Data | LeBron James — the epitome of excellence, versatility, durability

The basketball maestro is in a league of his own as a prolific scorer, astute passer and diligent rebounder.

February 18, 2023 06:44 pm | Updated February 20, 2023 01:31 pm IST

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously hands LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers the ball after James passed Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously hands LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers the ball after James passed Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer | Photo Credit: RONALD MARTINEZ/AFP

LeBron James, among the most prolific sportspersons in the world, created history yet again on Wednesday. After scoring 38 points in a game against Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers hoopster became the leading scorer in the NBA regular season and took his overall tally to 38,390 points, three more than the longstanding record of the former Lakers great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Table 1 shows the top 10 scorers in the NBA.

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Abdul-Jabbar’s record held for nearly 34 years. He last played a regular season game in April 1989, finishing a 20-year-old career at the age of 42. LeBron, who was drafted as an 18-year-old by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, managed to beat Abdul-Jabbar’s record in his 20th season too. At 38, LeBron shows no signs of decline. He can be expected to play for more seasons and take his scoring tally to more than 40,000 points.

Abdul-Jabbar’s tally remained a tough mark to reach because there were few players in the NBA who could match his relentless scoring output and durability. The 7’2’’ centre was renowned for his unblockable ‘sky hook’ — the towering shot he took from the posts and other regions within the three-point arc. Indeed, nearly all the points scored by Abdul-Jabbar were either a result of two-point shots or of free throws, with only one three-pointer made in 18 attempts (the NBA began the three-point line in the 1979-80 season). It took 15,837 field goals made out of a whopping 28,307 field goal attempts for him to reach his tally.

In contrast, LeBron managed to reach this mark by becoming a proficient three-point shooter both in volume and in efficiency mid-career. That allowed him to do so with fewer field goals (14,053) and fewer attempts (27,829), including 2,237 three-pointers made in 6,494 attempts.

No other active player in the NBA has a tally that is within 10,000 points of LeBron’s 38,390 (Table 2). The semi-retired Carmelo Anthony has 28,289. Only the sharpshooter forward, Kevin Durant, of Brooklyn Nets, with 26,684 points, seems to have a theoretical chance of catching up with LeBron’s current mark considering his ability to score consistently.

What is remarkable about LeBron’s achievement is that he is not merely a scorer in the true sense. An astute passer, the 6’ 8’’ forward revolutionised the idea of the ‘point forward’ in the league. He has brought court vision and playmaking not seen since the days of Abdul-Jabbar’s superstar teammate Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. With a preternatural ability to bulldoze his way to the rim and score at ease, LeBron has been an offensive machine in the league, winning games by scoring the ball and passing it to the open man when required, besides helping with rebounding and leading fast breaks.

Chart 3 shows players with more than 5,000 points and 2,000 assists in the game (the size of the circles is also ordered on rebounds per game). By averaging 27.23 points, 7.34 assists, and 7.5 rebounds, LeBron is in a league of his own. No other player has come close to scoring 30,000 points and retaining this statistical profile except Michael Jordan (30.1 points, 5.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game). Chart 3 also shows one contemporary player, Luka Doncic, the Slovenian point forward of the Dallas Mavericks, whose statistical profile into year five of his short career so far, is in LeBron-like territory with 27.4 points, 8 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game (8,531 points and 2,483 assists overall). Only time will tell whether he will match the endurance and physical durability of LeBron who has averaged nearly 71 games per season in 20 years to make his mark as one of the greatest ever.


Also read: Data | How good is Stephen Curry, the shooter?

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