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Inside the Numbers: Scoring 35-plus points in season opener

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire
Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Last week we looked at which teams have been the most successful when it comes to winning their first games. This week let’s look at which  players who had big games in their season opener.

Last season two players opened their season with 35 or more points. Stephen Curry did it on October 27 with 40 points. The very next night, Portland’s C.J. McCollum had 37 points. Although those were the only two players to score 35 or more points in a season opener last season, it’s interesting to note that both players had their big games against the same team–just one night apart. Curry and McCollum both torched the New Orleans Pelicans.

From 1999 to last season, there has been at least one player who scored 35 or more points in a season opener. Based on stats culled from Basketball-Reference.com, there have been 106 times since 1963-64 that a player tallied 35 or more points in a season-opening contest.

In 1990, there were six players who scored 35 or more in their team’s season opener, most of any season in the league. The six that year: Charles Barkley (37), Tom Chambers (38), Patrick Ewing (38), Chris Mullin (38), Orlando Woolridge (37) and James Worthy (35).

As you might expect, Michael Jordan has had a few season opening games with big numbers. He and Adrian Dantley have the league lead at four.

Here’s a look at the players who since 1963-64 have had at least two career season-opening games with 35 or more points.

4: Adrian Dantley, Michael Jordan

3: Charles Barkley, Sam Cassell, Karl Malone, Kiki Vandeweghe, Jerry West

2: Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Alex English, World B. Free, George Gervin, Hal Greer, LeBron James, Moses Malone, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O’Neal, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, Orlando Woolridge, James Worthy

Jordan does have the two highest scoring season openers: He had 54 on November 3, 1989, and also had 50 in his first game in 1986 on November 1.

There have been nine players who have scored 45 or more points in a season opener. In addition to Jordan’s two games, there is Alex English (47 for Denver in 1985), Kiki Vandeweghe (47 for Portland in 1984), Monta Ellis (46 for Golden State in 2010), Dale Ellis (46 for Seattle in 1988), World B. Free (46 for San Diego in 1979), Kobe Bryant (45 for the Lakers in 2007) and Latrell Spreewell (45 for Golden State in 1997).

One final stat: Looking at each of the 30 current NBA franchises, we see that three (Memphis, Minnesota and New Orleans) have not had a player score 35 or more points in a season-opening game in their history.

In addition to the Grizzlies, Timberwolves and Pelicans, there are 12 teams that have not had one of their players tally 35 or more points in a season opener this century. The longest wait belongs to the Washington Wizards whose last player to get 35 or more in a game was in 1966 when Gus Johnson scored 36 for the  Baltimore Bullets.

The other teams, listed current franchise city and last season: Sacramento (1973), San Antonio (1981), Atlanta (1988), Denver (1990), Utah (1991), Orlando (1993), Chicago (1995), Phoenix (1995), Charlotte 91996), Brooklyn (1999), Milwaukee (1999).

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