LeBron James' chase for the NBA scoring title and other milestones

ByDave McMenamin via ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
ESPN

Following yet another defeat in the middle of a lost season,LeBron Jameswas asked a question at Miami's FTX Arena that invited him to escape the losing moment to broaden and brighten his view.

What did James think about being within striking distance of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's heralded all-time NBA scoring record of 38,387 points?

"As I've continued to climb the ranks, it's natural, human, to look at it and see where you are and see if it's even possible," theLos Angeles Lakersstar said in January. "We'll see what happens. I've never chased a record in my life. I've never sat down and said, 'OK, let me see if I can get this record, let me see if I can get that record.' ...

"It's one of those things that you never think could possibly happen."

Abdul-Jabbar has held the torch as the league's top scorer since April 5, 1984 -- nearly nine months before James, who will turn 38 in December, came into the world.

In other words, even though James says he never imagined he would pile up more points than The Captain, maybe he was born to do this.

While James' march toward the scoring crown will attract the biggest spotlight in his 20th season, there will be plenty of other ways he can elevate his place in the NBA record books.

Here's a look at all the statistical superlatives James is approaching in 2022-23:

The big one

James comes into the season with 37,062 career points, needing 1,326 points to pass Abdul-Jabbar's mark.

If he averages 27.1 points per game -- his career average -- and doesn't miss any games, James would set the record in the Lakers' 49th game on Jan. 25 at home against theSan Antonio Spurs.

Adding time for rest or the inevitable injury or two considering how the past several seasons have gone for James -- plus an expected dip in his scoring average withAnthony Davisback healthy -- it's more feasible that James would catch Abdul-Jabbar later in the campaign.

If he averages a more modest 24 points per game and misses 15% to 20% of the season, James would be nearing the plateau somewhere in the range of Game Nos. 65 to 68.

That coincides with a homestand in early March when the Lakers host theGolden State Warriors (March 5), Memphis Grizzlies (March 7), Toronto Raptors (March 10) and New York Knicks(March 12).

The question is, can James reach the apex in a win? James eclipsed the past four scoring legends on the all-time list -- Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone -- during losses by the Lakers, putting a damper on the individual accomplishment.

James also can pass Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most 30-point games in league history by topping 30 seven times to bring his career total to 515. Jordan has the most with 562.

Longevity looms

As the No. 1 pick straight out of high school in 2003, James' career achievements were often accompanied by the youngest ever to do so. As his time in the league approaches two decades, that has flipped. He often isthe oldest to reach these feats.

"I literally try to prepare my mind and my body and my soul on how I can stay young in a young man's game," James said last season. "The people that's always trying to chase you or people that kind of say that you're too old to be at this [level] still. So, it's just always a daily reminder, and sometimes you do have to remind people that you can still do what you do at a high level."

James can continue to climb the ladder in two accumulation categories this season. He enters the campaign third all time in minutes played with 52,139, needing 2,714 more to pass Malone for second. He would have to be in the lineup for around 75 games to do that. Abdul-Jabbar tops the list with57,446 minutes.

Speaking of games played, he is 14th on the all-time list with 1,366. If he plays in 59 contests this season, he would move up to eighth, passing Clifford Robinson, Reggie Miller, Jason Kidd, Tim Duncan, Jason Terry and Kevin Willis.

Another Lakers legend in sight

James' game has often been compared to Magic Johnson's because of his potent combination of size and court vision. And all of James' pinpoint passing over the years has him in position to pass Johnson on the all-time assists list.

James is seventh with 10,045, just 97 assists behind Johnson for sixth.

Already the only player in league history to rank in the top 10 in total points and assists, James would become the only player to rank in the top five in those categories with 291 assists to move him past Mark Jackson in fifth place and Steve Nash in fourth.

3s and frees

James averaged 30.3 points last season -- the second-highest scoring average of his career -- thanks in large part to his contributions on the stripe and beyond the arc.

His 75.6% mark from the free throw line was his best clip since 2011-12, and his 161 3-pointers were the most he has ever made in a season.

He is fourth on the all-time freebies list with 7,836 and needs 543 more to pass Bryant for third, which will likely take a couple of more seasons considering he had 254 makes from the line in 2021-22.

James could move past Paul Pierce for No. 10 on the all-time 3s list as soon as opening night on Oct. 18, as he is just four behind his longtime on-court rival.

If he hits 151 3s on the season, James also would pass Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry and Vince Carter on the all-time list.

Boards and triple-doubles

James quietly had one of the best rebounding seasons of his career in 2021-22, with his 8.2 boards representing the fourth-best single-season average.

With 10,210 career rebounds, he ranks No. 38 on the all-time list. If he adds 500 boards this season, he'll shoot up to No. 32, passing Otis Thorpe, Bill Laimbeer, Dave Cowens, former teammates Tyson Chandler and Ben Wallace, and David Robinson.

James is the only player in league history with 30,000 career points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists, so it's no wonder he also is among elite company when it comes to the all-time triple-double list.

He is No. 5 with 105 and needs three to pass Kidd for fourth. James racked up six triple-doubles last season, bringing his total since his 35th birthday to 17 -- more than double any other player in NBA history in that age bracket.

Defensive feats

If the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame required entrants to select one signature play to define their careers, James would be sending a 2016 NBA Finals clip of his Game 7 chase-down block onAndre Iguodalato Springfield, Massachusetts.

James comes into the season No. 93 on the all-time blocked shots list; if he matches his total from last year of 59, he would jump up 13 spots to tie Bob Lanier and Buck Williams for No. 80 with 1,100 career swats.

James also knows how to play the passing lanes on the defensive end of the court, ranking No. 10 on the all-time steals list. He will vault two-time Defensive Player of the Year Hakeem Olajuwon for No. 9 with 27 more swipes and pass Clyde Drexler for eighth place with 72 steals.

Playoff prowess

After missing the playoffs for just the fourth time in his 19-year career, James would tell you that getting the Lakers back in the postseason is his top priority over any individual accolade.

James said this summer he felt so left out of the league's biggest stage that he found himself waking up at 3 a.m. while on vacation in the Maldives to tune in to games as they happened live.

"As much as I don't want to watch it, because it burns my stomach to not be a part of these games, because it's the best time to play basketball, like, the fan in me cannot [resist]," James said on an episode of his YouTube talk show, "The Shop: Uninterrupted." "I just love it."

It's no wonder why he loves the postseason. He ranks No. 1 in playoff history in points, field goals, free throws, steals and games played. Not to mention, he is the only player to rank in the postseason top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

While he'll have a hard time catching the two guys above him for all-time postseason 3-pointers -- he is third behind theGolden State Warriors'Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson-- there are a couple of categories in which he could gain some ground.

James is second in all-time playoff triple-doubles, needing three more to pass Johnson for the top spot.

And if he can accumulate 118 rebounds, he'll pass a pair of former Lakers big men in Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal to go from sixth to fourth in all-time postseason boards.

While James has piled up so many records at this point that many barely seem to register with the Lakers star, Abdul-Jabbar's scoring total is one that has his attention.

"I'm kind of in awe of it," James said Monday when asked about nearing Abdul-Jabbar's mark. "Like, 'Wow.' ... To sit here and to know that I'm on the verge of breaking probably the most sought after record in the NBA, something that people said would probably never be done, it's just super humbling for myself. I think it's super cool."

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