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Chasing Kareem

With Kobe soon to pass MJ into No. 3 on all-time scoring list, what will take to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for No. 1?

POSTED: Dec 12, 2014 10:48 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offers his thoughts on Kobe's march up the NBA's all-time scoring list.

Kareem offers his thoughts on Kobe's march up the all-time scoring list.

Kobe Bryant is set to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list this weekend. Just 30 points behind Jordan after Tuesday's win over the Kings, Bryant will move into third place on Friday in San Antonio or on Sunday in Indiana.

Tuesday was just the sixth time in 22 games that Bryant has topped the 30-point mark this season. That would seemingly make it more likely that Bryant doesn't pass Jordan on Friday. But with No. 23 in his sights, we might see a more aggressive No. 24.

Either way, he'll be No. 3 by Monday. And then the question is if he can keep moving up the list and, eventually, stand on top of it?

Most Points, NBA History
Player Seasons G PTS PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 20 1,560 38,387 24.6
Karl Malone 19 1,476 36,928 25.0
Michael Jordan 15 1,072 32,292 30.1
Kobe Bryant 19 1,267 32,262 25.5
Wilt Chamberlain 14 1,045 31,419 30.1
Shaquille O'Neal 19 1,207 28,596 23.7
Moses Malone 19 1,329 27,409 20.6
Elvin Hayes 16 1,303 27,313 21.0
Dirk Nowitzki 17 1,210 27,200 22.5
Hakeem Olajuwon 18 1,238 26,946 21.8
Through Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014

So break out your calculators and let's get to work with what it would take for Kobe based on a few different scenarios:

Perfect health, career scoring pace

Bryant has averaged 25.5 points per game in his career (and this season). At that pace, he would need 1,451 total games to pass Karl Malone for second place all-time and 1,508 games to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

So, from Friday, that's 184 games to reach No. 2. And even if he were to play every game between now and then, he wouldn't catch Malone until the middle of the 2016-17 season, when he's 38 years old.

It would be another 57 games to catch Abdul-Jabbar, taking Bryant into the 2017-18 season. He'd get there before he turned 40, though.

No. 2 (Kobe passes Malone): 2016-17, Game 42 (Jan. '17)

No. 1: (Kobe passes Kareem): 2017-18, Game 17 (Nov. '17)

Not-so perfect health

Even the biggest Kobe fans can't bank on him playing every game. Bryant has missed an average of 10 games per season over the course of his career. That mark is skewed by the 76 he missed last season, but at 36 years old, 10 games is a fairly safe guess. He's already talked about being tired this season, and we havne't reached Christmas yet.

Assuming Bryant plays 72 games per season (including this one), it would take him a couple of extra months to catch Malone and Jabbar.

No. 2 (Kobe passes Malone): 2016-17, Game 71 (March '17)

No. 1: (Kobe passes Kareem): 2017-18, Game 53 (Feb. '18)

Scoring up?

Bryant's career scoring average includes his rookie year, when he averaged less than eight points per game, and two more seasons when he averaged less than 20. He's actually averaged 26.3 points per game over his last five seasons.

If he can somehow keep that up, he could catch Abdul-Jabbar at the very end of the 2016-17 season, even if he misses 10 games per year. This here is the most optimistic projection.

No. 2 (Kobe passes Malone): 2016-17, Game 17 (Nov. '16)

No. 1: (Kobe passes Kareem): 2016-17, Game 81 (April '17)

Efficiency down?

Bryant's *true shooting percentage is at a career-low 49.1 percent this year, a mark which ranks 127th among 150 players who have attempted at least 150 shots. And if we're wondering about how many more points he can score, we have to ask if the decrease in efficiency is about his age or the quality of his teammates. Would it be different if the Lakers were any good?

• *True shooting percentage = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

In their 6 1/2 seasons together, Bryant actually shot slightly better when Pau Gasol was off the floor than when Gasol was on it. Furthermore, the last time which he shot as often as he's been shooting this season (22.7 field goal attempts per 36 minutes) was 2005-06. And he was a much better shooter then (at the age of 27) than he's been this year. So having great teammates out there with him to share the load doesn't necessarily make him more efficient, and the the drop-off could certainly be age-related.

Over the last five seasons, Bryant has taken less than 20 percent of his shots from the restricted area, down from 25-plus percent over his first 14 seasons. He has managed to still get to the free throw line at a solid rate, but you can only be so efficient when 60 percent of your shots are 2-pointers from more than five feet out. Even the best shooters in the league make less than half of those shots.

Overall, Bryant is the least efficient of the top-four guys on the all-time scoring list.

NBA's All-Time Top-Four Scorers as of 12/12/14
Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% eFG% TS%
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 15,837 28,307 55.9% 1 18 5.6% 6,712 9,304 72.1% 55.9% 59.2%
Karl Malone 13,528 26,210 51.6% 85 310 27.4% 9,787 13,188 74.2% 51.8% 57.7%
Michael Jordan 12,192 24,537 49.7% 581 1,778 32.7% 7,327 8,772 83.5% 50.9% 56.9%
Kobe Bryant 11,247 24,866 45.2% 1,672 5,011 33.4% 8,096 9,671 83.7% 48.6% 55.4%
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

But though his efficiency has taken a dip this season, Bryant's scoring average hasn't dropped much. Volume can trump efficiency if you're just looking at the accumulation of points.

Still, the most optimistic projection doesn't have Bryant passing Malone until the 2016-17 season, after his current contract expires. And according to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, Bryant probably won't sign another deal.

"Other than what he's indicated to me and everybody else," Kupchak told the L.A. Daily News, "he's not looking beyond this year or next year."

Bryant himself said he that he doesn't have his eyes on Abdul-Jabbar's record.

"I don't even know how many points he has," he told Yahoo earlier this month. "I don't even care."

Whether or not you believe that, Malone and Abdul-Jabbar can feel pretty comfortable where they are.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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