LEBRON JAMES showed no signs of slowing down as he quickly approaches the NBA scoring record long held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It seems like a safe bet that James, who recently celebrated his 38th birthday, will be the first player to break the 40,000 points barrier. He is averaging 29.1 points per game for the Los Angeles Lakers, which means he could score 39,000 points. And James has repeatedly mentioned how he looks forward to sharing an NBA court and, ideally, a dressing room with his son Bronnie, which means he intends to play at least two more seasons.
This leads to the question: how likely is it that James’ place at the top of the top scorers list will ever be challenged?
“Ugh, chances? You should ask Vegas about that,” Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic said during a practice session last week. “It’s always possible, but it will be very difficult.”
Doncic, whose Mavericks are in Los Angeles to play the Lakers Thursday night (10 p.m. ET on TNT), marveled at how well James has maintained his body over his 20-year career, noting how difficult it is to do. Doncic has yet to show that level of extraordinary discipline on the calendar.
However, there are few players who would be more prolific than the 23-year-old Doncic at this age. He recently became the sixth youngest player to reach 8,000 points, a list led by LeBron. And Doncic is scoring, leading the league in scoring with 34.0 points per game, more than James has ever averaged in a season.
So if anyone can catch King James…
“If you’re talking about me, it’s impossible,” Doncic said before the question was even asked, “because I don’t play that much.”
This is the second time in recent memory that Doncic has made it clear he has no idea how longevity can compare to some of the legends that came before him.
Dirk Nowitzki, a couple of hours after a statue in his honor was unveiled on Christmas Day outside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, was asked if he thought anyone would ever break his NBA record by playing 21 seasons for a single franchise.
“Well, we hope Luka can break that,” Nowitzki said after a little chuckle. “It would be great.”
Doncic shook his head when he learned of Nowitzki’s comment.
“I don’t know about 20 years,” Doncic said after he had 32 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in a home win over James’ Lakers that day. “Enough time to play basketball. I’d rather go back to my farm in Slovenia.”
JAMES INSISTED he never intended to aim for what is arguably the NBA’s most sacred record.
“I never thought about the scoring of the match, because I always passed first,” James told Sportzshala correspondent Dave McMenamin. “I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of seeing my teammates succeed.”
It was Doncic’s passing ability, far greater than his scoring ability, that first drew comparisons to James. There have been few playmakers in the history of the NBA who have the smarts to manage a defense, the vision to see the entire court a few seconds ahead, and the size to open passing windows that most point guards can’t.
“Quote me right where I say it – it’s like LeBron James in terms of how he can get that pass to a shooter in the corners, getting a blitz,” Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade said after first meeting Doncic , comparing the then teenage rookie to his former teammate, four-time MVP.
“There aren’t many guys who can do that and put it right there. He does an amazing job.”
James, who won the 2019/20 assists title, has certainly established himself as one of the best passers to ever play the game. He overtook Magic Johnson to move to 6th on the all-time assist list at the start of this season. He is on the verge of climbing two more spots ahead of Mark Jackson and Steve Nash for the All-Star break.
Catching John Stockton, who has 15,806 career assists, is out of the question. But the No. 2 spot, held by Mavericks coach Jason Kidd with 12,091, is within James’ reach if he extends his career to 40 years.
Doncic is in the league’s top five in assists for the fourth straight season. During his career, he averaged 8.1 assists per game, slightly better than James’s 7.3.
But it would be an exaggeration to call any of them facilitators, given that James has 14 performances with 50+ points in his career, and Doncic already has four, including three after Christmas.
“I always thought they set the table by passing and that leads to their ability to score,” Kidd, who played with James on the 2008 Olympic gold-medal winning team and coached him as an assistant with the Lakers, told Sportzshala. ‘ for two seasons. .
“They have a sense of the game, they understand when they need to score a goal. They have the luxury of doing it at the post or on the perimeter. When you look at these two [they are] very similar.”
AFTER THEIR FIRST Meeting on Halloween night in 2018, rookie Doncic waited outside the Lakers’ home locker room to ask for an autographed jersey from James, the NBA player he most idolized growing up in Slovenia and Spain.
Now they are the same age, the two biggest names in the game, but Doncic’s admiration for James remains strong.
“It’s just amazing to watch him,” Doncic said. “This is his 20th season and what he does is he scores 30, 40 almost every night. He’s just incredible. We hardly see such things.”
In fact, this kind of production from an NBA player so deep in his career, never made.
James joins Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone as the only players to average at least 20 points per game at age 38 and over. Abdul-Jabbar’s 23.4 points per game in 1985/86 was the highest scoring season for a player of his age.
Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour was the highest-scoring season for a player in his 20th career year. Bryant averaged 17.6 points per game in 2015-16, when his effective field goal percentage was .417. James’ effective field goal percentage this season is .554, which is above his career norm.
In other words, no one in the NBA fought Father Time like James.
This is especially remarkable given that James, selected 1 overall in the 2003 draft just out of high school, is the youngest player to score every 1,000 points to 37,000, according to research by Sportzshala Stats & Information. And he has 35 points left to become the youngest player to score 38,000 points against the Mavericks on Thursday.
This is a testament not only to James’ talent, but also to his fitness and good luck.
Luka Doncic on who will challenge LeBron to eventually take the top spot on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list.
Take, for example, Kevin Durant, who is second only to James in scorers and is ranked 16th overall. He won four scoring titles in his first seven seasons and was remarkably resilient during that period. But during his prime, Durant suffered two serious injuries: a broken leg that only saw him play 27 games in 2014/15 and a ruptured Achilles tendon that sidelined him for the entire 2019/20 season. Durant, 34, has been off the field for extended periods in each of his past three seasons, including now, with an MCL strain in his right knee.
James missed just 71 games in his first 15 seasons, leading the league in total minutes three times during that time. He missed only 39 games in his first decade in the NBA.
Doncic missed 51 games in his 4 1/2 seasons, two of which were cut due to the pandemic, so Doncic is likely to be about 1,500 points behind James’s speed over his five seasons despite the same scoring averages (27, 3 points per game). .
Continue to do so—but with greater reliability—for another decade and a half?
uvas Doncic would say.
“You have to maintain your body,” Doncic said of James’ longevity. “You have to play every year – not every game, but a lot of top-level games, which is really hard. He did a lot of really amazing things.”