Will Lebron Reach Kareem?

Back in November of 2015, Lebron James became the youngest player in the NBA to reach 25,000.  He already passed the milestone of being the youngest to reach 20,000 back in 2013, so it made me wonder when 30,000 would pass, when 35,000 would pass, if 38,287 would ever pass.

I used two methods to determine this.  First method is if he models other great basketball players in games played per season (or games started percentage; GS%) and their points per game (PPG).  Second method is to use Lebron’s historical averages and project those into the future seasons he will play.

Let’s start with some of the other greats at the top of the scoring list.

Player Number of Years
Wilt Chamberlain 15
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 20
Karl Malone 19
Kobe Bryant 20
Michael Jordan 15
Shaquille O’Neal 21
Oscar Robertson 14
Reggie Miller 18
Charles Barkley 16

There are three players on the list that meet or go over the 20 year career mark, and three that stopped at 15 or fewer (Wilt, MJ, and Reggie Miller). Assuming that Lebron follows the average number of years of the other NBA greats, he’ll only have 4.5 more years to complete a 17 year career. Second, I wanted to know how to project the PPG for the rest of those years. If we do the same for the NBA greats above, but for PPG, we get the following:

Age Wilt Kareem Karl Kobe MJ Shaq Oscar Reggie Charles Avg to Apply
31 24.3 23.8 26.7 27.0 26.9 21.5 25.3 21.6 23.0 24.4
32 20.5 24.8 25.7 25.3 30.4 22.9 19.4 19.5 23.2 23.5
33 27.3 26.2 27.4 27.9 29.6 20.0 17.4 18.4 19.2 23.7
34 20.7 23.9 27.0 27.3 28.7 17.3 15.5 18.1 15.2 21.5
35 14.8 21.8 23.8 13.8   13.6 12.7 18.9 16.1 16.9
36 13.2 21.5 25.5 22.3   17.8   16.5 14.5 18.8
37   22.0 23.2 17.2   12.0   12.6   17.4
38   23.4 22.4   22.9 9.2   10.0   17.6
39   17.5 20.6   20.0     14.8   18.2
40   14.6 13.2             13.9
41   10.1               10.1

To interpret the table above, we’re estimating that if Lebron were to follow the other NBA greats, he will average 24.4 pts per game the rest of this season, 23.5 next season, 23.7 after that and so on. If we apply this to his stats and project this 5 years out in the future, here’s where Lebron will finish.

Using the table below, we’re estimating that if Lebron stops after season 17, he’ll be just below Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list at 32,382. If he plays into season 18, we’re estimating (based on this model) that he’d get another 1,200 points ending just above Jordan (and most likely Kobe) at 33,582. This would actually be well short of the title of 38,287. If you notice, he’ll only pass Kareem if Lebron plays 23 seasons until he’s 41 (the same age Kareem stopped playing).

Season Age G PPG PTS cPTS
1 19 79 20.94 1,654 1,654
2 20 80 27.19 2,175 3,829
3 21 79 31.37 2,478 6,307
4 22 78 27.33 2,132 8,439
5 23 75 30.00 2,250 10,689
6 24 81 28.44 2,304 12,993
7 25 76 29.71 2,258 15,251
8 26 79 26.72 2,111 17,362
9 27 62 27.15 1,683 19,045
10 28 76 26.79 2,036 21,081
11 29 77 27.13 2,089 23,170
12 30 69 25.26 1,743 24,913
13 31 69 24.4 1,686 26,599
14 32 78 23.5 1,834 28,433
15 33 61 23.7 1,446 29,879
16 34 73 21.5 1,572 31,451
17 35 55 16.9 931 32,382
18 36 64 18.8 1,200 33,582
19 37 62 17.4 1,078 34,660
20 38 67 17.6 1,177 35,837
21 39 76 18.2 1,384 37,221
22 40 61 13.9 846 38,067
23 41 74 10.1 748 38,815

The above model is great if Lebron followed the same predictive model of games played and points per game as the all time greats. I’ll be updating this post below with the next model I’m working on (which will take into effect Lebron’s durability and historical PPG).