The race for the NBA scoring title is one of the tightest in NBA history, featuring three of the game's biggest names battling for the top spot. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid currently owns a fractional edge over Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks big man Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the margin is so small the leaderboard can change on any given night -- as it did Wednesday when Antetokounmpo led the trio with 36 points, moving ahead of James (19) for second, just behind Embiid, who had 35.
Through Wednesday night's games, Embiid (29.9), Antetokounmpo (29.8) and James (29.5) are all averaging just shy of 30 points per game, with a mere 0.4 points separating the trio. That would break the record for closest three-man scoring chase, which happened in 1985-86 when Dominique Wilkins, Adrian Dantley and Alex English finished the season separated by 0.5 points per game. And with all due respect to that trio of Hall of Famers, the top of the leaderboard this year features bigger stars fighting for more than just scoring titles.
If Embiid wins, he will be the first center to do so in more than two decades. If Antetokounmpo wins, he would join Michael Jordan as the only players to win MVP, Finals MVP, DPOY and a scoring title. And for both of them, a scoring title would bolster their case to be named this year's MVP over the other one (and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic -- and the ever-growing cast of stars with a reasonable MVP case this season).
Then there's James. The Lakers' dreadful record has excluded him from the MVP conversation, but he still could become the oldest scoring champion in NBA history -- and it's easy to make the case that James will accomplish that.
Unlike Embiid and Antetokounmpo, James has already won a scoring title -- but that was a long time ago. James was 23 when he led the NBA by averaging 30.0 PPG in 2007-08, long before either Embiid or Antetokounmpo was in the NBA. He's now 37. Winning this scoring title would give James a silver lining in this disappointing season that has the Lakers headed toward the play-in round. It would also make James both the oldest NBA scoring champ ever and the first player to win scoring titles 14 years apart.
A big scoring push would also accelerate James' chase to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer at some point next season (he's 1,514 points shy of Abdul-Jabbar entering Thursday, and will likely pass Karl Malone for second place within a week). As James approaches that incredible milestone, he remains one of the most unstoppable interior scorers in the league. But late in his career he's finally developed a reliable 3-point shot. He's both taking and making more 3s than ever in his 18th season in the NBA.
He is attempting 8.0 3-pointers this season (his previous career high was 6.3, done in both each of the past two seasons), and he has connected on 2.8 3-pointers per game, bettering the career high he set last season by half a 3 per game.
Those 3-point numbers are nice, but he still does the bulk of his damage close to the rim, where he averages 13.8 points per game in the paint. His unprecedented blend of size, strength, speed and feel for the game enables him to muscle his way to buckets, and with Anthony Davis sidelined and Russell Westbrook slumping, James' drives to the rim are clearly the Lakers best offensive weapon right now.