The Ten Most Unlikely 50-point Games in NBA History
Basketball players who play in the NBA have made it to the league for a reason. For some, that reason is solely because they are just taller than most humans on this planet. For the other 99% of those who have either played or currently play in the National Basketball Association, it’s because they are really good at basketball.
Everyone in the NBA can play. Some guys are most talented than others. Others are uber-talented but are stuck on the bench because they’re on a team with a plethora of talent. There are some players who put the ball in the basket better than most. Other players are better at a specific skill, like shooting from a distance, ball handling, or passing. Some guys are better defenders than others. Then, there are the guys who do multiple things well. The ones who can do multiple things the best are the star players.
There can only be 24 players selected to the NBA All-Star Game each season. The only exception is when a replacement player is named to the game by the commissioner due to injury. All-Star caliber players are usually the ones who are both counted on and expected to score a large portion of his team’s points. The NBA’s scoring leaderboard is full of All-Stars, both perennial All-Stars, and guys who occasionally make an All-Star team. These are the guys who we expect to have high-scoring games night in and night out.
What about the other guys? I don’t mean to offend those NBA players who are not All-Star caliber players by calling them “others.” Anyone who’s made it to the league (even Matt Steigenga) possesses eleventy billion times more basketball talent than I will ever have. Ok, maybe not THAT much more talent. You get the point. Anyone in the league has the capability of catching fire and having a big game on any given night. The definition of what a big game is may differ depending on that player’s role on a team.
A player scoring 50 points in a single NBA game is an elite accomplishment. There have been 160 different players who have scored at least 50 points in a single game. Most sports fans, let alone basketball fans, recognize many of the names on that list. Wilt Chamberlain once scored 100 points in an NBA game. That record has been intact since 1962. He has the most games of 50 or more points with 118. Michael Jordan is second on the list – with 31 50-point games. Kobe Bryant, James Harden, and Elgin Baylor round out the top five most 50-point games in NBA history.
This NBA season has seen scoring reach new heights. Mavericks star Luka Doncic has four 50-point games already! Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had three such games so far this season. Devin Booker, Joel Embiid, and Damian Lillard each have had two 50-point games this season. These are all guys we expect to have a 50-point game or two at some point. Fans still marvel at the accomplishment but aren’t totally shocked when they heard of NBA stars like Jordan, Kobe, Luka, or Giannis going off for a 50-piece.
What about the other guys? Not every player who has ever scored 50 in an NBA game was an All-Star, let alone what many consider a star player, throughout their career. There have been some unexpected performances in the NBA’s 50-point club throughout the years, to say the least. Players on this list caught fire and had magical performances that I’m sure they will never forget. Neither will their opponents on those nights. I figured I’d put together another list. This one may be one of the more interesting ones I’ve assembled. I wonder how many fans recognize all ten names on this list…
Without further ado, here are the TEN most unlikely 50-point performances in NBA history!
Walt Wesley, Cleveland Cavaliers (February 19, 1971)
Career Points Per Game: 8.5 ppg in 590 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1970-71: 17.7 ppg
Who is the first player in Cleveland Cavaliers' history to score 50 points in a game? Die-hard Cavs fans may guess it would be Mr. Cavalier, Austin Carr. Those fans would be wrong. The first 50-point game in Cavaliers history belongs to Walt Wesley. You may be thinking – who the heck is Walt Wesley? Wesley was a backup center for most of his career. He only averaged double figures in scoring for two of his eleven NBA seasons. Yet, Wesley averaged a career-high 17.7 points per game in the 1970-71 season. On February 19th of that season, the former Kansas Jayhawk had a magical night against the Cincinnati Royals, scoring 50 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 125-109 Cavs win. Wesley’s season-high the following season was 34 points. He would never score more than 20 points in a game for the rest of his career.
Vernon Maxwell, Houston Rockets (January 26, 1991)
Career Points Per Game: 12.8 ppg in 855 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1990-91: 17.0 ppg
“Mad Max” is the textbook definition of a “streaky shooter.” Maxwell was never shy to shoot the rock, even with Hall-of-Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon (in his prime!) sharing the floor with him. The former Florida Gator was still trying to establish himself as a solid NBA player during his third season. He had been traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Houston Rockets the previous season. Maxwell had primarily played off the bench but earned the Rockets’ starting two-guard spot for the 1990-91 season. He had averaged 10.4 points per game up to that point but broke out as a starter that season. With Olajuwon out of the lineup in January of that season, Maxwell took matters into his own hands in a game against the Cavaliers. “Mad Max” scored a career-high 51 points, leading Houston to a 103-87 victory over Cleveland. Maxwell retired in 2001 and never scored more than 41 points in a single game again.
Nick Anderson, Orlando Magic (April 23, 1993)
Career Points Per Game: 14.4 ppg in 800 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1992-93: 19.9 ppg
Let’s get something straight. Nick Anderson was a bucket in the early part of his career. The former “Flying Illini” member and first-ever draft pick of the Orlando Magic averaged 19.9 points per game in both the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons. Anderson made his name as an athletic two-guard who was a deadly shooter from downtown. The Orlando Magic were fighting for their first-ever playoff berth towards the end of the 1992-93 season, thanks to mostly to Anderson and that season’s eventual Rookie of the Year – Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal had already established himself as one of the most dominating players in the league in his first season. Yet, with the playoffs on the line in a game against the New Jersey Nets, it was Anderson and not Shaq who carried the Magic. He scored a career-high 50 points in a must-win 119-116 victory over the Nets – off the bench! What’s even crazier about this game was who was coming off the bench for the Nets. Hall-of-Famers Bernard King (24 points) and Maurice Cheeks (0 points in 10 minutes), along with former “Bad Boy” Rick Mahorn, were part of the Nets Bench Mob!
Willie Burton, Philadelphia 76ers (December 13, 1994)
Career Points Per Game: 10.3 ppg in 316 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1994-95: 15.3 ppg
Be honest. You probably have never heard of Willie Burton. Well, you now know he once scored 50 points in an NBA game – 53, to be exact! The former Minnesota Golden Gopher was waived by the Miami Heat in November of 1994 and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Burton’s 76ers took on his former team about a month later. It became obvious that revenge was on his mind. Burton attacked the basket early and often against the Heat. He scored a career-high 53 points, which included making 24 of 28 free throws. This dude went to the line 28 times! More importantly, Burton’s 76ers defeated his old team 105-90. It’s safe to say Willie Burton got his revenge on the Miami Heat! That’s a good thing since Burton would never have a season-high over 20 points for the remainder of his NBA career.
Dana Barros, Philadelphia 76ers (1995)
Career Points Per Game: 10.5 ppg in 850 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1994-95: 20.6 ppg
The Philadelphia 76ers had an interesting squad in 1994-95. There was Burton, 33-year-old high-scoring guard Jeff Malone, 7’6’’ second-year center Shawn Bradley, and their lone All-Star: Dana Barros. Raise your hand if you remember that Dana Barros was once an All-Star! Before being traded to Philly ahead of the 1993-94 season, Barros had started 28 games and averaged 8.1 points per game in four seasons with the Seattle Supersonics. The former Boston College product got his chance to shine and had a career season in 1994-95. Three months after Burton’s 50-piece, Barros went off against the defending champion Houston Rockets. He scored 50 points on an uber-efficient 21-26 from the field, 6 for 8 from downtown, and two free throws. Dude scored fifty with only TWO free throws. It wasn’t enough, as the Rockets won by a score of 136-107. Yikes! Barros' next highest season-high after that season? 27 points.
Tracy Murray, Washington Wizards (February 10, 1998)
Career Points Per Game: 9.0 ppg in 659 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 1997-98: 15.1 ppg
Tracy Murray was primarily a sharp-shooting guard over the course of his career. He had averaged only 5.7 points in 10.9 minutes per game during his first three seasons in the league. Murray signed as a free agent with the Toronto Raptors ahead of the 1995-96 season and went on to average a career-high 16.2 points per game. The Washington Bullets noticed Murray’s breakout season and signed him to a multi-year deal the following year. The former UCLA guard became a solid sixth man in Washington. Murray was sixth in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1998. The Wizards traveled to Golden State in February of that season to take on the Warriors. Washington was without stars, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Murray carried the Wizards to a 99-87 victory scoring 50 points. It may have been Murray’s peak. He never scored more than 27 points in a game ever again.
Tony Delk, Phoenix Suns (January 2, 2001)
Career Points Per Game: 9.1 ppg in 545 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 2000-01: 12.3 ppg
Tony Delk was an All-American for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and won a National Championship in 1996. He became a journeyman backup guard while in the NBA. Delk was also a bit of a streaky shooter. Before joining the Phoenix Suns in 2000, he had started a total of 24 games and averaged 7.5 points per game in four seasons. Delk enjoyed a career year in Phoenix in 2000-01. He started 11 games and averaged 12.3 points per game. The highlight of Delk’s season was the day after New Year’s. Delk started for the Suns against the Sacramento Kings, who he played for the previous season, and scored 53 points in a 121-117 overtime loss. The Suns' guard was an efficient 20 for 27 from the field and went 13 for 15 from the line. The crazy thing is that he only attempted ONE three-pointer in that game…and missed it! Delk’s almost revenge game would be the best game in his career. His next highest point total in game after that was 27.
Terrance Ross, Toronto Raptors (January 25, 2014)
Career Points Per Game: 11.0 ppg in 712 Career NBA Games (and counting!)
Scoring Average in 2013-14: 10.9 ppg
Terrance Ross is one of only two active NBA Players on this list. The former Raptors Lottery Pick made a name for himself during his rookie season by winning the Slam-Dunk Contest during the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend. Ross is an athletic wing who can shoot from three-point territory and put up some points for you off the bench. In the mid-2010s Toronto Raptors possessed an All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Yet, on January 25, 2014, against a very good Los Angeles Clippers team, it was another Raptor that went off. Terrance Ross scored 51 points, including 10 of 17 from downtown in a 126-118 loss. For the record, both DeRozan and Lowry were in the Raptors lineup that evening. The Clippers were missing Chris Paul but had everyone else. Ross’s next highest season-high in points after that? 35.
Career Points Per Game: 8.7 ppg in 819 Career NBA Games
Scoring Average in 2013-14: 12.3 ppg
I mean no disrespect to Corey Brewer, in addition to anyone on this list. He’s arguably the poster child for this article. I specifically thought to myself, “how the hell did Corey Brewer score 50?” I mean, the man shot under 43%, including 28.4% from three for his career. Brewer was a two-time NCAA National Champion while at Florida and was a 2007 Lottery Pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He made a name for himself in the league as a gritty defender and swingman. He was in his second stint in Minnesota in 2014, where he found himself needing to carry the Timberwolves in a late-season matchup against the Houston Rockets. Kevins Love and Martin did not dress for the game as Minnesota took on the Rockets with a “Motley Crue.” Brewer took on the scoring burden in scoring 51 points in an improbable 112-110 over the James Harden-led Rockets. Corey Brewer played in the NBA until 2020. He would never score more than 26 points in an NBA game again.
Derrick Rose, Minnesota Timberwolves (October 31, 2018)
Career Points Per Game: 17.7 ppg in 698 Career NBA Games (and counting!)
Scoring Average in 2013-14: 18.0 ppg
Derrick Rose is a three-time NBA All-Star and was the league’s MVP for the 2010-11 season. He was one of the NBA’s brightest stars and helped turned the Chicago Bulls into true title contenders for the first time since the Jordan/Pippen era 90s Bulls. You may be surprised to see his name on this list with that resume alone. Sadly, we all know Rose suffered a series of knee injuries. Rose was still an above-average player in the league, he was never truly the same pre-injury. The Bulls traded him to the Knicks in 2016 and had a brief 16-game stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After being waived by the Utah Jazz after the Cavs traded him in February 2018, the former MVP was in danger of being out of the league completely. It looked like Derrick Rose was done. Finished. Then, his old coach with the Bulls Tom Thibodeaux took a chance on his former star and signed him to Timberwolves later that season. Rose had averaged a career-low 8.4 points per game in 25 games. Thibs took a chance on Rose again the following season. That, or he tried to recreate the Chicago Bulls in Minnesota. In addition to Rose, former Bulls Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Luol Deng were on the 2018-19 Timberwolves roster! On Halloween Night in 2018, Rose put on a performance reminiscent of his early years with the Bulls. After almost being out the NBA altogether, the man affectionately known a “D-Rose” scored a career-high 50 points in a 128-125 win against the Utah Jazz. He hasn’t scored more than 31 points in a game since.
Stats, talent, and other factors help us expect what will likely happen over the course of a game. Often times, what occurs in a game isn’t unexpected. One of things I love most about sports in general is that anything can happen. These ten instances prove just that. Everyone playing in pro sports is talented. Why else would they be in the pros, let alone the NBA. These guys are proof that special things can happen in a game when you get hot.
When it’s your night, it’s your night!
Photo Credit: Depositphotos