This 2019 NBA rookie class has gotten off to a slightly underwhelming start. Zion Williamson has yet to play due to a knee injury just before the season started.
Several other newcomers have impressed early on; Ja Morant and RJ Barrett have shown why they were the second and third picks in the draft. Coby White has had flourishes of scoring that get you excited about what he will become as his game blossoms. But most of the class is still finding their feet in the league. But one of the great things about sports is that it only takes one special night to put yourself into the record books.
A historic shooting night is the stuff of dreams for most basketball players, even more so for inexperienced prospects. Only seven NBA rookies have ever scored 50 points in the history of the league. Here is the list. Some of these names may surprise you.
Wilt Chamberlain – 58
A scorer of legendary proportions, it is fitting that Wilt Chamberlain is the one player who managed to accomplish this feat not once, but twice as a member of the then Philadelphia Warriors.
He first did it against the Detroit Pistons on January 25, 1960. Gene Shue and Chuck Noble had no answer for the soon-to-be legend. Chamberlain scored 58 points on an efficient 24 of 41 from the field and 10 of 13 from the free-throw line. He also played 47 minutes in the game. Load management wasn’t a thing at the time.
Chamberlain put up the same number of points almost a month later against the New York Knicks. This time, he played the entire 48 minutes, shooting 26 of 47 from the field and 6 of 9 from the stripe. The Warriors needed every basket, too. They only won the game 129-122.
Wilt put up gaudy numbers for his entire career, most famously when he scored 100 points in a game, also against the Knicks. Still, 58 points for an NBA rookie is unbelievable.
Rick Barry – 57
What is about the Knicks that brought out legendary performances from future hall of famers? This time, it was Rick Barry, who notched 57 points as a San Francisco Warrior.
It was a feat of scoring that James Harden would be proud of. Barry was 18 of 29 from the field, and made 21 of 22 foul shots. He also grabbed 15 rebounds for good measure.
Earl Monroe – 56
You don’t get the nicknames ‘The Pearl’ or ‘Black Jesus’ unless you do something special and on February 13, 1968, the man born Earl Monroe did just that.
In a back and forth matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, Monroe was a one-man offense for the Baltimore Bullets, putting up 56 points on while shooting 60% from the field. Unfortunately, this showing still wasn’t enough for a victory.
Future NBA logo Jerry West scored 47 points, and Elgin Baylor added 32 points on 33 shots. Comparatively, no one else on the Bullets scored more than 18 points.
Brandon Jennings – 55
The most ignominious player on the list, Brandon Jennings is the only player to reach these heights in the modern era. The then-Milwaukee Buck point guard never averaged 20 points a game in the league, but he had the game of his life only seven games into his nascent career.
He got 55 points against the now Golden State Warriors — who included a young Steph Curry in their rotation — in a 129-125 victory. He was not a knockdown three-point shooter (his career average was 34%) but on this November evening, he was 7 of 8 from downtown.
Jennings would have his moments in the league, but if he is remembered for anything, it is most likely for that time that he predicted that the Bucks would beat the Lebron-led Miami Heat in a playoff series. “Bucks in six” goes the famous quote. They were swept in the first round.
Elgin Baylor – 55
Before the Lakers became LA’s favorite sports team, the franchise called Minneapolis home, and Elgin Baylor was earmarked as a star as soon as he was drafted.
He staked his claim early in his career, as indicated by this game against the Cincinnati Royals near the end of the 1959-1960 season. Baylor posted 55 points and 12 rebounds in a 116-96 win.
Elvin Hayes – 54
The Big E wasted no time in showing out as a professional. The star of the San Diego Rockets scored 54 points and claimed 22 rebounds in a 122-120 home win against the Detroit Pistons. Hayes has fifth-best scoring average of all time for an NBA rookie, and he remains the last rookie to lead the league in scoring.
George Mikan – 51
The original Lakers star, George Mikan was dominant from the start, averaging 28 points a game in his first year with the Lakers in the BAA.
The highlight performance of his 1949-1950 season was a 51 point showing against the Rochester Royals. He was the only man on his team with any shooting touch in this game. The rest of the squad only scored 26 points in an 83-77 loss.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 51
Despite his astounding statistics and numerous championships, it sometimes feels like the man formerly known as Lew Alcindor gets overlooked in discussion over who is the best player of all time. Even as an NBA rookie, he wasted no time in dominating.
Kareem has a strong case. He won the MVP six times, he was 19-time all-star, and he is still the record holder for most points scored. He is the sole master of the skyhook.
His talents were readily apparent during the 140-127 win over the Seattle SuperSonics during his spell with the Milwaukee Buck. He scored an easy 51 points (he shot 72 %) on his overmatched opponents who could do nothing about his low post mastery.
Allen Iverson – 50
Iverson is more than just a basketball player for many people. His presence in the league had a cultural resonance that is still felt today. But it’s important to remember that he was one of the most gifted guards of his generation.
He made good on the hype generated from his time at Georgetown. It was clear from the jump that he was someone who would be remembered decades after his peak. Iverson displayed a spectacular glimpse of his talent in a late-season game where he tallied fifty points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
No one really cared that the Sixers lost the game 125-118, or that Iverson had nine turnovers. It was a sign that the team had a star in their hands.
Will any of the new kids be able to get themselves onto this list? Probably not, but who knows? Zion Williamson should come back eventually.