He averaged 21.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game during his NBA career and was the NBA's most prolific scorer during the 1980s. He was named to eight NBA All-Star teams, his #2 jersey was retired by the Nuggets, and he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Most of his time in Milwaukee was spent as a back-up on a rebuilding team that lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, it was not until he was sent to Indiana in 1978 that he began his reputation as a scorer, averaging 16 points there on another subpar team before being traded to Denver.
English was traded to the Nuggets midway through the 1979–80 season for George McGinnis, a former Pacers star from their ABA days. It turned out to be one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history; McGinnis was only a shadow of his former self, and was out of the league by 1982.
English then commenced a highly low-key assault on the NBA scoring books. With the erratic, high-paced, and high-scoring Nuggets he averaged 21 points when he arrived in Denver in 1980, then proceeded with averages of 24, 25, 28, 26, 28, nearly 30 (in 1985–86), 29, 25, 27, and 18 points per game during his decade-long scoring spree. That made him the highest-scoring player of the time, a period where the NBA gained national prominence; he never sought out the spotlight, however. He decided to leave Denver in 1990, signing with the Dallas Mavericks.
He also led the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoffs, and for himself was awarded with three All-NBA Second Teams (1982, 1985, 1986), 8 All-Star appearances, set 31 team records in his decade in Denver, helped Denver win 2 Midwest Division titles and get to the 1985 Western Conference Finals, and was the leading scorer in 55% of the games he played in Denver.
English's NBA career ended in 1991, with a short stint for the Dallas Mavericks, where he once again played back-up, averaging almost 10 points a game. No one cared to sign him for the next season, and after a stint in Italy, English was done. The Nuggets retired his number in 1992.
At the time of his retirement, he was sixth in the NBA's history in scoring. He is still the all-time leading scorer in Nuggets' history.
Also, his number "2" rainbow Nuggets jersey replicas became hugely popular starting in the 1990s.
English's style has been described as smooth and elegant. Not possessing the physical strength of contemporaries such as Dominique Wilkins and James Worthy, English instead relied on technique and finesse, and was able to shoot the ball high above his head. These skills allowed him to place 13th on the NBA all-time scoring list as of 2010[update] with 25,613 points. He was the first player ever to string together eight straight 2,000-point seasons. He has the distinction of being the top scorer in the 1980s.
From June 2004 to July 2011, English was the director of player development and an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors. He joined the Raptors after spending the previous two season as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. On June 5, 2009, it was announced that English would stay with the Raptors as an assistant coach. On July 13, 2011, with the team heading in a new direction, English was not given a new contract, and his services were not retained. On January 13, 2012, he was added to the Sacramento Kings coaching staff under head coach Keith Smart.
On June 5, 2013, new Kings coach Michael Malone announced that the 2012–13 assistant coaches would not be retained for the 2013–14 season.