by Micah Hart
You may have noticed it’s the offseason, which means we have plenty of time to sit around and think about many of the things that make it fun to be an NBA fan. Here at All Ball, we’ll be passing the time until the start of the season with a new series, the Fave Five. Each week will count down a list of the five best, or worst … somethings. We’ll try to get creative with it. Plus we’re taking requests! If you have a suggestion for a Fave Five post, give us a shout and you may see it appear in this space over the next several weeks.
5. Charles Smith, 52 points
Clippers vs. Warriors, Dec. 1, 1990
Career scoring average: 14.4 ppg
Charles Smith is probably best known for the basket he didn’t score, but he started out his NBA career as a fairly prolific shot-maker, averaging more than 20 ppg twice in his first three seasons. He settled into more of a contributor role after that, but not before he dropped 52 on the Denver Nuggets near the beginning of the 1990-91 season. Smith was 17-27 from the field and 18-21 from the line, and did not attempt a single 3-pointer (no surprise, he only made 18 in his entire career).
Fun fact: Smith probably could have been left off this list, but I have him on here due to his feat coming against the infamous ’90-’91 Nuggets. Denver was coached that season by Paul Westhead, who tried to bring the fast-break basketball he succeeded with at Loyola Marymount to the NBA with disastrous results. The Nuggets went 20-62 and gave up 130.8 ppg, the most ever allowed by a team in a single season.
4. Dana Barros, 50 points
Sixers vs. Rockets, Mar. 14, 1995
Career scoring average: 10.5 ppg
The Sixers were mired in the midst of a miserable 24-58 season when they met up with the Rockets in Philadelphia on a cold night in March. Barros was pretty much the only bright spot that season for Philly, making his lone All-Star Game appearance and averaging a career-best 20.6 ppg — stereotypically big stats on a bad team. Barros, whose second-best season saw him score 13.3 ppg, had the kind of night every player dreams about, hitting 6 of 8 from 3-point range and 21 of 26 overall. That is bananas. And he recorded his 50-point game the hard way, getting to the line for only a pair of free throws, making both.
Fun fact(?): Despite Barros’ brilliance, the Sixers got flat-out destroyed by the Rockets in the game, falling 136-107. Without crosschecking it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s the worst beating a team took in a game where one of its players hung 50.
3. Willie Burton, 53 points
Sixers vs. Heat, Dec. 13, 1994
Career scoring average: 10.3 ppg
Barros’ barrage should have come as no surprise to Sixers fans. After all, teammate Willie Burton beat him to it just three months before when he torched the Heat for 53 points, and in a 105-90 win no less. The two teammates’ games shared some similarities — both were hot from 3-point range (Burton hit 5 of 8), but while Barros avoided the charity stripe like the plague, Burton scored almost half his points there, hitting 24 of 28 free throws. As a result, Burton needed only 19 shots (making 12) to get to 53.
Fun fact: Burton has the fewest amount of career points scored for any 50-point scorer, accumulating just 3,243 points in an eight-year career.
Fun fact, II: Since 1985, the 1994-95 Sixers are one of only two teams to have two different players hit a half-century in a game in the same season. The other team? The 1994-95 Mavericks, who had Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn do the deed just two weeks apart. Must have been something in the water.
2. Tony Delk, 53 points
Suns vs. Kings, Jan. 2, 2001
Career scoring average: 9.1 ppg
It’s a little ironic that a guy nicknamed “Buckets” would average only 9.1 ppg over the course of his career, but such is the case with Tony Delk. Delk never averaged more than 12.3 ppg in a single season, but he made his minutes count against the Kings as the new year dawned in 2001. Delk was predominantly a perimeter player, yet on his big night he shot and missed the only 3-pointer he took. Instead, Delk made 20 of 27 shots and 13 of 15 free throws. And though Delk put up his numbers in an overtime game (a 121-117 loss), he scored only three of his points in the extra frame, which — if my math is correct — means he still dropped 50 in regulation.
Fun fact: In lieu of anything interesting to say about Delk’s performance, I’ll use this opportunity to note that the five players listed here are also composed in the graphic at the top of the page. As if to illustrate the point even further how unlikely their scoring outbursts were, the photo archives didn’t contain a single picture of Burton in a Sixers uniform, nor our list-topper in Wizards gear.
1. Tracy Murray, 50 points
Wizards vs. Warriors, Feb. 10, 1998
Career scoring average: 9.0 ppg
Murray started only 80 of the 659 games he played in his career, which helps explain his paltry career scoring average. Dig into the numbers a little though, and they reveal Murray could put the ball in the basket, scoring 17.7 points per 36 minutes of action and averaging 10 ppg or more four times in his 12-year career. During the 1997-98 season, Murray averaged 15.1 ppg (the second-best average of his career) and scored 20 or more points 24 times. Still, I doubt anyone saw his 50-point explosion against the Warriors coming. Murray had taken 20 shots from the field only once previous that season, but Wizards point guard Rod Strickland knew to feed the hot hand. Murray hit 18 of 29 from the field (including 5 of 10 from 3-point range) and 9 of 10 from the stripe to get his 50.
Fun fact: When I say Strickland was feeding the hot hand, I mean it — he matched his career best with 20 assists on the night.