LeBron James by the numbers: A comparison to Kareem for the NBA scoring record
Make way for the new scoring King.
With 38 points in a 133-130 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron James eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 34-year-old NBA career scoring record, officially earning the distinction as the best scorer in NBA history. With 27 games left of his 20th NBA season, James now has 38,390 career regular-season points, ahead of Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387.
The record is as much about longevity as it is a show of dominance. The league’s top three all-time scorers — James, Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone — are also the top three players in regular-season minutes played.
Yet even among iron men, James stands out for his continued production during the latter stages of his career. Last season, then 37-year-old James averaged 30.3 points per game, the second-highest season average of his career, becoming the oldest player to average more than 30 points a game. The next-oldest 30-point scorers were Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan at 33.
Yet James played in just 56 games. James played 224 fewer minutes last season compared to Abdul-Jabbar during the same stage of his career, but the current Lakers star scored 530 more points. Of their first 19 professional seasons, it was the second-highest single-season scoring advantage for James and the fourth time he scored more while playing fewer minutes. The only other time James outscored Abdul-Jabbar by more in a season was James’ final year in Cleveland, his 15th NBA season, when he scored 2,251 points compared to Abdul-Jabbar’s 1,717 in 1983-84.
James’ late-career scoring binge, necessitated in part by the Lakers’ recent struggles that have the team in position to miss the postseason for a second consecutive season, pushed him into the top scoring spot despite still ranking third in minutes behind Abdul-Jabbar and Malone. The popularity of the three-point shot has helped James make up for the lost time.
Abdul-Jabbar made only one three-pointer after the NBA adopted the line in 1979, which was already 10 years into his 20-year career. James has scored 17.5% of his points from long distance, with the three-point shot becoming more prevalent later during his career.
Since scoring a then-career-high 22.1% of his points from three-point range in the 2018-19 season, James’ percentage climbed every year to 28.5% last season. Before 2018, James had scored 20% of his points from three-point range only once, the 2014-15 season.
With two more years left on his current contract and a known interest in sharing an NBA court with his now 18-year-old son Bronny, James could extend his scoring lead to a number that could stand the test of time, even as NBA scoring averages increase across the board.
The closest player currently on an NBA team is Kevin Durant with 26,684 points. In an interview with ESPN, James mentioned the Brooklyn Nets star as a candidate to one day claim the scoring title. Even averaging the same 29.7 points the 34-year-old Durant was producing before a recent knee injury that cost him 13 games and counting, it would take Durant 394 games to pass James. That’s almost five 82-game regular seasons. Durant has played in 82 games of a regular season only once in his career.
This season’s current scoring leader Luka Doncic could be another contender. Tied with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid at 33.4 points per game this season — more than James has ever averaged across a season during his career — the 23-year-old Dallas Mavericks star has 8,531 career points. He was the sixth-youngest player to surpass 8,000 points earlier this season.
But with seemingly a whole career ahead, Doncic, who is likely to miss his third consecutive game Wednesday because of a heel injury, shut down the likelihood of him chasing down James’ scoring record based purely on a lack of longevity.
“I don’t know about 20 years,” Doncic told reporters after a game earlier this season when Dirk Nowitzki mentioned the possibility that the young superstar could break Nowitzki’s record of 21 seasons with a single team. “That’s a long time to play basketball. I’d rather go back to my farm in Slovenia.”
By becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, LeBron James has dethroned Michael Jordan as the greatest player in basketball history.
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