Last night the Los Angeles Lakers won in overtime against the San Antonio Spurs. It was an exciting game where Kobe Bryant found himself in position to overtake Michael Jordan for 3rd on the All-Time Scoring rankings. Bryant would finish with 22 points (off of 22 shots) and is now 8 points behind his idol. It is very likely that Bryant will score the 9+ points necessary to claim the third spot tomorrow, a road game against rookie Andrew Wiggins and his Minnesota Timberwolves.
It's inevitable that he will pass Jordan. But that's really where it ends. Bryant, only 36, is in his 19th year in the NBA. It is rare for a player to surpass 20, and Kobe's contract terminates next season, a contract that will pay him $25 million. Age is catching up to the future Hall of Famer, and as he vows to play for the Lakers his entire career it does not appear as though he will be in the championship hunt anymore. The only thing to look forwards to are individual goals and records. Scoring is the most obvious one.
Is #3 good enough for Kobe, or can he keep climbing to get to the Utah Jazz' Karl Malone or the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? The numbers say he can . . . just the numbers from the last 10 years of his career.
Finding an acceptable rate for scoring performance:
Let's look at what Kobe has done over the last decade.
So over the last 10 seasons (including this one so far) he has played in 86% of the Lakers games, and averaged 28.47 ppg. If you look at just the last 5 seasons it's only 73% of the games, and scoring just 26.29 ppg. ("Just") From this we can get a high value and low value for how many games he plays during a season, how many points he scores per game, and how many points he scores per season.
For fun, let's also add an extrapolation of what he's doing just this season alone.
So in reality it's between 1500-2000 points per season for Bean, with better health (a huge x factor here) he scores more. But in recent seasons his scoring isn't, well, what it used to be. He's still good, but this seasons' 1.14 PPS is a LOT worse than the Five year numbers of 1.26, or the decade numbers of 1.30.
Plugging in the data:
So we have rates for Kobe's scoring. And we know that he's 36 in his 19th season in the league. Let's play around with how many points he can score *if* these rates hold up and he plays for longer and longer.
So Kobe will pass Michael Jordan this season. Conservative (the 5 year data) estimates put him three seasons away from Karl Malone, and four from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The non-conservative estimates put it a year / season closer. It's possible for guards today to play to 38-39 years old, but will Kobe want to play over 20+ seasons?
I guess if he is motivated enough it's possible. But motivations can quickly change. Karl Malone was 1.5 seasons away from passing Kareem until a late career injury derailed things. Hopefully Kobe's body holds up to allow him to make a decision on how many seasons he wants to play, and it's not a decision that his body makes for him.
But really, Kobe has to grind out THIS season, and then all of NEXT season before getting close enough to sniff Karl by the high rate from the 10 year estimates. If Kobe is slowing down (and there is plenty of evidence to support that idea) then he will have to play ANOTHER season more before sniffing Karl's points record. And then have to play another season after that to pass Karl. And then another season after that to pass Kareem.
Kobe's ultimate legacy will be of a great player and scorer who has won a number of team and individual awards. Rings, to All-Star MVPs, to being the all-time leader in shots missed . . . he's done it all. But he is not likely to finish #1 or #2 in points.