Last March, NBA superstar LeBron James moved into 4th place on the NBA all-time scoring list, passing the legendary Michael Jordan. Currently, James has 32,543 points, putting him 5,844 points behind the NBA all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his 38,387 points.
As James has averaged 27.2 points per game during his career, he could theoretically pass Jabbar in another 215 games, or within three years, if James played 87% of his team’s games (four years if he played in 65% of the games).
At the same time, though, James is 34 years old and entering the twilight of his career. Last season, he was plagued by a serious groin injury, which limited him to only 55 games, which was the fewest of his career.
In this article, we will discuss what would it take for James to pass Jabbar’s all-time scoring leader as well as what could get in his way, and we will also chart a course for him to succeed.
Becoming The NBA All-Time Scoring Leader: What James Needs To Do?
Entering his 17th season in the NBA, LeBron James is still averaging more than 27 points per game. He is averaging this not only for his career but also for his average for the last season as well, which for his standards, was subpar in many ways.
What he is doing is utterly unprecedented. Only Kobe Bryant averaged near this number of points on the number of seasons in the league. However, both players went straight from high school to the NBA, so it cannot be said that Kobe Bryant is ahead of James on the scoring list. The big question is for how long can he do this?
As stated above, if James continues his current career points per game and remains relatively healthy, he would surpass Jabbar in three seasons. However, even if his average points per game decreased to 25, he could still pass Jabbar in just three seasons if he played every game. If his game degraded worse than this, to say 20 points-per-game, he could still pass Jabbar in four years.
So, the NBA all-time scoring mark is well within his reach. But there are still many other factors that could derail his quest.
Becoming The NBA All-Time Scoring Leader: What Could Stop James?
Several factors could prevent LeBron James from becoming the NBA all-time scoring leader. These include:
James has been remarkably resilient in his long career. He has played in 94% of his team’s games and 100% of its playoff games, and many of the games he has missed were planned rest days.
Before the last season, James had only one significant injury: a back problem in the 2014-2015 season that kept him out of action for 8 games. Last season, he missed 18 games because of the groin injury he suffered during a Christmas game with the Warriors.
Perhaps, this injury was just an aberration, and he will continue to remain healthy through the remainder of his career. But for someone who is 34 years old and who has played as many games as he has, the possibility of future injury is not negligent. A set of injuries could very well delay or even impede his chances to advance to the top of the NBA scoring list.
It should be noted that, at one time, many thought that Kobe Bryant had an excellent chance at passing Jabbar’s scoring mark. But at the same age, Bryant tore his Achilles and was never the same player again. He was 3rd on the NBA all-time scoring list with 33,643 points when he retired.
James has three years left on his current contract with the Lakers. It means that he would be a free agent after the 2021-2022 season. As we have shown, he could become the NBA all-time scoring leader before then.
But if he does not reach it by this time, there is no guarantee that the Lakers or some other team will offer him a contract, or one that he likes. He will be 37 in three years, and if he has not become the scoring leader by then, it means that either injuries or a serious degrade in performance were the likely reason. This reason could very well also hinder his opportunities. Though one last return to the Cavaliers would certainly be a nice bookend to a storied career, Cleveland just may be willing to do it.
So far, James has given only a general timeframe when he would retire. In 2016, he said, “I think later in my 30s.” He also said that his children could play a major role in his decision. Injuries and performance degradation could conceivably play a role in this decision, too. So, it is quite possible that he simply retires before becoming the NBA all-time scoring leader.
Becoming The NBA All-Time Scoring Leader: James’ Best Path
While there is an infinite number of ways that could lead toward LeBron James becoming the NBA all-time scoring leader, some are much better than others.
At first blush, his best path to top the list would entail doing it within the next three years before his current contract ends. But this would require him to be almost completely free of injuries while not experiencing any degradation in performance.
Even if James misses only 10 games over each of the next three years, he has to maintain his current career average to become the NBA all-time scoring leader. This seems like a tall order, both in terms of missed games and scoring average.
Therefore, his best chance would appear to be getting another contract after his current one expires. If he can average 65 games per year over the next four seasons while dropping only one point per game each succeeding season, he would comfortably pass Jabbar in four seasons from now.