A handful of milestones are within reach this NBA season, and LeBron James could claim a few of the biggest.
For one thing, LeBron could reach career milestones of 33,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 9,000 assists, 2,000 steals and 1,000 blocks, creating a club all his own. But those are arbitrary numbers. He has much bigger records to chase in his 17th season.
With another 1,082 points, LeBron will pass Kobe Bryant’s 33,643 career points to move into third on the all-time scoring list, which could make things awkward for Los Angeles Lakers fans who have spent their energy negging one to praise the other. LeBron has scored at least 1,500 points in every year of his career, including his injury-shortened 2018-19 campaign, and a 17th such season would leave only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his path to the top. LeBron could theoretically catch Malone in 2020-21, but the following season is more likely. Abdul-Jabbar’s record (38,387) is realistically four seasons away.
LeBron can also move up several spots in a number of other statistical categories. He is currently 391 career assists shy of eighth all time, 45 steals shy of 13th, 102 3-pointers shy of 14th, 194 rebounds shy of the top 50 and 43 blocks shy of the top 100. An average season would give him all those marks. He then would have more assists than Isiah Thomas, more steals than Allen Iverson, more threes than Klay Thompson, more rebounds than Larry Bird and more blocks than Scottie Pippen. And, yes, LeBron would rank ahead of Kobe in every single one of those statistical categories. (Here is where you say, “But rings.”)
On the advanced statistical side, LeBron needs 8.1 win shares to surpass Malone and move into third place all time behind Wilt Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar. He has long since passed Michael Jordan and recorded double-digit win shares for 14 straight seasons before falling well short of that mark each of the past two years. (“But rings, but rings,” you say, and now I hear you.)
Vince Carter’s longevity stands alone
Vince Carter will set an NBA record by playing a second for the Atlanta Hawks in this, his 22nd season. Entering their opener, Carter is tied at 21 seasons with Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis. Nobody has played 22 seasons.
In all likelihood, Carter will climb at least one spot on the all-time games played list. He needs 23 more to catch John Stockton for fourth on the ledger, 41 to catch Dirk Nowitzki for third and 79 to catch Kareem for second. Carter has said he plans to retire after this season, but if he were to change his mind, he might have a shot at Robert Parish’s record of 1,611 games played.
Carter became the 20th player in NBA history to eclipse 25,000 career points last season. He has averaged 448 per season for the last five years. If he hits that mark again this season, Carter would surpass Carmelo Anthony and Alex English, moving into 18th on the all-time scoring list (assuming Melo does not play). Every eligible player ahead of them on that list is a Hall of Famer.
Stephen Curry chases 3-point history
Stephen Curry, the greatest shooter to ever live, needs only 74 3-pointers this season to eclipse Reggie Miller for second on the career list. Lest we forget Curry made a single-season record 402 triples the last time he played a season without Kevin Durant as his teammate. Curry would need 490 this season to catch Ray Allen’s all-time record of 2,973 threes, which seems like a stretch. If anyone could do it, though, it would be Curry in a year when he does not have to share attempts with Thompson.
In an interesting twist, Curry only trails his brother Seth for best 3-point percentage among active players. Steph has made 43.6 percent of his 5,690 career attempts, while Seth has made 43.9 percent of his 686 career attempts. Both players rank top five historically for career 3-point percentage, several ticks behind Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr (45.4 percent).
Dueling MVPs climb the ladder in Houston
Russell Westbrook will pass Magic Johnson with his first triple-double in a Houston Rockets uniform. Westbrook registered 138 triple-doubles with the Oklahoma City Thunder, tied with Johnson for second all time. They both trail Oscar Robertson’s career record of 181. Westbrook would have to best his own single-season record of 42 triple-doubles to catch Robertson this season.
Meanwhile, Harden could climb as high as fifth on the career 3-pointers list. His 2,025 career threes currently rank him ninth, but a fourth straight season with at least 260 triples would bump Paul Pierce, Jamal Crawford, Carter and Jason Terry down a spot. Harden is also chasing another elite club. He has a chance to become only the third player in the last 40 years to win three straight scoring titles. Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant are the others. (Jordan did it twice, including a string of seven straight scoring titles from 1986-93.) Westbrook’s arrival in Houston certainly makes this feat all the more difficult for Harden.
Both Westbrook and Harden are chasing the 20,000-point club this season. Westbrook needs 1,141 points to get there, and Harden needs 1,373. So long as they stay healthy this season, they should easily become the club’s 45th and 46th members.
The many levels of extraordinary scoring
LaMarcus Aldridge also has a chance to join the 20,000-point club this season. He has 18,598 entering Year 14 of his career, and he has scored more than 1,500 in each of his past two All-Star campaigns with the San Antonio Spurs. Jamal Crawford (19,414) is the only other player who could join the club this season, but he was still campaigning for a job on opening night.
Aldridge’s Spurs teammate, DeMar DeRozan, will almost certainly reach 15,000 career points this season. He only needs 69 points to get there. Lou Williams (13,326), Blake Griffin (13,200) and Damian Lillard (12,909) also have a chance to hit that mark.
A host of players could eclipse 10,000 career points this season, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo. The only question is when the reigning MVP reaches the milestone. He turns 25 years old on Dec. 6 and needs 1,255 more points to get to 10,000. He scored 1,994 last season. If he can hit 10,000 before the Milwaukee Bucks host the Boston Celtics on March 12, he will become the fifth-youngest player to get there, behind only James, Durant, Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady — all of whom scored their 10,000th point before their 25th birthday. If it takes Giannis any longer, he will fall behind Dwight Howard, too.
Other marks that can be met this season:
• Gregg Popovich will become the longest-tenured coach in NBA history on Wednesday, when he takes the San Antonio Spurs bench for a 24th season. He enters the season opener tied with Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan at 23 seasons. The Spurs also have a chance to set the record for consecutive playoff appearances. They are currently tied with the Philadelphia 76ers, who made 22 straight playoff bids from 1949-71. The Spurs have made the playoffs every year since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997.
• Chris Paul needs 707 assists to pass Oscar Robertson’s 9,887 for sixth on the all-time list. He did not register that many in any of his last three injury-plagued seasons. He has gotten there in five of the seven seasons in which he has played at least 70 games. Only John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic have recorded 10,000 career assists. Paul only needs 40 steals to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth on that all-time list, and he could climb as high as seventh this season.
• Rajon Rondo needs 185 assists to jump into the top 15 for his career.
• Westbrook needs just 20 assists to move into the top 20. With 495 assists this season, he could climb as high as 13th on the list (currently Maurice Cheeks at 7,392). He has collected as many as 500 assists in all but three of his 11 seasons to date.
• Dwight Howard needs 558 rebounds to catch Olajuwon for 13th on the all-time list. Howard also needs 34 blocks to bump Manute Bol from the top 15. Howard has hit both of those marks in every healthy season of his career.
• J.J. Redick needs 11 more 3-pointers to climb into the top 20 all time.
• Pau Gasol has an outside chance of moving into the top 35 in scoring and top 20 in blocks in his 19th season, but he would need to carve out a much bigger role than the mentoring position he is expected to hold from the Portland Trail Blazers bench.
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