Who could pass LeBron James someday as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer?
James passed Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who held the record for nearly 40 years, and now has 38,390 after Tuesday’s loss to Oklahoma City. James is going to keep adding points, putting himself in position to blow by 40,000 points.
Will that be an unbreakable record – like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game or Chamberlain’s 50.4 points per game in 1961-62 or even Scott Skiles’ single-game assists record of 30?
James benefitted from not spending at least one season in college whereas every player since the 2006 draft has needed to be one year removed from his high school graduating class to become draft eligible. That’s a season’s worth of points that James accumulated while players such as Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic had to wait.
Let’s take a look at who could make a run at the all-time scoring record:
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Kevin Durant, 26,684 career points
Durant’s chances to become the all-time scoring leader have been thwarted by injuries. He played just 27 games in 2014-15, missed 2019-20 with an Achilles injury and played just 35 games the following season. Durant entered the league four years after James and trails him by nearly 12,000 points. At 34 years old and with just a handful of seasons left, it will be difficult for Durant to hit 40,000 points (which is where James will end up). Had he not missed all that time to injuries, he would likely be over 30,000 points with a better chance at passing James. Still, Durant – if healthy – will move into the top 10 in scoring next season and possibly pass Michael Jordan for a spot in the top five by the time his career is over.
James Harden, 24,233 points
Harden has scored at least 20 points per game for 11 consecutive seasons, including an MVP-caliber stretch in which he averaged 30.4, 36.1 and 34.3 points in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20. At 33, even if he were to score 2,000 points a season for the next seven seasons (highly unlikely given his scoring trajectory is on the downswing), he’d still be short of James. Harden is also hurt by low scoring totals his first two seasons.
Steph Curry, 21,183 points
No one can question Curry’s skill as a scorer. But the occasional injury has hurt his chances to make a run at the all-time scoring record. He played in just 23 games in 2011-12 and five in 2019-20. At just over 21,000 points now, he will need another 19,000 to reach 40,000 – another unlikely scenario given Curry’s age (34). Don’t forget he was a three-year college player whereas James didn’t attend college and Durant spent just one season at Texas. Small guards (6-2 and under) are not represented in the top 25 in all-time scoring and cracking that would be a major accomplishment.
Luka Doncic, 8,531 points
Doncic is the most compelling case study. He entered the league as a scorer, posting 21.2 points per game in 2019-20 and hovered around 28 points per game for the next three seasons and is at 34 points per game this season. With 8,531 career points before the halfway mark of his fifth season, Doncic is on a great pace to become one of the game’s all-time leading scorers. But the all-time leading scorer? That’s more difficult. If Doncic played 70 games and averaged 28.1 points a season, he wouldn’t reach 40,000 points until his 20th season – in 2037-38. Plus, can Doncic manage his heavy workload for that long without impacting his scoring or health?
James was not born yet when Abdul-Jabbar passed Chamberlain as the league’s all-time leading scorer in 1984. Abdul-Jabbar played another five seasons, padding his lead. Since then, five other players soared by Chamberlain. It’s quite possible and even likely that the person who breaks James’ scoring record – and don’t forget James probably will bust through 40,000 – isn’t in the league right now and might not even be alive. One thing is for certain. For a player to make a run at James’ record, he will benefit from the league eventually ending the one-and-done rule so that players can enter the league at 18 years old without spending a year in college – and start off averaging at least 20 points and have a career average of 27 points for 20 seasons. In other words, another once-in-a-generation player.
Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt