For the second time, the NBA will have an international player as its scoring champion.
It will be the second time in as many years.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — who was born in Cameroon — is on the cusp of becoming a back-to-back scoring champion, though he and Dallas’ Luka Doncic might take that race down to the wire.
Embiid opened up a bit of breathing room on Sunday, when he had 28 points in the 76ers’ loss to Milwaukee while Doncic — who is from Slovenia — scored 28 in the Mavericks’ overtime loss to Atlanta.
Embiid now has 2,110 points in 64 games; that’s an average of 32.97 per game. Doncic has 2,096 points, also in 64 games; that’s an average of 32.75 per game.
Philadelphia has four games remaining, Dallas has three. No NBA games were being played Monday, with the league taking off the day of the NCAA men’s Division I championship game.
Portland’s Damian Lillard is third in the scoring race at 32.2 points per game. He’ll finish at that average, because the Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season given that they are out of playoff contention.
Technically, Lillard could still move ahead of Embiid and Doncic, but it’s highly unlikely — even if Embiid and Doncic both play in a game and are held scoreless, their averages still wouldn’t dip below Lillard’s.
This could be the closest scoring race in more than a decade. The last time the scoring title was decided by less than a half-point per game was 2011-12, when Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant edged the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant by 0.17 points per game; Durant averaged 28.03, Bryant averaged 27.86.
Embiid held off Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo to lead the league in points per game last season to become the first official international scoring champion. Dominique Wilkins also won a scoring title; he was born in France but played for the U.S. and is considered an American player.
(It should be noted that Embiid’s average of 30.6 points last season was barely ahead of LeBron James’ 30.3 per game, but James did not officially qualify for the NBA leaderboard because he did not appear in enough games.)
East: Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York have secured playoff spots. Brooklyn, Miami and Atlanta have secured no worse than a play-in tournament berth and Toronto is locked into the play-in tournament. Chicago and Orlando still could make the play-in field, though the only way the Magic get there and bump the Bulls out is if they go 4-0 while Chicago goes 0-4.
West: Denver, Memphis and Sacramento have secured playoff spots. Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State can’t do worse than making the play-in tournament, and all enter the final week of the regular season in position to secure playoff berths.
Detroit, Charlotte, Indiana and Washington have been eliminated in the East; Houston, San Antonio and Portland have been eliminated in the West.
RACE FOR WEMBY
While we won’t know until May 16 who gets the No. 1 pick in the draft — spoiler alert, unless some incredible trade happens, the lottery winner will select Victor Wembanyama — we do know there’s a 42% chance that the top pick will go to Detroit, Houston or San Antonio.
The Pistons, Rockets and Spurs are assured of finishing in the three bottom spots of the league this season. But there’s still some odds that can be “improved,” in that the team that finishes with the worst record is assured of not leaving the lottery with worse than the No. 5 draft pick.
Detroit is almost assured of having the worst record; the Pistons are 16-62, well “ahead” of Houston (19-60) and San Antonio (20-58).
There’s a lot of jostling that will happen this week for lottery odds as well. Charlotte is locked into finishing with the fourth-worst record, but the fifth- through eighth-worst spots are all up in the air — with Portland, Indiana, Washington and Orlando all currently having either 33 or 34 wins. And the worse a team’s record is, the better chance it has of winning the lottery and the Wembanyama sweepstakes.
3 WITH 32?
Should Embiid, Doncic and Lillard all finish with averages of at least 32 points per game, it’ll make NBA history.
There never has been a season where three players had such an average. There have been two players averaging at least 32 points on four previous occasions — Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1960-61, 1961-62 and 1962-63; Bryant and Allen Iverson did it in 2005-06.
0 WITH 60
Unless Milwaukee goes 4-0 this week, there won’t be a 60-win team in the NBA this season.
And that’s relatively rare.
It didn’t happen during Milwaukee’s 2020-21 championship season, when there was a 72-game schedule — and no team had a winning percentage that year that would have been equivalent to a 60-22 “regular” regular season anyway.
After that, the most recent time there wasn’t a 60-win team (or equivalent win percentage in a shortened season) was 2000-01, when San Antonio went 58-24 to lead the league. Before that, one has to go all the way back to 1978-79, when Philadelphia went 54-28 to top the standings.