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Five players who have a solid shot at joining 80-point club

One common trait seems to unite the players who reached the elite stratosphere of NBA single-game scorers

POSTED: Feb 4, 2016 2:23 PM ET

By Kevin Cottrell Jr.

Special to NBA.com

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Kevin Durant and James Harden each possess the raw talent to score 80-plus points in a single game.

The NBA boasts the best collection of basketball talent the world has to offer with supreme athletes, elite defenders and high flyers marking each team. But there's nothing like watching a professional scorer enter the proverbial zone.

On Wednesday night, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry put on a scoring clinic, starting with a 25-point first quarter against the Washington Wizards. To say Curry entered the zone would be an understatement. Steph made 9 of his first 10 field goals, including 7 of 8 from 3-point range. By halftime he had 35 points and the Twitter-verse wondered just how many points he would score. 50? 60? 70?

Curry Explodes for 51 Points

Stephen Curry was cookin' on Wednesday night, scoring 51 points on 11-for-16 from 3-point land.

After the first period, the reigning Kia MVP was on pace to reach 100 but no one really thought it was obtainable. After all, he's sat out 14 4th quarters this season. Curry would finish halfway to the century mark -- 51 points, thanks to an 11-for-16 effort from 3-point land. Steph can score 50 points at any moment, but can he or anyone else flirt with 81?

It's been 54 years since Warriors legend Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points and 10 seasons since Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored 81. Neither Wilt nor Kobe were prolific 3-point shooters, but they both shared the mentality that the next shot was guaranteed to fall.

"Scoring 100 points is a lot," Chamberlain once said. "But ... I maybe could have scored 140 if they had played straight-up basketball!"

Kobe's 81 Point Night

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kobe Bryant's 81 point game on January 22nd, here's a look back at that night and what some players around the League had to say about his performance

The thought of one player scoring 100 points is insane, let alone 80. In fact, Chamberlain possessed the ability to score at will and only surpassed the 80-point threshold once in his entire career. Out of the thousands of players to play in the NBA's lifetime, only five players have scored 70-plus points in a single game. That list does not include three of the top four scorers in NBA history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.

Most Points Scored in a Single Game
Player Points scored Year
Wilt Chamberlain 100 1962
Kobe Bryant 81 2006
Wilt Chamberlain 78 1961
Wilt Chamberlain 73 1962
Wilt Chamberlain 73 1962
David Thompson 73 1979

Just last month, Bryant was asked about reliving his historic 81-point performance and, like Chamberlain, he felt he "should have had 90 points or more." If Bryant thinks 90 is possible, then 81 should be within reason.

Clearly it would take a young player with a true scorer's mentality. Wilt was 25 years old when he scored 100 and Kobe was 27 when he poured in 81. The player that scores 80 has to be a volume shooter that can get to the free throw line often. He must possess the ability to create his own shot as well as 3-point shooting range.

Using this criteria, many players may fit the mold but five All-Stars -- Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins -- immediately come to mind. These are the top four scorers in the league who have a total of 13 career 50-point games. Three of the five players (Curry, Harden and Cousins) are responsible for four of the six 50-point games this season. So who's the most likely candidate for an 80-point game?

The Obvious Picks

Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors): A list that involves scoring can't be constructed without the "Baby-Faced Assassin." Curry leads the league in scoring (29.8 ppg), has amassed four career 50+ point games and is the only player with multiple games with 11 3-pointers made. The 2015 Foot Locker Three-Point Champion has been on a tear this season (232 3-pointers through 47 games). He's the first player to make 200 3-pointers prior to the All-Star break.

Curry Hits 11 3-Pointers

Relive every 3-pointer from Stephen Curry's incredible night.

While he may be an obvious selection, it's highly unlikely he'll reach 81 or more points. The most free throw attempts Curry has in a single game is 14. He's averaging 5.5 free throw attempts per game this season, a career high.

One would need at least 20 points on free throws to have a realistic shot at 80. Curry knocked down 11 threes on Wednesday and still fell 30 points shy of Kobe's mark.

Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder): At first glance, Durant was the favorite to score 80. Standing nearly 7 feet tall, Durant can score with ease from anywhere on the court. He has the ball-handling to blow by defenders and the range and scoring arsenal to create jump shots for himself from anywhere.

Durant Scores 54

Durant poured in 54 points in an incredibly efficient performance, helping Oklahoma City beat Golden State 127-121.

Like Curry, Durant's career high is 54 points and he, too, has four career 50-point games. But what sets the two apart is Durant's career high 26 free throw attempts.

During the 2012-13 season, Kevin recorded his first 50-40-90 season. A true testament to a player's shooting ability when they average 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 80 percent shooting from the line. With his size and range, there's no limit to what he can put up on the scoreboard.

But, as long as he shares the load with Russell Westbrook, 80 points appears to be out of reach.

The Longshots

Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors): Thompson is bigger and taller (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) than Curry (6-foot-3, 190) and, some would argue, has a better shooting form than Curry, too. Klay has one career 50-point game -- a 52-pointer (where he went for 37 points in a quarter) last season against the Kings. In that magical outburst, Thompson made all 13 of his field goal attempts, nine of which were 3-pointers.

Thompson Dominates Kings

Highlights from Klay Thompson as he hits 13 of 13 shots with 9 triples to notch a NBA record 37 points in the third quarter.

Problem is he only attempted two free throws that period. Thompson's career high is 12 free throw attempts in a single game. While he may have the height advantage and shooting motion over Curry, he doesn't get the wealth of touches these players get on a nightly basis. Thompson may have a 60-point effort in his future, but 80 doesn't seem likely.

DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings): "Boogie" is the lone big man to make the list. He has a 56-point game under his belt, which he recorded this season and is tops in 2015-16. An 80-point game would appear to favor a center since most teams play small and offensive rebounds are at a premium. Cousins appears to be developing into an offensive savant game by game. He's made 45 3-pointers this season after making 11 total in his first five seasons.

Cousins Scores 56 vs. Hornets

DeMarcus Cousins scores a new career-high 56 points and grabs 12 rebounds versus the Hornets.

He boasts a 73 percent career free throw shooting mark and has five career games with 20 or more free throw attempts. All of this makes 80 a possibility, but, unfortunately for Cousins, the NBA is no longer a big man's game.

The Choice is ...

James Harden (Houston Rockets): Prior to "The Beard" arriving in Houston, many wondered if he could be a team's leading scorer. Those questions were quickly answered. In just his second game as a Rocket, he tallied 45 points with an impressive 17 free throw attempts.

Rockets vs. Hawks

James Harden explodes for a career-high 45 points in the big win over the Hawks.

Harden has three career games with 50-plus points and nine games with 20 or more free-throw attempts.

(If you haven't caught on by now, free throw attempts are key.)

In Bryant's 81-point game, he went 18-for-20 on free throws and made just seven 3-pointers. Ever since he got to Houston, Harden has mastered the art of drawing the foul. Proof? He has led the league in free throw attempts three times (including this season).

With no true number two scoring threat, Harden is the type of player that can go for 60 or more points and many would shrug at his performance. Along with his ability to cash in at the line, Harden utilizes the 3-pointer as well as anyone (he's third in the NBA with 140 3-pointers). According to NBA.com/Stats, Harden ranks in the top 15 with 9.3 drives per game. He's shooting 48.8 percent on those drives and getting to the free throw line nearly four times a game off drives alone. When he's fouled on penetration plays, he's making 86.6 percent of his free throws. As a result, Harden scores 75 percent of the time when he drives to the basket.

All those factors mark a player who has the skills to one day deliver an 80-point game.