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Karl Malone should have finished his career #1 in points. Will anyone else get close to challenging Kareem? Kobe? LeBron? Or someone else?

Created by @AllThatAmar
Created by @AllThatAmar

While Karl Malone's career was winding down I was getting super busy in medical school. His last season with the Utah Jazz ended poorly, and then he went to play for the Los Angeles Lakers -- and that 2003-2004 NBA season is like a faint memory to me. I was so out of sorts I missed out on a lot. One thing that I remember vividly was the point that Karl Malone was still playing at a super high level -- and then he got injured. Karl Malone finished his last season in the NBA playing only 42 games -- missing 40; and he only scored 554 total points. He averaged 13.2 ppg. He hung it up that off-season and finished his career with 36,928 total regular season points. The leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, played one more season than Karl and has 38,387 total points.

The difference, what Karl needed to be #1, was 1,460 more points. For his career Karl Malone averaged 1943.6 points per season. Karl Malone would have beaten that mark if he played in 77 more games, and scored 19.0 ppg in them. Or he would have beaten that mark if he played in two more seasons, but only scored less than 10 ppg. Karl Malone would have beaten Kareem. Karl Malone SHOULD have finished his career at the #1 spot. But I guess playing for the Lakers made him hate basketball so much that he had to retire.

Malone was a beast. And he could have been #1. But he isn't. Are there any active players who have a shot? I get into it after the jump . . .

The List:

This is the list of the Top 7 All-Time Scorers in NBA/ABA history. It's a Top 7 because the list had to go down far enough to the highest active player: the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant. The other candidates some people talk about are LeBron James of the Miami Heat (because of his age when he started his career), and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder (because of his scoring ability). Here's the list.

Points Needed
Player Points Seasons Age Points/Seas to beat Kareem
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38387 20 41 1919.4 . --
2 Karl Malone 36928 19 40 1943.6 . 1460
3 Michael Jordan 32292 15 39 2152.8 . 6096
4 Wilt Chamberlain 31419 14 36 2244.2 . 6969
5 Julius Erving 30026 16 36 1876.6 . 8362
6 Moses Malone 29580 21 39 1408.6 .
Average -> 33105.33 17.5 38.5 1891.7
7 Kobe Bryant 29484 16 33 1842.8 8904
51 LeBron James 19045 9 27 2116.1 19343
xx Kevin Durant 9978 5 23 1995.6 28410

Damn, Karl was close. He only needed 9.5 ppg if he played in 154 more games (two season worth at only 77 games a year, that's taking 5 off out of 82). And he could have done it in one more year if he signed back with some lotto team . . . I dunno . . . like the Jazz or something.

Kobe is also really close. Let's look at Kobe, LeBron, and Kevin in more depth.


How many seasons and at what rate?

To beat Kareem you need 38,388 total points. At the very least, just one more point than him. I can't guess how many games these guys will play as they get older, but using the same baseline of 77 games a season it's going to take a while for all of them to get close.

Kobe Bryant LeBron James Kevin Durant
Kareem 38388 38388 38388
Have 29484 19045 9978
Need 8904 19343 28410
Played 16 9 5
Points/Seas 1842.8 2116.1 1995.6
Points/Seas P/77 Gms Age Points/Seas P/77 Gms Age Points/Seas P/77 Gms Age
1 seas 8904.0 115.6 34 19343.0 251.2 28 28410.0 369.0 24
2 seas 4452.0 57.8 35 9671.5 125.6 29 14205.0 184.5 25
3 seas 2968.0 38.5 36 6447.7 83.7 30 9470.0 123.0 26
4 seas 2226.0 28.9 37 4835.8 62.8 31 7102.5 92.2 27
5 seas




3868.6 50.2 32 5682.0 73.8 28
6 seas




3223.8 41.9 33 4735.0 61.5 29
7 seas




2763.3 35.9 34 4058.6 52.7 30
8 seas 2417.9 31.4 35 3551.3 46.1 31
9 seas 2149.2 27.9 36 3156.7 41.0 32
10 seas




2841.0 36.9 33
11 seas




2582.7 33.5 34
12 seas




2367.5 30.7 35
13 seas




2185.4 28.4 36
14 seas 2029.3 26.4 37
15 seas




16 seas




17 seas




18 seas
19 seas
20 seas

And that while looks like a very long while now.



The years where the require points per season are lower than his career average for points per season are going to be when he's 38, 39, or 40 years old. That's his "window" if you will. IN order to make it in 4 seasons it will be a stretch, he needs to average 28.9 ppg in 308 regular season games. Does he have it in him? Possibly, but will he do it? I don't think so. That's why I said his window is at 38 and above. When he's 38 that means he'll have played 5 more seasons, and at a much slower rate of needing only to average 23.1 ppg. It gets A LOT EASIER if he elects to aim for beating Kareem in 6 more years, where he only has to average 19.3 ppg over the next 462 regular season games.

The problem with Kobe is, inherently, the same problem with Malone. Will Kobe just get to a point where he doesn't care anymore? Malone left after a bad injury and added maturity caught up to where he was in the world. Is Kobe capable of such a similar epiphany? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It's not for me to guess. The more years Kobe plays the easier it gets for him to reach this goal. Clearly. It's like the Malone problem -- it's not a problem of WHEN, but a problem of IF. Kobe can be the All-Time leader in points only IF he wants to play long enough to do it. Is Kobe going to want to play more than 4 more years -- with the way HIS Lakers are playing right now . . . I can't help but think he's not happy with the makeup of this team. In 4-5 more years it's only going to be that much worse.



LeBron's problem isn't the same as Kobe's. Kobe scores enough, and while right now LeBron's average points / season is absurdly high, it's going to start coming down. Kobe is past his peak while LeBron is in his. Bereft of a post game, LeBron is going to find it harder to score moving forward as his physical abilities diminish. Sure, he HAS to get a post game at some point. He just doesn't have the one he needs right now. LeBron's window starts at age 37. But if LeBron going to play for another 10-11 years? How many headbands will he need to wear by then? Or just flat out wear a Turban? That's not LeBron's only problem . . . it's just that I don't believe his scoring is going to pick up, or stay at this rate when he's in his mid 30s. I can see Kobe's actual points / season going down gradually; however, I think there will be a larger free-fall in LeBron's points / season numbers after he hits middle age and starts to take more and more jumpers / go to the line less. If LeBron plays to age 39, he only needs to score 20.9 ppg for the rest of his career. That's 924 more regular season games at least. Is LeBron going to need to play that long, TWELVE MORE SEASONS? Nope.



Durant is the best three point shooter out of the bunch, and gets to the line a lot. He's crazy like that. He's also the youngest. He also has the most points needed to score to even be in the discussion. Right now Kevin's window opens up at age 38, but that's mainly because he didn't skip college like Kobe and LeBron did. Also, this is based upon projections from his career -- Kevin's on the upswing. He could and should still get better in the next 3 years. And as a result, his window should open up sooner as a product of more numbers coming in now, than when he was a rookie.

That said, he still needs to add 28,410 more career points. And right now based on his numbers, he doesn't get that scoring average requirement below 21.7 ppg. Remember, if Karl Malone was to play 2 seasons, his scoring average requirement went ALL THE WAY DOWN TO 9.5 ppg.

The lowest I can get for KD is 21.7, for Lebron it was 19.2, and Kobe it was 16.5 required ppg.



First error is that this is supposing that these guys play 77 games every season from here on out. They could play more, or they could play less. Who is to say that KD doesn't play 82 games every year forever? Who is to say that LeBron doesn't take the majority of a season off 'with injury', just resting up for the playoffs? Yes, this is based upon the projection of 77 games a year.

The second error is that the rates are fixed right now. But we can imagine Kobe's production to continue getting worse, LeBron's to face a steeper fall (as he's still in his peak, while Kobe has his old man game down), and KD's to rise (as he's is ONLY 23 YEARS OLD!).

The third error is clearly the point that in order to pass Kareem these guys need to be better scorers than the #2 guy: Karl Malone. And by all of his professional athlete children I have no doubt in my mind that none of these three dudes are as good at scoring as the Mailman was.


How was Karl Malone so close?

Well. the main thing was that he played in almost all of the possible games he could have. Kobe plays injured all the time, but even then Karl blows him away in terms of % played. (Not getting into it) The other thing is that Karl was always the man on his team. Kobe had to play with Shaq for a long time. LeBron has elected to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And Kevin Durant plays with Russell Westbrook and (for now) James Harden. Third, teams scored more in the Mailman's day.

Also, that scoring thing again. Malone was a complete scorer. He got to the line all day, improved every year, and transformed his game beyond just being a physical freak. Kobe is the closest out of those three active players. And I think he's the only one who is really aiming for that goal.

Karl Malone was aiming for it too -- but like we all say -- he just recognized that the chase for this goal was more important than actually reaching it. And we all know he could have reached it. Malone was only 1,460 points from being #1. And he stopped his quest. Few people were as insecure as Karl Malone and that drove him. Right now it's all about the drive of these younger players -- will they still feel the need to be competing at this level as their ages tick closer to 40?

Time will tell. And time will tell if anyone will ever catch up to Kareem. Not even Karl Malone did. And no player has taken care of their body like he has. Kobe? LeBron? Kevin? You have 5 seasons to work on it. And if I'm still blogging in 5 years, I'll do a follow up.