In an era of high-scoring small forwards like Bernard King, Mark Aguirre, and Adrian Dantley, none lasted as long or were as persistent as Alex English.
English didn’t average over 20 PPG until his 5th NBA season at the age of 27 in 1981. He wouldn’t drop below the mark again until the 1990 season at age 36. During this nine season run, that first campaign in 1981 was the only one where he averaged below 25 PPG.
Doug Moe’s high octane offense in Denver certainly created many opportunities to score, but not any old player can make that kind of fast-paced offense work as efficiently as English. He shot 51% from the field during his run of glory and an excellent 84% from the free throw line.
Despite the fast-paced offense English always scored with a leisurely quality and debonair demeanor. He certainly wasn’t moving slow, but he never seemed in a rush. His high-arching jump shot was impossible to block. He was spectacular cutting off the ball and slipping by defenders for layups and chip shots. He was also a better passer than given credit for. It wasn’t flashy but English would make the right dump to a cutter at the right time to score the assist.
English’s Denver Nuggets were a mainstay in the Western Conference playoffs in the 1980s. First working alongside Kiki Vandeghwe and Dan Issel, and later Fat Lever and Calvin Natt, English was the key cog on these Nuggets clubs. Their finest season was in 1985 where they won 52 regular season games and advanced to the Western Finals. But with Lever hobbled and missing games, the Nuggets were already off to disadvantaged start. English was tremendous through the first four games averaging 30 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 51.1% FG and 87.1% FT. That scintilliating performance came to end in Game 4. English hurt his wrist and only played 24 minutes, but nonetheless managed to drop 28 points in the limited action that game.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the series 4-1 and that was the closest English’s Nuggets came to the NBA Finals.
Team success was constant if not complete for English, but personally he’s remembered best as the man who scored more points than anyone else in the 1980s. That is indeed the best way to remember him. In an era with Aguirre, King, and, Dantley, but also Jordan, Bird, Moses, and Kareem, English outscored them all. And he did it in shockingly unselfish fashion. It’s what he did best and it’s what helped the Nuggets most.
Years Played: 1976 – 1991
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1982-’83, 1986)
8x All-Star (1982-’89)
NBA – 1193 Games
21.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 50.7% FG, 83.2% FT
PPG Leader (1983)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1976-77 through 1990-91 season)
2nd Points, 19th PPG
1st FGs Made, 39th FG%
8th FTs Made, 19th FT%
16th Rebounds, 15th Assists
22nd Steals, 22nd Blocks
1st Games Played, 2nd Minutes Played