LeBron Passes Kobe For Third On All-Time Scoring List

01/25/2020 at 11:01pm

By Brian Martin

With a driving layup with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter of the Lakers' 108-91 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, LeBron James scored the 33,644 point of his NBA career, passing Kobe Bryant for third place on the all-time scoring list.

"But I'm not a scorer."

LeBron has long avoided having the label of "scorer" attached to his name. On May 25, 2017, LeBron passed Michael Jordan as the all-time leading playoff scorer in league history. At shootaround prior to that game, he reiterated his desire to be known as a playmaker rather than a scorer.

"I'm not a scorer. I don't want to be labeled as a scorer. I can put the ball in the hoop, but I'm a playmaker," he said. "I'm a player. Put me on the court and I'll find ways to be successful. When you talk about scorers, you have a lot of great scorers in our league of all time, guys that shot a lot of shots, volume shooters that score the ball at a high clip. I'm not one of those guys. I'm a guy that always got happy and excited in seeing my team successful."

Some players see themselves as a walking bucket, as soon as they step foot on the court, they are looking to get their points. That is not LeBron, even though only two players in the history of the NBA have scored more points than he has.

"But I'm not a scorer."

LeBron has always been a player that looks to make the right play at the right time. If he is double or triple-teamed and a teammate is wide open, he'll make the pass and live with the result. He has been criticized for this tactic, particularly early in his career, but he has a great knack of knowing when to call his own number and when to make a play for someone else.

This season is a testament to the balance of LeBron's game. He leads the NBA with a career-best 10.8 assists per game, but is still averaging 25.2 points (12th in the NBA). Could he score more points every night? Sure. But with the addition of Anthony Davis to the Lakers, LeBron can share the scoring load and instead look to create better shots for Davis, himself and every other member of the Lakers.

The number 25 is key to LeBron's scoring prowess. After averaging 20.9 points as a rookie, LeBron has averaged at least 25 points in 16 consecutive seasons - it is a run of consistency that is unmatched in NBA history.

Top 10 Scorers: Most Consecutive 25+ PPG Seasons

  • LeBron James: 16 (including 2019-20)
  • Michael Jordan: 11
  • Karl Malone: 11
  • Shaquille O'Neal: 10
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 9
  • Kobe Bryant: 9
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 9
  • Elvin Hayes: 4
  • Moses Malone: 3
  • Dirk Nowitzki: 2

LeBron does not have the scoring peaks that other elite scorers have on their resumes. LeBron averaged a career-best 31.4 points per game in 2005-06 (his third season) and won his only scoring title in 2007-08 (30.0 PPG). Those are his only two seasons averaging 30 or more points. In contrast, Jordan won 10 scoring titles, had seven straight seasons scoring 30 or more points per game, including a career best 37.1 PPG during the 1986-87 season; Kobe averaged 35.4 in 2005-06; Wilt set the all-time mark of 50.2 in 1961-62; James Harden averaged 36.1 last season and is matching that mark this year. But LeBron does not have any valleys in his scoring. Don't just pencil him down for 25 a night, go ahead and put it in permanent ink.

"But I'm not a scorer."

In addition to sitting third on the NBA's all-time scoring list, LeBron also ranks eighth all-time in assists, having passed Isiah Thomas earlier this season. LeBron is the only player to rank in the top 10 in both career points and career assists. By comparison, here is where the other top five all-time scorers rank in assists: Kobe is 31st, Kareem is 43rd, Jordan is 45th and Malone is 57th.

LeBron has a sizable lead in assists per game this season - he sits at 10.8, which is 1.8 assists higher than second-ranked Ricky Rubio - as he chases the first assist title of his career. While LeBron's playmaking has been key to the Lakers' 36-10 record, he just can't avoid passing some legendary scorers as he puts up his customary 25 points a night.

LeBron leads the NBA in points created by assists at 27.1 per game. It is the first time since player tracking debuted in 2013-14 that LeBron has created more points with his assists (27.1) than he has scored himself (25.2). LeBron is responsible for 52.3 of the Lakers's 114.0 points per game this season (45.9%).

Season PTS/Game PTS By AST/Game Total PTS Created
2013-14 27.1 15.8 42.9
2014-15 25.3 19.1 44.4
2015-16 25.3 17.8 43.1
2016-17 26.4 23.5 49.9
2017-18 27.5 23.1 50.6
2018-19 27.4 20.1 47.5
2019-20 25.2 27.1 52.3

The fact that he is posting his highest marks in points creation in his 17th season is simply unprecedented. LeBron has defied the normal trajectory of an NBA career; even the all-time greats have fallen victim to father time. But LeBron continues to keep any signs of decline at bay as his scoring stays steady and his assists continue to rise. This will likely be the first time in his career that LeBron does not lead his team in scoring as Anthony Davis leads the Lakers at 26.3 points per game (9th in NBA). But while that streak may end, his incredible streak of scoring consistency is still alive and has put him in rarified air.

Prior to Saturday's game, LeBron was asked what this latest scoring milestone would mean to him.

"Anytime I am linked with the greats or I am able to do something in my career where I'm mentioned with the greats is a pretty cool thing," he said. "But as far as looking at the scoring, I don't know. That doesn't mean much to me."

The natural follow up question was what does mean much to him?

"Just the overall point of my game is what means more to me," he said. "Being an all-around player, being able to be successful on the floor and being able to contribute to the franchises that I played for, the three franchises I played for so far in my career."

As LeBron looks to win a championship with a third franchise, he may be called upon to score or he may be called upon to create for his teammates. As he's proven throughout his career, he can do both better than just about anyone in league history.