HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Last week, Kobe Bryant became the fifth player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points.
In his 17th season, Bryant, 34, is as durable as ever and is leading the league in scoring at 28.6 points a game. It’s quite possible that he’ll pass No. 4 all-time scorer and fellow Los Angeles Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) before the end of this season and then next season bear down on No. 3 on the list, Michael Jordan (32,292).
It will take three more seasons of Bryant matching his career scoring average of about 25 points a game to catch the No. 2 man, Karl Malone (36,928), and into a fourth season to overtake the game’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).
As for players that can threaten 30k, LeBron James and Kevin Durant head a short list. (Dirk Nowitzki probably has the best chance among active players with more than 20k: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan).
LeBron became the youngest player to reach 10,000 points (23 years, 59 days) and is on pace to hit 20k by mid-January, just a few weeks after he turns 28 (his birthday is Dec. 30). Durant became the second-youngest to reach 10k last season (24 years, 34 days).
“Yes, obviously, knock on wood, if he stays healthy he definitely will be in that category as one of the best players ever,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of his reigning three-time scoring champ. “He works hard, he has the skill set, he has the talent, he has a great attitude, he’s coachable.”
OK, so how about 40k?
First off, think of the era and had Kareem not stayed all four years at UCLA. What if he had just played one season like Durant? Or what if the 7-foot, 3/4-inch, 18-year-old named Lew Alcindor had come straight out of New York City’s Power Memorial and skipped college altogether like Kobe and LeBron?
Kareem had just turned 42 when he retired after 20 seasons. He would have turned 38 at the end of his 20th season had he skipped college and, in that case, he might have kept going considering that the Lakers were still title contenders.
Kobe’s pursuit of 40k could ultimately come down to his desire to keep going. If he finishes this season with 2,000 points (he’s on pace for more, but 2,000 is about his average over the last four seasons) he’ll have 31,484 points.
That means he would need to score about 1,750 points (an average of 21.3 points over 82 games) in each of the next five seasons to surpass 40k.
(It’s a point total he has eclipsed in 11 of his previous 16 seasons, including last year’s 66-game lockout-adjusted schedule if extrapolated over 82 games. He could also get there with about 2,150 points in each of the next four seasons, but that’s probably too tall an order, even for Kobe.)
Kobe would turn 39 prior to that fifth season, which would be his 22nd, or the same age as Jason Kidd is this season, his 19th, or how old new teammate Steve Nash will turn in February of this, his 17th season.
“This being 17 years for me, it’s pretty crazy to me. Sometimes I just don’t know what the hell I’m doing here,” Kobe said, grinning before last Friday’s game against Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. “To be competing and still be at a high level, again, that’s fun.”
On that night, Durant scored 36; Kobe had 35.
If Kobe decides to call it a career after two more seasons as he hinted he might during a training camp interview with CBSSports.com, then the chase will shift to LeBron and KD.
LeBron will cross 20k midway through this season and he could get to 30k around his 33rd birthday during the 2017-18 season. At his career pace, he could reach 40k during his 20th season when he turns 38.
Durant, in just his sixth season, might even be a stronger contender for 40k. He’s not as physical a player as LeBron and he’s a better perimeter shooter. Durant, averaging 26.3 points for his career and 27.0 so far this season, continues to improve each season from 3-point range. As he settles into his mid-to-upper 30s, he might find it easier than LeBron (whose 3-ball is also becoming more accurate) to keep his scoring average up in the mid-to-upper 20s.
“He has the body, he has the mind, he has the toughness, he has the ability,” Brooks said of Durant, “to be a 28- to 30-point scorer for a lot of years.”
Maybe no one will last long enough to reach 40k. Three players are in position, and the chase should be thrilling to watch.