Can LeBron James Become The NBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer?
LeBron James has never been known as a big time scorer. In fact, he admitted that he isn’t even a scorer:
LeBron on nearing MJ for most playoff points: "I'm not a scorer. I don't want to be labeled as a scorer. I'm a playmaker." pic.twitter.com/wKNenPEb5t— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) May 25, 2017
Despite that, King James has broken one scoring record after another over the course of his NBA career. Last season, he passed Michael Jordan on top of the NBA’s All-time playoff scoring leaderboard. Earlier this month, James passed Kobe Bryant as the youngest player to score 29,000 NBA career points. With James passing one scoring record after another, the big question is if he can become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Let’s find out.
Youngest To 30,000
As of November 22, 2017, LeBron James has a total of 29, 301 NBA career points scored. That’s good for 9th overall in the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James is currently averaging 28.6 points per game and the Cavs still have 64 games to play this season. If King James plays in at least 60 games and maintain his current scoring average, he is going to end the season with 31,131 career points scored. ( 28.6 x 60 = 1,830 + 29,301 ).
The only active NBA player in the Top 8 of the NBA’s scoring list is the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki who has a total of 30,462 points as of 11/22/17 ( same cutoff date ). Nowitzki is averaging just 10.6 points this season thru 19 games played. If Dirk plays 60 more regular season games this season at his current scoring average, then he’ll end the 2017-18 campaign with a grand total of 31,098 career points scored (10.6 x 60 = 636 +30,462 ) .
If that’s the case, James will not only be the 7th and youngest player to score 30,000 NBA career points, he will also likely pass Nowitzki at 6th place on that list. If James ends up with the 31,131 points that we earlier projected, then he will be just 288 points off Wilt Chamberlain ( 31,419 ) at #5 and 1,161 points shy of dislodging the great Michael Jordan at #4.
Getting To The Top 5
Barring any major injury between now and the start of the 2018-19 season,
getting to the Top 5 is going to be peanuts. As we said, James will need around 288 points to move past Wilt Chamberlain. At his career scoring average of 27.2 points per game, that’s going to take the King around 11 games to score ( 27.2 x 11 = 299 ).
So even if, say LeBron ‘just’ averages 25 points next season and plays 70 games, that’s going to be a total of 1,750 points for 2018-19. Add that to our projected 31,131 and James will end 2018-19 with around 32,881 points and pass Jordan at the 4th spot on the NBA’s All-time scoring list.
Now we used the ‘conservative’ 25 points per game here as King James 2018-19 scoring average ( for 70 games ) and the result is that he’ll only be 119 points off 33,000 career points. That’s just a difference of 1.7 points per game in 70 games. Therefore given that James is still in his athletic prime at age 32 ( going 33 ), topping 33,000 points next season is realistic. What that means is that Kobe Bryant’s stay at #3 on the NBA’s scoring list may be short-lived.
Passing The Black Mamba
Bryant took his spot at #3 in 2014 and the possibility of LeBron James overtaking him there sometime during the 2019-20 season isn’t far fetched. Remember that LeBron James recently passed Kobe as the youngest player in NBA history to score 29,000 career points. King James accomplished the feat during his 57 point outburst against the Washington Wizards last November 4, 2017.
Bryant reached the 29,000 point milestone at age 33 years/199 days while King James did it much earlier at age 32 years/ 308 years. This means that barring any major injuries, James is on pace to top Kobe Bryant if he plays the same number of total season as Bryant.
Remember also that Bryant played just a total of 41 games between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons because of injury. If King James plays at least 70 games until season 20, then overtaking Kobe Bryant isn’t a herculean task. What’s going to be interesting is if he passes Karl Malone and/or Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the top two spots.
We’ve been talking about James passing #7, #6, #5, #4 and #3 possibly during the 2019-20 season. That would be the 18th season of his NBA career. That would also be his age 35 season. Now that’s not yet too old in NBA standards. Remember that the man on second place in the All-Time scoring list, Karl Malone, still averaged 23.8 points per game at age 35 so LeBron will still likely be scoring in his 20’s by then.
Now we projected James to be at 32,881 after the 2018-19 season. If we use the same 70 games played model ( Karl Malone played 82 games at age 36 and 81 games at age 37 ) and pair that with Malone’s 23.8 scoring average at age 35, then LeBron James would score 1,666 points ( 23.8 x 70 ) for the 2019-20 NBA season. Overall, he’d end the 2019-20 campaign with 34,547 career points.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar meanwhile, averaged 21.8 points per game at age 35. If we used Kareem’s numbers instead of the Mailman’s then LeBron would have 1,526 season points for 2019-20 and 34,407 career points. Either way, LeBron will still trail both Malone ( 36, 298 ) and Jabbar ( 38,387 ) at the end of the 2019-20 season or James’ 18th NBA season.
Question of Longevity
Only five players in the history of the NBA have played at least 20 seasons in the league. Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett share the NBA record for most seasons played in the NBA at 21 years each. The trio is followed by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Kobe Bryant who played 20 years in the league.
Karl Malone leads a handful of players who have played 19 NBA seasons. That list includes Nowitzki, the only player other than James who is in the all-time scoring list Top 10 who is still an active player in the league. Nowitzki though is already 39 and may be in his final season.
LeBron James meanwhile is still in his prime at 32 and is in year 15 of his NBA career. If he plays till year 20, he will only be 37 ( 38 at the end of that season ). Abdul Jabbar played until he was 41 and Malone till he was 40 so the idea of LeBron James becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is a question of longevity.
Two Sides Of The Coin
Like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James came straight out of high school to join the NBA. So he began his career at age 18. That’s a good headstart from Jabbar and Malone who were both 22 when they began their NBA careers. On one side of the coin, you’ll say that James is probably going to have at least a couple more playing years than Kareem and the Mailman because he began playing at a younger age.
On the other side of the coin, you’re going to argue that because he started playing young, the wear and tear of a long and hard played career is going to come much earlier. You can say that’s what happened to Kobe Bryant. He retired younger but he already played 20 seasons.
But Bryant’s retirement was probably more of the injuries that plagued him late in his career. Bryant tore his achilles tendon in 2014 ( at age 35 ) and as a result, he played just 107 games in his final three seasons. Without his injuries, a 37 year old Kobe Bryant could’ve extended his career further and who knows how higher he would’ve gone in the scoring list.
Playing Heavy Minutes
As for LeBron James, he has not suffered any serious injury in his NBA career. He’s one athlete who takes incredible care of his body and makes sure he is at optimal power when the NBA season begins. That’s why he’s been able to put up one incredible season after another for the past 15 years.
But there is some concern about the current NBA season. In 18 games so far, James has played at least 40 minutes in already 6 games. James is King of the NBA in total minutes played at 678. His 37.7 minutes per game is just a shade under the 37.8 of league leader Giannis Antetokounmpo. James is turning 33 on December 30 while Antetokounmpo will only be just 23 years old on December 6.
James minutes have been the subject of NBA talk lately, with the Warriors’ Draymond Green saying the Cavs’ should be worried about King James’ minutes. Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue responded by making comparisons to a 39 year old Michael Jordan playing 27 minutes. James agreed with Green but noted the injuries to his teammates have forced him to log in extra minutes.
Where The King Ends Up
The reason we talked about his minutes is because it adds to his wear and tear and it also increases the risk of injury. These play an important factor in determining James’ longevity. But then as we said, James uses the best and latest in science to keep his body at peak form so, he knows what he’s doing when he’s playing those minutes.
As for where he finishes in the NBA’s all-time scoring list, passing Kobe at #3 is almost a given. Catching Karl Malone at #2 is a real likelihood if James plays past age 36. That’s not a far fetched possibility at all. But How about Kareem Abdul Jabbar?
In 2016, James suggested playing another decade, because that would enable him to ‘play with or against his son’. Whether that was just a joke or not is a mystery. But if meant what he said, then we’re going to see King James play more than 20 years.
James is currently 9,086 points behind Abdul Jabbar. That’s 455 games ( 9086/20 ) played if he averages 20 points per game. James hasn’t missed more than 13 games in a season and even if he misses 15 starting this year, it’s going to take him six season after this one ( 455-49 games this year= 406 games, 406 games /67 per season = 6 ) to overtake Kareem. He’ll be ‘just’ 39 then. Abdul Jabbar played until age 41, Malone 40 and Jordan 39. It’s still a long way to go but the King does have a shot.