Monday, April 27, 2009 PTI: Can Kobe Match Wilt?

[Editors Note: Welcome back to's take on Pardon The Interruption. On a bi-weekly basis, authors, Chris Stanley and Adam Primm, will take on a PTI-style debate about a topic of their choosing. Chris and Adam are friends, roommates, and Ohio State law students. This week, the 100-point game.]

Chris Stanley:
Adam and I have been discussing whether Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point performance in an NBA game is within reach. Adam thinks the record is absolutely, 100% untouchable. After Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game last season, I think it just might be breakable.

100 points is a ridiculous number, but don’t let it blind you. Lets look at a possible scenario that just might result in a new NBA single game scoring record. Kobe’s 81 point performance was not perfect. In fact, he shot 28-46 from the field, and 18-20 from the free throw line. Kobe made 7 out of 13 three’s and took just over half of his team’s shots during the game (46-88).

There are several things that could have gone differently during this game that would have resulted in a 100 point performance. First, if Kobe had made every shot he took, he would have scored 125 points (18 additional points from three’s, 24 additional points from two-point field goals and 2 additional points from free throws). Obviously, Kobe will never put on a performance this perfect in his career. But just look at the numbers for a second. Based on the shots Kobe took during his 81 point game, he could have scored a possible 125 points. He would need to get 80% of those points in order to score 100. That would be quite a feat, but is it impossible? Maybe. Maybe not.

Also consider the fact that Kobe only took 52% of the Lakers' shots. What if the Lakers' game plan involved Kobe putting the ball up 75% of the time? That would mean 20 more shots, which results in 66 total shots for Kobe. Even if all of those extra shots were two point field goals, Kobe would have a total of 165 possible points. If he were to score just 60% of those points, he would have a 100 point game.

Kobe’s 81 point performance was nowhere near perfect. Also, the Lakers’ game plan likely did not involve Kobe shooting the ball any more than it usually does. I think Kobe could find a way to score 20 more points than he did during his 81 point game at some point in his career, allowing him to break Wilt’s 100 point record.

Adam Primm:
There is no way Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points in a game will ever be broken. This is one of those records that will never be broken, like Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak. I feel this way for a variety of reasons. First of all, Wilt was absolutely dominant; no one could stop him. As awesome as the 100 point game was, let’s not forget that Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game in the 1961-1962 season (he scored 100 on March2, 1962). Wilt scoring 100 in a game that season is like Kobe scoring 60 in a game this season; both players would be doubling their averages. Also consider that Wilt set records for field goals made (36), attempted (63), free throws made (28), most points in a quarter (31), and most points in a half (59). This was easily the most dominant offensive performance ever in the history of the NBA and the circumstances had to fall just right for this type of game to happen.

One of those circumstances was the more up-tempo style of game in the early 1960s. The 1961-1962 season which saw Wilt average 50.4 points and 26 rebounds per game and Oscar Robertson average 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game was much different from the game today. In 1961-1962, teams averaged 125.5 possessions per game and 108 shots per game. In contrast, the 2008-2009 season has teams averaging 91.2 possessions per game and 80.2 shots per game. The significantly slower pace greatly hinders anyone from making a run at Wilt’s record of 100 points in a game. When Kobe scored 81 against the Raptors in January of 2006, the Lakers took 88 shots and the Raptors took only 76. Compare that to the Warriors and Knicks in Wilt’s 100 point game when the Warriors took 115 and the Knicks took 118. The Warriors also attempted 52 free throws and the Knicks took 41. By comparison, the Lakers attempted 33 and the Raptors 27. Wilt took 32 by himself in 1962.

Part of the reason for the high number of free throws was the mess that the Warriors and Knicks made of the fourth quarter. Wilt had 69 points at the start of the quarter and the Warriors approach was to feed Wilt every time down court. As Wilt was approaching 100 points, the Knicks began fouling the other 4 Warriors simply to prevent Wilt from scoring more. The Warriors responded by fouling the Knicks right away so they could get the ball back sooner. The final score of the game was 169-147, partially due to the quick pace of the game back then, but also due to the abnormal fourth quarter in which the score was 44-41, Warriors (the score in the second half was 90-79 Warriors). In today’s defensive game, final scores don’t total 169 points let alone the second half.

While I agree with Chris that Kobe has the best chance of coming close to scoring 100 points, there are many differences between his game and Wilt’s. Wilt played in the post and Kobe is a wing. That alone is a strike against Kobe. While Kobe can hit a three, Wilt’s shots were all within 10 feet of the hoop. Also, at 7’1” and 275-300 pounds, Wilt was the most physically imposing player in the NBA. To make matter worse for the Knicks, their starting center, Phil Jordan, was hurt and didn’t play. Second-year man Darrall Imhoff had the task of guarding Wilt who had 3 inches and 55-80 pounds on him. The Knicks' next biggest player was Cleveland Buckner at 6’9” and 210 pounds. The other two players who spent a good portion of the night trying to stop Chamberlain were both 6’6” and weighed 205 and 225 pounds, respectively. They had no chance at stopping Wilt as they were totally overmatched physically. Imhoff later stated that Wilt “stuffed us through the hoop with the ball. It didn’t even help we quintuple-teamed him.” The Knicks tried everything short of putting a 6th man on the court or unleashing Jeff Van Gundy to wrap himself around Wilt’s ankle while he posted up. Kobe is good, but he isn’t that good. If Kobe is triple-teamed, let alone quintuple-teamed, he isn’t shooting over 57% from the field like Wilt did. This is true for a few reasons.

First, the NBA today is so much more flexible in terms of defense. If Kobe starts making a serious run at 100 points, the opposition will shift to a zone defense that neutralizes the amount and kinds of touches Kobe is going to get. Second, since no team wants to give up 100 points, the opposition will do exactly what the Knicks did and start fouling other players simply so Kobe can’t score more points. While I think this is a bush league move, it will probably happen, and I don’t see Phil Jackson telling his team to foul back so Kobe can get more shots. That type of back and forth hack-fest could lead to a fight in today’s game and I think the coaches would rather avoid that. Third, Kobe’s quickness and talent simply can’t equal Wilt’s imposing physical stature. A bad night for Wilt that year would have been 30 points and 15 boards. That is absurd. It was arguably the most dominant game of the most dominant season ever. To say that Kobe could feasibly match or beat that record greatly underestimates what Wilt did that night. Teams are more suited to adjust their defenses to stop a wing player that gets hot than they are to stop a dominant big man. If a wing gets hot, you can play him physical, double-team him, switch to zone, or foul the other players like the Knicks tried in 1962. When Wilt got hot, the Knicks were quintuple-teaming him, fouling him (he had the best free throw shooting day of his career), and fouling his teammates. None of the tactics worked, Wilt was too big and strong around the hoop for the Knicks to be able to stop him. At his size, he was able to fight through these tactics. If Kobe gets quadruple or quintuple-teamed, he is not big enough to fight through and is more likely to pass out of it anyway.

Finally, the numbers don’t support the argument that Kobe can score 100 points. With teams averaging 35 fewer possessions in today’s game, there aren’t nearly as many offensive opportunities for Kobe as there was for Wilt. And even with the Warriors feeding Wilt so he could score 100 points, he still only took 54.8% (63-115) of the Warriors shots that night. By comparison, Kobe took 52.3% of the Lakers' shots when he scored 81. It isn’t an issue of getting Kobe more shots, it is an issue of speeding up the pace of the game so there are more shots in general. Finally, Kobe’s 81 point performance is the closest anyone has come to Wilt’s 100. If you look at this closer, you will see that the closest is still only 81% of the total. Despite scoring over 80, Kobe still needed another full quarter at his current pace to match Wilt.

The last reason that Wilt’s record will not be broken is because the Knicks didn’t see anything out of the ordinary with Wilt having 41 points at halftime. Wilt stated that he routinely had halves of 30 or 35 points and had scored over 60 points in a game on 32 previous occasions, so the Knicks did not see a need to adjust to him at halftime. However, if anyone scored 41 points in a half in today’s game, you can guarantee the entire conversation at halftime is how to stop that one player. When Wilt scored 100, it was the perfect storm of a physically dominant player against a team shorthanded by injury. Aiding the abnormalities was the up tempo pace of the game, the ridiculousness of the 4th quarter, and the “sneaky” aspect of Chamberlain “quietly” scoring 41 points in the first half. This presents too many factors that would have to fall perfectly for Kobe or anyone else to make a run at the record. Even if all of these things happened, Kobe would still have to shoot close to 60% and fight through the different defenses that the opposition would throw at him to make a run at the record. It is too much to overcome.

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Chris said...

I will say 2 things. First, is there anyone alive still that has seen Wilt's 100 pt game in person since it is not on video?

Second, DeJuan Wagner scored 100 pts in a high school game in 2001. He was 42-60 from the field that night. It is possible.

Chris Stanley said...

And we are talking about whether or not it will EVER happen again. In the next 100 years I have a feeling it will happen.

Adam said...

Wagner scored 100 points in high school, against players that would not play in college. To have that wide a talent gap in the NBA would be impossible. Such a gap would be similar to the physical advantage that Wilt had in 1962, but to more of an extreme. Even then, that doesn't factor in all the defensive strategies and fouling techniques the player, like Wilt, would have to overcome. Also, the player's own team and coach would have to be willing to alter the gameplan to let one player take almost every shot.

Lisa Leslie scored 101 points in a half in high school. However, this was against a team that was chosen by Leslie's coach as weak enough to break the women's high school record of 105 points against. Leslie never crossed to the defensive side of the court the entire half and was simply cherry-picking.

Both Wagner and Leslie's games brought criticism for poor sportsmanship. Wagner's game came against a 2-7 team and Camden pressed the entire game despite winning by 90. The other thing we must remember is that these games were high school games. The level of competition simply isn't there. Wagner's career high average in the NBA was just 13.8 while it was over 40 his senior year of high school.

But for the record, Danny Heater's high school record of 135 point in one game is virtually as untouchable as Wilt's 100 at the pro level.

Chris said...

Do you not watch the NBA? Ever heard of the Sacramento Kings? I offer the debate on whether or not UNC could beat them -

Adam said...

I think the Kings would resort to the Steph Curry defense and put two (or more) defenders on him the whole game. They are going to lose anyway; they won't let someone embarass them in the process. And as bad as the Kings were this season, no one scored 60 on them, let alone 100. Kobe's 61 against the Knicks was tops this season, only 3/5 of the way to 100.

Mike Colligan said...

As a casual NBA fan, I realize the Knicks are sad...but what made them so susceptible to the huge games that everyone put up on them this year?

Kobe 61, Wade 55, Lebron 52 off the top of my head. I think there were 10 or 11 50-point scorers against NY this year. Any intelligent explanation?

Chris said...


I did the piece on 50-point scorers ( and it seems as if players just get up for certain circumstances. I also looked at the 50-point scorers over the past 25 years and saw that there was no correlation between where or vs who the games happened.

Chris Stanley said...

I think Reggie Miller could drop 100 on the Knicks right now. Although I would hate to pull him away from his broadcasting.

Adam said...

I never have any explanation for things the Knicks do.

My best guess is that this year it was a combination of poor personnel decisions by management in the past and Mike D'antoni's wide open style of play increased the likelihood of high scoring individual performances.

Mike Colligan said...

Carmona, your article was what made me notice it more this year. I think you may have a good point. It probably is the idea of throwing up huge numbers at MSG that gets players excited.

I remember seeing a special on Chamberlain on TV and the most amusing tidbit I learned was that in those days, you were allowed a running start on foul shots. Essentially, Wilt would do what Dr. J and Michael Jordan made famous and dunk his foul shots.

His 55 rebounds against Bill Russell was just as impressive as the 100 point game...if not more, in my mind.

Marc Edelman said...

Wow, 10 comments already!

Let me make it 11 by saying that if we get a 100-point scorer in a game during my lifetime, I'm guessing it won't be Kobe. My pick would be Lebron.

There are two reasons why I say this. First, like Wilt, Lebron is able to dominate both from the inside and outside, whereas Kobe's post-up game is far more limited.

Second, I don't think we've ever seen Lebron try to take over a ballgame and he's already cracked the 50 point plateau on many instances. So, who knows what he would do if a defense took away his passing lanes and his coach told him just keep going to the hoop.

Michael said...

Awesome article/info guys. I haven't had the opportunity to read the comments yet or do any actually statistical research of my own, however, I have to side with Adam on this one. Wilt's record will NEVER be broken. Not only is the style of the game far too different, but the playing field is more balanced. Lebron, Kobe, DWade, etc, as good as these guys are offensively, they do not dominant today’s game the same way that Wilt DOMINATED back in the 60's. The more I look over some of his statistics, I’m actually starting to believe that dominate is an understatement. None of these guys could average 50 ppg throughout a full season without hindering their respective team’s success to the point that their coach would be forced to step in.

Not sure what you have in store for future topics but I’d love to see some in depth research on just how poorly the NBA is doing financially. I think roughly two out of three teams are losing money. YIKES!

Adam said...

Mike- Wilt actually said that he thought he played better and was more pleased with the 55 rebound game against Russell than the 100 point game.

Marc- as a Cavs fan, I would love to see LeBron score 100.

Anonymous said...

While I think that both Chris and Adam make valid points in their arguments, I am leaning more towards chris' side of the case. I think that records are meant to be broken and the 100 points in a single game while highly unlikely, is not out of the realm of possibility. If the stars align perfectly one night for players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kirk Hinrich, or Dwyane Wade I think one of them could pull of the magical feat. If Kobe or Lebron have an insane night against teams like the Mavs or the Suns who have an uptempo sytle anyway, who is going to stop either one of them, Grant Hill? I think not. Overall, I believe that the 100 point barrier is very unlikely, but without a doubt in my opinion that it is feasible for a select for players in the league.

Chris Stanley said...

Kirk Hinrich huh?.....I think Eddie House could drop 100. He put up a big number once in college. I think it was in the high 60's.

I agree with some of you guys that LeBron might be the guy that has the best chance of breaking it. That guy can take a game over. Remember in the playoffs when he scored 20 something in a row for the Cavs?

Anonymous said...

Another factor that could be looked at is if a player gets close to the 100 point barrier is how will the defense react? Will they throw every man at the opposing player or will they in a sense let him have the record. This might sound crazy to say that an oppsoing team getting ready to have 100 points dropped on them would just let a player do it, but similar situations in sports have happened before. Take for intstance when Mike Strahan was chasing the single season sack record. When the Giants played the Packers and Strahan was one sack short, Brett favre was rolling out of the pocket and decided it would be a good idea to assume the fetal position as Strahan closed in on him, thus creating the easiest sack of Strahan's career. So it is not out of the realm of possability for a team in a sense to conceed the record if lets say Kobe or Lebron get close.