Top 20 Denver Nugget Scorers of All Time

Jan 25, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) drives to the basket against Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Hawks defeated the Nuggets 119-105. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) drives to the basket against Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Hawks defeated the Nuggets 119-105. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /
  1. Ty Lawson
Feb 27, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) drives to the basket against Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Lawson’s career has been in a downwards-plummeting spiral since his departure from the Nuggets. A failed experiment on the Rockets paired with alcohol abuse and convicted OUI charges have derailed the former Denver Nugget. His recent signing with the Indiana Pacers will hopefully motivate the polarizing Lawson to shape things up and retain talents he exemplified while on the Nuggs.

Lawson spent the first six seasons of his career with the Nuggets. In a near picture perfect situation, Lawson adopted a leadership role from the aging Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson. Upon their departure from the team Lawson seemed to embody their scoring tactics as well.

Although he wasn’t particularly fast, his sneakiness warranted a killer crossover and an unnerving amount of eye-popping drive-and-dish assists. His offensive repertoire included a deadly step-back jumper, a lethal pick-and-roll bounce pass, and buzzer beaters inspired by his predeceasing Billups.

In his time as a Nugget starter he averaged 16.5 ppg and 8 apg. One hopes that he can turn recent stumbles around to continue an otherwise prolific career.

  1. Chauncey Billups

Mr. Big Shot Billups tenure on the Nuggets came after his prime that was spent on the Pistons where he won a ‘ship in 2004. Billups coincidentally played 45 games on the Nuggets early on in his career in the early 00’s, but his more memorable time came in three seasons from 2008-’11. During that stretch Chauncey averaged 17 ppg and 5 apg.

Billups was an ace from downtown and midrange, and was a never miss candidate from the charity stripe. His resume of clutch shots and ice-veined performances rightfully donned him with the nickname Mr. Big Shot, who’s craftsmanship and consistency late in games will be remembered for years to come. As the sniper head on one of the strongest defensive teams in recent history, Billups carried the Pistons to consecutive finals appearances, and the Nuggets to a playoff berth in each of his seasons with the team (including the Western Conference Finals in 2008-’09 where they fell to the Lakers).

Skip the first 44 seconds or so.  Unless you want to hear him jabber about pointless things.

  1. Danilo Gallinari
Feb 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

Gallo is the best Italian basketball player ever. It seems like a cooler statement before you know that there have been only eight players of Italian descent to ever play in the league, the most formidable of which are Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli.

Regardless this greaser gets buckets. I have never seen a player get more shooter’s rolls than Gallo, and its not even close. It almost seems if he hits the rim the ball is guaranteed to spin in somehow. The Nugget’s greatest current shot creator is in his fifth season with the squad and is logging his highest scoring output of his career in the 2016 season at 19.5 ppg.

His elite size (6’ 10”) increases the number of shot opportunities and creates matchup dilemmas for defending small forwards. His blasé form combined with his deadeye tendencies make viewers question whether or not he is legitimately trying or just goofing with defenders. One of the best long distance launching bigs in the league, Gallinari is an excitement to watch and is building his resume as one of the most clutch shooters late in games.

  1. Laphonso Ellis

Ellis played 6 seasons for the Nuggets from 92-98. Although a good amount of these years were relatively uneventful due to knee injuries, Ellis affirmed himself as a fan favorite firecracker.

His athleticism was unprecedented; he had range out to 20 feet, could pass exceptionally well for a big man, and absolutely loved putting defenders on posters. This man’s intensity was unmatched, but he also loved the game. His natural born talent gave him the ability to put the ball in the hoop, most often by a forceful matter. Ellis is remembered for hanging on the rim just a bit too long after a slamma, and for what could have been if not for being plagued by knee mishaps. Although this is a scoring list, his most memorable moment on the Nuggets was “the block”, depicted in the video below.

Phons posted averages of 15 ppg and 7.9 rpg through his tenure with Denver, including a 21.9 ppg season in 96/97.

“The Block” can be viewed around 1:40.

  1. Nick Van Exel

Van Exel is one of the smoothest lefty snipers in league history. The guard has quick feet and a silky release. If you stumble into some film you’ll see numerous buzzer beaters, double clutch 25-footers, and a whole lot of nylon in general.

The current D-League head coach played with the Nuggs for 3 and a half seasons at the turn of the century, posting averages of 18 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 8.4 apg. Even though he held the connotation of being one of the strongest 3-point artists in the league, Van Exel averaged just 1.9 treyballs a game. To correctly parallel the transition to a shoot-heavy league, there are currently 11 players who have cashed more threes than Van Exel did in his entire season (135) by March 1st. Some teams still have over 20 games left!

Regardless, Van Exel was part of one of the fastest paced teams in NBA history. Unfortunately pace and speed couldn’t make up for the lack of talent and their squad finished 40-42 and skipped out on the playoffs.

  1. Fat Lever
Fat Lever-3
Fat Lever-3 /

Lever spent his six prime years playing guard for the Nuggets in the late 80s. Lafayette filled the stat sheet averaging 17 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds in his tenure with the Nuggets.

Lever was exciting and creative on the court. Fat was 6th all time in triple doubles, a two-time All-Star, and is the Nuggets all time leader in steals.

Fat was a smooth scorer and efficient at driving to the basket.

He was the beginning of the athletic breed of scoring guard that we see in the league today with players like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, etc.

  1. Calvin Natt
Calvin Natt-2
Calvin Natt-2 /

Natt, the undersized big, was an offensive minded asset for the Nuggets in the mid 80s where he spent 5 seasons with Denver.

His first year on the team he averaged 23 PPG and 7 RPG along with 34 minutes per contest. Unusually, his minutes, points, and rebounds all decreased with each year on the Nuggets. Rumors attributed his decline to ball-hogging tendencies and the desire to be the center of the offense.

Despite his efficiency as a scorer, it didn’t translate as well as Denver would have hoped.

  1. Spencer Haywood
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Haywood played one season with Denver in 1969. While a part of the ABA franchise, Spence averaged a whopping 30 points and 19.5 rebounds a game. His 30 PPG along with his unheard of 45 minutes per game led the league. Haywood would be much higher on this list if he had played in a different era, and if he had been more responsible for team success.

The power forward was a beast from everywhere on the floor and rightfully so earned the ABA MVP award in 1970.

As evidence by the photo to the right and the Hall’s committee, Haywood was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2015 class.  He made a heartwarming speech.  This photo also shows how old he is and how long ago it must have been for his athletic ability to be relevant.

  1. Ralph Simpson

Simpson was one of the more prolific swings in the ABA. His rookie season aside, he averaged 22 points a contest with the Nuggets, including a 27 PPG season in his sophomore year in 1971.

Similar to other players that were strong performers in the ABA, Simpson struggled upon his entrance to the NBA after the merger.

Simpson is 5th all time on the Nuggets scoring list, and 9th on PPG. He also ranks in the top 10 in Nugget history in regards to games played, minutes, field goals attempted and made, free throws made and attempted, assists, steals, and turnovers.

  1. George McGinnis

Big man George McGinnis only played two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, but in the 121 games spent with Denver he averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds. McGinnis was a monster before playing for Denver and even lead the NBA in scoring in 1974 (3 years before coming to Denver).

In his first year with Denver he averaged 23 a game, and remains among Nugget leaders in PPG, RPG, SPG, and was second in franchise history in usage percentage.  He was ahead of his time athletically, and his awkward one handed jumper was surprisingly effective.

McGinnis could score at will down low, and could stretch the floor with his range. The following video doesn’t do McGinnis justice, as made clear by my grandfather’s recollections of watching him play against the Celtics in the ’70s.

  1. Larry Jones

Larry Jones could score. Whether he could score against defenders that were worth a damn is up for debate, but he could definitely score. His career stats while playing on Denver found him averaging over 25 a game, third all time in franchise ranking.

He also boasts the highest player efficiency rating in Nugget history. Jones was explosive and could score with ease close to the hoop. He had a 23 game stretch in 1968 in which he scored over 30 points in each game.

His abilities were put under a magnifying glass when the transition from the ABA to the NBA hit him like a brick wall. His scoring plummeted soon after.

His strongest year resulted in him averaging over 28 a game in the 1968 season.

  1. Michael Adams

Adams played guard for the Nuggets in the late 80s and early 90s alongside Fat Lever. His four seasons spent with the Nuggets found him as a second option until Lever departed in Adams’ last season with the team. Coincidentally when Lever left, Adams had the best season of his career, averaging 27 points a game and over 10 assists a contest as well. Despite is reoccurring low shooting percentage, he is one of the strongest shooters in Nuggets history.

Adams had a pure scoring ability that was fairly uncommon in the NBA during his career. He posted wild games in which he scored 54, 45, 44, and 41 all within a month of each other in his final season with Denver.

Critics debunk the prolific scoring of the early 90’s Nugget teams, as they were some of the fastest -and most inefficient- offenses of all time.  They had a preposterous amount of possessions, and put up an equally preposterous amount of shots.

He is one of the greatest shrimpy players of all time.

  1. Antonio McDyess

McDyess was a monster in the late 90’s. He started his career with the Nuggets and spent 6 of his first 7 years in the league on Denver. He averaged 18 and 9 across his tenure with Denver.

Despite being a strong defensive presence as a big, his athletic ability and slew of post moves made him an explosive scorer that was difficult to stop. He was essentially a man among children.

He had a number of huge games, including a 40 and 20 game in 2000, and a 46 and 19 game in ‘99 (See video below).

His tenacious and intense play style made him a versatile and complacent scorer.

His connotation with this generation as an old and washed up role player doesn’t justify the athlete’s ability of his heyday.

  1. Mahmoud Abdul Rauf

Abdul Rauf highlighted an average Nugget team in the early 90s. He spent his first six seasons of his nine-year NBA career with the Denver Nuggets, where he averaged 20 points and 5 assists a game.  From ’90 to ’96, Rauf ran the team as a score first PG.

He is among Nugget franchise leaders in categories including: Field goals made and attempted, 3-pt field goals made and attempted, assists, points, and usage percentage. He is the all time leader in Nuggets history for free throw percentage.

The guard’s unprecedented shooting ability was overlooked with silly antics such as refusing to stand during the national anthem before games.

Other antics caused Abdul Rauf to fade into obscurity.

Mahmoud’s career highlight centers on his 51-point explosion against John Stockton.

  1. Kiki Vandeweghe
Kiki-5 /

Kiki spent his first four seasons in the league with the Denver Nuggets. One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history, Vandeweghe spent his prime with the Trailblazers, but built his foundation of skills on the Nuggets.

From 1980-’84, the forward averaged 23 a game, including a strong 29 PPG season in his last year with Denver.

His last two seasons with Denver found Kiki a place on the All-Star team, and he posted several 50-point games throughout his tenure with the Nuggets.

Vandeweghe was traded in ’84 for Natt, Lever, and Wayne Cooper to the Blazers where he paired with Clyde Drexler.

Kiki is currently the vice president of basketball operations of the NBA.

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  1. Dan Issel
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Issel played 10 seasons for Denver in the mid 70’s. He is the leader of several Nugget statistical categories including: Free throws made and attempted, total rebounds, personal fouls, and win shares. He is second all time in points scored on the Nuggets franchise, and second all time in games and minutes played.

Issel was a natural scorer, and although his scoring average decreased in the transition from ABA to NBA from 26 a game to 20, he was one of Denver’s most dependable offensive threats. Skilled big men in the early stages of the NBA were able to dominate if they could score in various ways.

Issel ranks 10th on the all time NBA scorers list, and is second all time on the list of ABA scoring leaders.

Issel took over as head coach for the Nuggets for a short amount of time in the 90’s where he shaped young scorers like Adams and Rauf.

  1. Allen Iverson

One of the greatest scorers of all time, AI spent a short stint with the Nuggets immediately after playing the majority of his career with the 76ers.

He sits in second place behind Alex English on the Nuggets scoring average leaders all time with over 25 points a game.

His three seasons with Denver were spent alongside Carmelo Anthony, and the two lead the league as a scoring duo despite struggling to pull together a successful resume for the Nugget’s squad.

Iverson is indisputably one of the greatest scorers from NBA history, and although his tenure with the Nuggets was short, he left a clear mark on the franchise.

  1. Carmelo Anthony

Melo was Denver’s godsend after the team selected him 3rd overall in the 2003 draft. Despite sporting a different jersey, Anthony still remains one of the most dependable and consistent scorers in the league.

Through his 8-year tenure with the Nuggets, Anthony averaged close to 25 points a game. Melo’s knack to get the ball in the hoop is unparalleled by the majority of the league.

Unlike several of the other names on this list, Anthony’s range extends beyond the 3-point arch.

His scoring ability helped lead the Nuggets to playoff contention in each of his seasons with the team.

His efforts in the Olympics earned him the honor of USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 2006.

His tenure as one of the greatest scorers of this era continues today, but its roots sprouted in Denver.

Before Klay Thompson went bonkers and detonated for 37 points in a quarter, Melo shared the record for most points in a quarter(33) with George Iceman Gervin.

  1. David Thompson

David “Skywalker” Thompson goes down in NBA history as one of the most explosive scorers of all time. His ability on the offensive end was years ahead of his time. In his seven seasons with the Nuggets, Thompson played 498 games and averaged over 24 points a game. Thompson highlighted an otherwise bleak league throughout the mid 70s.

Skywalker is one of five players in NBA history to notch over 70 points in a single game. He famously notched 73 points in a game in ’78, including 32 points in a single quarter (a record at the time). Hilariously, George Gervin broke that quarter record later that same day with 33 in a quarter (he only posted 63 overall though).

Thompson gained his nickname for his astonishing leaping ability, and is reportedly responsible for the invention of the alley-oop (debunking Semi-Pro’s Will Ferrell heaven vision). His inconceivable dunking ability brought a marketable and lovable aspect to the game that failed to exist prior to his entrance to the league.

Thompson was indisputably the best college player of his time, and was drafted first overall in the 1975 draft in both the ABA and the NBA.

Popularly renowned for being Michael Jordan’s role model, Thompson is responsible for numerous facets of Jordan’s game. Jordan responded to reporters questioning his idolization of Thompson by saying ‘he’s the reason we measure vertical leap’.

Although his dunking ability highlights his scoring repertoire, his abilities are expansive and made him a threat from nearly anywhere on the court.

A four time All-Star, Thompson was notorious for soiling his potential at becoming an all-time great with his poor off-the-court choices. His career was cut short as injuries and mental issues plagued a hypothetically premier career. He only played 9 years in the league, playing his final season at the mere age of 29 (Current players that are 29 and debatably on top of their game: Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, and Al Horford). Imagine if one of those guys quit because of off the court issues? Tragic.

Despite the abrupt and dismal brevity of his career, he affirmed himself as one of the greatest and most creative scorers of all time.

His top 10 is mostly dunks, but one needs to recognize these highlights are from the early ’70s, not the mid ’80s or early ’90s.  No one else was doing what he was putting down.

  1. Alex English

English is commonly accepted as one of the greatest pioneers in the game of basketball. Debatably the best Denver Nugget of all time, English lasted 11 years with the squad where he averaged a franchise best 25.9 points per contest.

Competing against the likes of Kareem, Gervin, and other prolific scorers in the mid 80s, English led the Nuggets to 9 playoff appearances in his 11 years with the team.

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In ‘82, his 28 PPG earned him scoring leader honors and helped lead his Nuggets to the Western Conference Semifinals.

English was a diverse and versatile scorer that attacked the hoop with an onslaught of different moves, but dipped below the attention and pop culture attachment circulating around other popular stars in the league.

English is the Nuggets all time scoring leader, and ranks 17th all time between future hall of famers Paul Pierce and LeBron James.

His exemplary grace and finesse nearly make one forget that his set shot looks like an old dude shooting at your local YMCA.

Recognizable accolades from his productive career include the nomination to 8 All Star games and being the first player to post 8 straight 2000-point seasons.

The NBA’s leading scorer throughout the 1980’s, English had elite jump-shooting ability as well as an incredible knack to find his way to the basket. Despite being in good company, English is the clear leader in scoring ability from Nugget history.