availability to report. There will surely be more developments in the coming weeks regarding if and when the league will continue games, but now is a good time to look back at the season thus far, since we may not have realized how great it’s actually been.
In addition to all the tremendous team performances we’ve seen (Bucks, Lakers, etc.), several players are having not only career seasons, but also historically great ones. You can point to different factors as to why (pace, rules, 3-point revolution), but the fact remains that NBA players are putting up eye-popping numbers on a near-nightly basis.
We’re well aware of the fact that you can hand-pick stats to make a player unique: “He’s the only NBA player to have a 20-point, 12-rebound, six-assist game on the second Tuesday of January since Pooh Richardson in 1992!” So we tried to keep it as basic as possible, usually sticking to three stats, but occasionally a fourth was necessary for context.
The league said it, so we’ll operate under that assumption until further notice. If the season does end up getting shortened or canceled altogether, however, these 10 incredible achievements may be lost over the course of NBA history.
Statistical feat: 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists per game
Other players who have done it: Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Elgin Baylor
It’s rare that players significantly improve upon MVP seasons, but Giannis has increased his scoring and rebounding this season to put him in elite company with Chamberlain and Baylor. The truly mind-boggling fact, however, is that Giannis has accomplished all of this while averaging just under 31 minutes per game. Chamberlain played 46 and 47 minutes per game, respectively, in the two seasons (1963-64 and 1965-66) during which he matched Antetokounmpo’s numbers, while Baylor played 42.9 minutes per game in 1960-61. If Giannis played 47 minutes per game at his current pace (which might not be possible given the way he plays, to be fair), he would be averaging 45.1 points, 20.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. Simply remarkable.
Statistical feat: 25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds per game with 49 percent shooting
Other players who have done it: None
Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Oscar Robertson have matched the numbers James is putting up this season, but none of them did it as efficiently as LeBron, who is shooting 49.8 percent from the field this season. If we include 3-pointers (which wouldn’t be fair to Robertson), LeBron’s effective field goal percentage of 55.5 would further distance himself from the pack, with Harden coming closest at 52.5 percent in 2016-17. Let us also not forget that LeBron is doing this at age 35, while the oldest other player to average 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds per game was Westbrook at age 29 in 2017-18.
Statistical feat: 28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists per game
Other players who have done it: Oscar Robertson (four times), Russell Westbrook
We could tell Doncic was going to be special during his Rookie of the Year campaign last season, but most didn’t expect him to be this good this quickly. It speaks to the greatness of Giannis and LeBron that Luka, another mononymous wonder, can’t make a significant dent in the MVP conversation despite having a truly historic season of his own. No 21-year-old has ever put up these numbers, but Robertson probably would have if he hadn’t entered the league as a 22 year old (he did it in each of his first four NBA seasons), and Westbrook was the last to do it during his unprecedented MVP season of 2016-17.
Statistical feat: 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds per game
Other players who have done it: James Harden
For the first couple of months of the season, Harden made us ponder whether he could average 40 points for the entire season. While his scoring has slowed, partly due to the emergence of Russell Westbrook in recent months, Harden is still on pace to do something no player has done besides, well, James Harden. Last season he averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds. His numbers are down slightly this year, but he’s still in a class of his own when it comes to production. Harden is also on pace to become just the sixth player in history to average over 10 made free throws per game, and the first since Michael Jordan in 1986-87.
Statistical feat: 27 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, 1.5 steals per game
Other players who have done it: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Russell Westbrook
What started out as arguably his worst season in a long time has turned into a historic one for Westbrook, who will join Jordan, Bird and himself if he’s able to keep this up if and when the NBA regular season resumes. Westbrook is no stranger to statistical history, and he’s on pace to put his name in the record books once again.
Statistical feat: 28 points, seven assists, 3.5 3-pointers per game
Other players who have done it: James Harden (twice)
Aided by an unfathomable stretch of production (averages of 48.8 points, 10.2 assists and 8.2 3-pointers over a six-game stretch at the end of January), Lillard has put together his finest season to date, the likes of which only Harden has matched (he’s done it twice, and is on pace to do it again this season). Lillard would be in a club of his own, however, if you factor in his phenomenal marksmanship from deep — his 39.4 percent is well above any of Harden’s seasons, as is Lillard’s 55.4 effective field goal percentage. Also note that coming into this season, only three players had ever averaged at least 3.5 3s per game in a season (Paul George once, Harden twice and Stephen Curry five times). Seven players, including Harden, are on pace to do it this season (Harden, Lillard, D’Angelo Russell, Buddy Hield, Davis Bertans, Devonte’ Graham and Duncan Robinson), while Trae Young is extremely close at 3.4 per game.
Statistical feat: 16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks per game
Other players who have done it: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times), Bob McAdoo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Walton
How about a little love for the big man in 2020? While his impact on winning is debatable, you cannot argue with Whiteside’s historic numbers this season. You might not expect to see his name alongside four Hall of Famers (keep in mind that other great big men like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell would probably also be on this list, but the NBA didn’t officially start keeping blocked shots as a stat until 1973-74), but Whiteside has been a beast in the middle for the Trail Blazers. The closest players to his 3.1 blocks per game are Brook Lopez and Anthony Davis at 2.4.
Statistical feat: 17 points, 15 rebounds, 1.6 steals per game
Other players who have done it: Andre Drummond
We know Drummond is leading the NBA in rebounding again this season, but did you know he’s third in the league in steals per game (1.9)? The big man has used his quick hands to pick off interior passes, and has established a club of his own as he looks to average at least 17 points, 15 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game for the second straight season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nearly did it with 1.5 steals in 1975-76, but we figured we’d bump the criteria up to 1.6 to give Drummond his own distinction … why not?
Statistical feat: 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals per game
Other players who have done it: Magic Johnson (four times), Russell Westbrook (twice), Michael Jordan
In his first All-Star season, Simmons has proven himself as a force on both sides of the ball, and his stats back that up. He’s putting up strong numbers in the triple-double categories, as usual, but when you add in the steals he catapults himself into elite company with Magic, Jordan and Westbrook.
Statistical feat: 74 percent field goal shooting
Other players who have done it: None
There have been a lot of centers over the years who have done the vast majority of their scoring at the rim, but none has ever been as efficient as Robinson. He’s shooting a ridiculous 74.2 percent from the field this season, which would break Wilt Chamberlain’s single-season record of 72.7 percent. DeAndre Jordan has finished three seasons over 70 percent, but his high is 71.4 in 2016-17. If the league ends up playing a full 82-game season, Robinson would need 300 field goals to qualify for the record, according to Basketball Reference, which means he’d have to average just under three field goals per game in the Knicks‘ remaining 16 contests — he’s averaging 4.1 field goals per game for the season.