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LeBron passes Wilt for 3rd all time in field goals made

The four-time Kia MVP hits layup in first quarter to surpass Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.

Brian Martin, for NBA.com

LeBron James moved to No. 3 on the all-time FGM list with this bucket in the first quarter.

LeBron James entered Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets needing just three baskets to pass Wilt Chamberlain (12,681) for third place on the NBA’s all-time field goals made list. It didn’t take James long to make history, hitting three field goals in the first quarter.

He officially passed Chamberlain on a driving layup in the first quarter en route to a 27-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist night in the Lakers’ 114-93 win. Not only did he pass Chamberlain but he also recorded his 96th career triple-double.

Below is a look at where LeBron stood in field goals made entering the game vs. Denver.

All-Time Field Goals Made – Entering Thursday, Feb. 4
RANK PLAYER FGM FGA FG% GP FGM/G
1 Kareem Abdul Jabbar 15,837 28,307 55.9 1,560 10.2
2 Karl Malone 13,528 26,210 51.6 1,476 9.2
3 Wilt Chamberlain 12,681 23,497 54 1,045 12.1
4 LeBron James 12,679 25,185 50.3 1,287 9.9
5 Michael Jordan 12,192 24,537 49.7 1,072 11.4

LeBron had already passed Wilt in on the all-time scoring list back in November 2018 thanks to three important factors:

  1. The 3-point line being introduced after Wilt’s career was complete. LeBron has made 1,936 career 3-pointers and shot 34.6% from beyond the arc
  2. LeBron is a superior free throw shooter to Wilt. LeBron has made 7,498 career free throws (5th all-time) and shoots 73.4% from the line. Wilt finished his career with 6,057 free throws (19th all-time) on 51.1% shooting.
  3. We’ll discuss shortly.

LeBron has scored an additional 3,377 points due to 3-pointers and free throws. But on Thursday, LeBron will have officially hit more baskets than Wilt and trail only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on both the field goals made list and the all-time scoring list.

When it comes to comparing Wilt and LeBron, what stands out most is the meteoric rise of Chamberlain, which included a seven-year peak unmatched in league history, and the steady consistency and longevity of LeBron.

Both players peaked in field goals made in their third NBA season. Wilt made an NBA record 1,597 baskets that season (an astounding 20 FGM per game average), while LeBron made 875 field goals (a career-best average of 11.1 per game). Wilt has the top four individual seasons in terms of field goals made, and seven of the NBA’s 18 total seasons when a player made at least 1,000 baskets.

Players With At Least 1,000 FGM in a Single Season

  • Wilt Chamberlain (7x)
  • Michael Jordan (3x)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2x)
  • Rick Barry (2x)
  • Tiny Archibald (1x)
  • Elgin Baylor (1x)
  • George Gervin (1x)
  • Bob McAdoo (1x)

While LeBron came nowhere close to matching Wilt’s volume of buckets early in their respective careers, there has been little variance in LeBron’s output season over season. Only in his rookie season did LeBron not average at least 9.0 field goals per game — a mark he is currently at in his 18th season.

Take a look at that chart again. Wilt’s top seven seasons in field goals made came in his first seven seasons in the league — peaking in season three. LeBron also peaked in season three, but his third-highest average of field goals made came in season 15 — a season Wilt never reached as he retired after 14 seasons.

Take a look back at some milestone baskets in LeBron’s career.

That is the third key to LeBron’s ability to pass Chamberlain in both scoring and field goals made — longevity. Just like how Wilt put up numbers that the league had never seen before (and have not seen since) during his first seven NBA seasons, LeBron is putting up numbers that the league has never seen so late in a player’s career.

Wilt averaged fewer than 8.0 FGM in three of his final five seasons as his career followed a more traditional trajectory that sees a player steadily decline after reaching their peak during the first half of their career. Meanwhile, LeBron continues to play at an elite level nearly two decades into his career — he is averaging at least 25 points per game for the 17thconsecutive season.

While there are clear differences in the paths to the top four in field goals made for Wilt and LeBron, the two players also have some key things in common. In addition to being outstanding scorers, both have proven themselves as playmakers — each winning an assist title late in their careers (LeBron last season; Chamberlain in 1967-68).

Of the top 20 players all-time in field goals made, LeBron and Wilt are the only two to have won an assist title. They are also two of just six players in NBA history to have won both a scoring title and an assist title.

LeBron James

  • 1x scoring: 2007-08
  • 1x assists: 2019-20

Wilt Chamberlain

  • 7x scoring: 1959-60 to 1965-66
  • 1x assists: 1967-68 (total assists were awarded rather than average until 1968-69)

James Harden

  • 3x scoring: 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20
  • 2x assists: 2016-17, 2020-21

Russell Westbrook

  • 2x scoring: 2014-15, 2016-17
  • 2x assists: 2017-18, 2018-19

Tiny Archibald

  • 1x scoring: 1972-73
  • 1x assists: 1972-73 (only player to do it in same season)

Jerry West

  • 1x scoring 1969-70
  • 1x assists 1971-72

LeBron’s milestone field goals made on climb to No. 3 all-time

On Thursday, LeBron should reach at least 12,682 career field goals made and set his sights on Malone (who holds second place at 13,528) and eventually Abdul-Jabbar (the all-time leader at 15,837). With a career average of 9.85 FGM per game, it would take approximately 86 games to pass Malone and 321 games to pass Kareem. Based on his current play, LeBron should challenge Malone’s mark at some point in 2021-22, but LeBron will have to defy Father Time for about four more seasons to have a shot of catching Kareem.

But before we look ahead to the next milestone, let’s look back at LeBron’s run to the No. 3 spot on the all-time list.

2,500 – Dec. 16, 2006: LeBron reached the 2,500 career field goals mark in his 261st career game — an 81-74 Cavaliers loss to the Magic that saw LeBron score a game-high 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

5,000 – Jan. 3, 2010: LeBron scored 29 points on 13-for-21 shooting to surpass 5,000 career field goals, but the Cavs were upset by the Charlotte Bobcats 91-88 in his 508th career game.

7,500 – March 27, 2013: LeBron’s 7,500th basket came at the end of the second-longest win streak in NBA history as Miami’s run of 27 straight wins was snapped in a 101-97 loss to the Bulls in LeBron’s 760th career game.

10,000 – Jan. 8, 2017: LeBron became the 14th player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career field goals as he finished with 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting in Cleveland’s 120-116 win against Phoenix in LeBron’s 1,020 career game.

12,500 – Dec. 27, 2020: In his third game of his third season with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron reached 12,500 career field goals to inch closer to  Chamberlain for third on the all-time list. In is 1,268th career game, LeBron scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting in 26 minutes of the Lakers’ blowout win against Minnesota.

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