Notable Milestones to Watch for in 2021
By Brian Martin
As the calendar flips to 2021, we take a look at some of the key statistical milestones that may be achieved over the course of the 2020-21 NBA regular season. (Note: All statistics current through games played on Dec. 31, 2020)
We begin with scoring as a number of veterans have a chance to climb up the all-time ranks and reach some significant benchmarks of NBA greatness.
LeBron James enters 2021 with 34,358 career points – the third-most all-time behind Karl Malone (36928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). While James is not projected to pass either of those scoring legends this season – he trails Malone by 2,570 points, a margin beyond LeBron’s top scoring season of his career – LeBron needs to score just 642 points to become the third player to reach 35,000 career points.
Carmelo Anthony currently sits in 15th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and has a shot to crack into the top 10 this season.
- Needs 16 points to pass Tim Duncan for 14th place
- Needs 188 points to pass Dominique Wilkins for 13th place
- Needs 230 points to pass Oscar Robertson for 12th place
- Needs 465 points to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for 11th place
- Needs 832 points to pass Elvin Hayes for 10th place
Last season, Anthony scored 895 total points over 58 regular season games (15.4 PPG). Through three games this season, Anthony has 35 total points (11.7 PPG). If Carmelo can return to last season’s scoring average, he has a shot at reaching the top 10. If he maintains his current pace, he would need approximately 40 games to reach 11th place.
Kevin Durant is silencing all doubters that wondered if he would return to form after missing 18 months due to an Achilles’ tear. Through four games, Durant has 113 total points (28.3 PPG, which ranks 4th in the NBA). The question now is how high up the all-time scoring list can Durant climb this season? He will likely break into the top 25 and has the potential to reach the 25,000 point benchmark that only 22 players have ever achieved.
- Needs 97 points to pass Elgin Baylor for 30th place
- Needs 113 points to pass Dwyane Wade for 29th place
- Needs 125 points to pass Adrian Dantley for 28th place
- Needs 282 points to pass Robert Parish for 27th place
- Needs 705 points to pass Charles Barkley for 26th place
- Needs 1,316 points to pass Allen Iverson for 25th place
- Needs 1,453 points to pass Ray Allen for 24th place
- Needs 1,763 points to pass Patrick Ewing for 23rd place
- Needs 1,947 points to reach 25,000 career points
Based on his current scoring average, Durant would likely come up just short of reaching 25,000 points. Increasing his scoring output may be difficult – but not out of the question – considering his strong start to the season is on pace for his highest scoring average since the 2015-16 season (28.2 PPG).
Both LaMarcus Aldridge (365 points needed) and Chris Paul (1,113 points needed) have a shot at breaking the 20,000-point benchmark this season. Aldridge should easily reach the mark, barring any extended time missed.
For Paul, it may a bit of a challenge as his scoring is down a bit through his first five games in Phoenix. Last season, Paul scored 1,232 points in 70 games (17.6 PPG), but his average has dropped to 11.6 PPG since joining the Suns this season. Even if Paul doesn’t hit 20K points, there are other milestones within his reach in other categories (more on that below).
Both Damian Lillard (21 points needed) and Lou Williams (456 points needed) are on track to break the 15,000-point milestone this season. Lillard can do it as early New Year’s Day as the Blazers take on the Warriors on Friday.
Dwight Howard enters 2021 with 13,718 career rebounds, good for 14th place among the NBA’s all-time rebounding leaders. He is on track to climb two spots this season, but getting to 11th place may be out of reach this season. Howard averaged 7.3 rebounds per game last season with the Lakers, but is averaging just 5.4 through his first five games with the Sixers. To have a shot at catching Walt Bellamy for 11th place, Howard’s rebounding average would have to climb into the 8 per game range.
- Needs 31 rebounds to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for 13th place
- Needs 52 rebounds to pass Wes Unseld for 12th place
- Needs 524 rebounds to pass Walt Bellamy for 11th place
DeAndre Jordan has a shot at reaching 10,000 career rebounds this season. He needs 509 rebounds to reach the mark and is currently averaging 8.0 rebounds per game, which would put him almost exactly on track should he play every game this season.
Chris Paul enters 2021 ranked seventh in career assists (9,699) and is on track to pass a pair of legends and climb into the top five. Paul is averaging 9.2 assists through his first five games with Phoenix, an average he has not held since the 2016-17 in his final season with the Clippers.
- Needs 189 assists to pass Oscar Robertson for 6th place
- Needs 301 assists to become the 6th player ever to reach 10,000 assists
- Needs 443 assists to pass Magic Johnson for 5th place
LeBron James is the only player to rank in the top 10 all-time in both scoring (3rd) and assists (8th) and has a chance to climb another notch up the assists list this season.
- Needs 508 assists to pass Oscar Robertson for 7th place
- Needs 620 assists to reach 10,000 career assists
LeBron’s ranking for passing Robertson (who is currently 6th) assumes that Chris Paul passes Robertson prior to LeBron; Robertson would fall to 7th after being passed by Paul
Russell Westbrook has stuffed the stat sheet on a nightly basis with the Wizards, recording a triple-double in each of his first four games and averaging 19.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 12.3 assists so far this season. If he can maintain something close to this amazing assist average, he should climb two spots from No. 14 to No. 12 on the all-time assist list.
- Needs 46 assists to pass Maurice Cheeks for 13th place
- Needs 641 assists to pass Rod Strickland for 12th place
Rajon Rondo enters 2021 in 15th place all-time, trailing Westbrook by 118 career assists. When it comes to climbing the ranks, we will assume that Westbrook maintains a lead over Rondo, which leave Rondo with the No. 14 rank in his sights.
- Needs 164 assists to pass Maurice Cheeks for 14th place
Chris Paul has a shot at joining John Stockton and Jason Kidd as the only players to rank in the top five all-time in both assists and steals. Paul enters 2021 in seventh place and with just four steals in his first five games with Phoenix (0.8 SPG), a mark that is well below his career average (2.2) and half of what he did a season ago in OKC (1.6). Should Paul return to his production from last season, he should be able to climb two spots and join that elite group with Stockton and Kidd.
- Needs 71 steals to pass Scottie Pippen for 6th place
- Needs 74 steals to pass Maurice Cheeks for 5th place
LeBron James enters 2021 sitting in 13th place on the all-time steals list (2,020) and has a small shot of breaking into the top 10, but he would need to increase his production back to the level of his career average (1.6 SPG).
- Needs 56 steals to pass Mookie Blaylock for 12th place
- Needs 66 steals to pass Karl Malone for 11th place
- Needs 93 steals to pass Alvin Robertson for 10th place
Andre Iguodala ranks 24th on the all-time steals list (1,679) with a good shot of catching Magic Johnson for 21st all-time. Iguodala has appeared in three of Miami’s first four games and is averaging 21 minutes per game (up slightly from a season ago when he joined the team mid-season) and is averaging 0.7 steals per game.
- Needs 38 steals to pass Ron Harper for 23rd place
- Needs 43 steals to pass Metta World Peace for 22nd place
- Needs 46 steals to pass Magic Johnson for 21st place
- Needs 74 steals to pass Paul Pierce for 20th place
Dwight Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and two-time blocks leader, has a former four-time DPOY and one-time blocks leader in his sights.
- Needs 4 blocks to pass Ben Wallace for 13th place
Serge Ibaka has fit in nicely with the Clippers through the first five games of the season, averaging 14 points, 6.6 boards and 1.2 steals in 21.3 minutes per game. If Ibaka keeps up this rate of blocked shots, he has a decent shot of cracking the top 25 all time in the category this season.
- Needs 13 blocks to pass Kevin McHale for 28th place
- Needs 36 blocks to pass Josh Smith for 27th place
- Needs 56 blocks to pass Moses Malone for 26th place
- Needs 70 blocks to pass Artis Gilmore for 25th place
No all-time leaderboard has more current players on it than the all-time leaders in 3-pointers made. As the shot has increased so drastically across the league, players are flying up the leaderboard and establishing new benchmarks to measure greatness in the category.
Stephen Curry enters 2021 ranked third all-time in 3-pointers made and could make the climb to second play before the close of January. Curry is averaging 3.5 3-pointers made per game and the Warriors have a 17-game January schedule.
- Needs 52 3-pointers made to pass Reggie Miller for 2nd place
No player has attempted or made more 3-pointers than James Harden over the past three seasons. He is currently averaging 5.0 3-pointers made on 11.0 attempts per game – second in both categories for now.
- Needs 112 3-pointers made to pass Kyle Korver for 4th place
- Needs 222 3-pointers made to pass Reggie Miller for 3rd place
Similar to what we saw on the assist leaderboard, we have to make a few assumptions with multiple active players climbing the ranks simultaneously. For 3-pointers made, the above assumes that Curry will pass Miller prior to Harden passing Miller, and Harden not catching Curry this season – although the latter may not be out of the question.
JJ Redick (1,892) and LeBron James (1,886) enter 2021 separated by just six 3-pointers made. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume that Redick maintains his lead over LeBron during the season. They may swap ranks back and forth between one another as the season goes along, but they will both pass some legendary sharpshooters along the way.
- Needs 39 3-pointers made to pass JR Smith for 13th place
- Needs 87 3-pointers made to pass Joe Johnson for 12th place
- Needs 91 3-pointers made to pass Dirk Nowitzki for 11th place
- Needs 97 3-pointers made to pass Jason Kidd for 10th place
- Needs 45 3-pointers made to pass JR Smith for 14th place
- Needs 93 3-pointers made to pass Joe Johnson for 13th place
- Needs 97 3-pointers made to pass Dirk Nowitzki for 12th place
- Needs 103 3-pointers made to pass Jason Kidd for 11th place
Damian Lillard is currently tied for 19th place on the all-time 3-pointers made list and is on track to make some major moves up the rankings this season. The list below assumes Lillard does not catch and pass either LeBron James (+99) or JJ Redick (+105) this season.
- Needs 1 3-pointer made to pass Rashard Lewis for sole possession of 19th place
- Needs 12 3-pointers made to pass Klay Thompson for 18th place
- Needs 41 3-pointers made to pass Kobe Bryant for 17th place
- Needs 44 3-pointers made to pass Chauncey Billups for 16th place
- Needs 144 3-pointers made to pass JR Smith for 15th place
- Needs 192 3-pointers made to pass Joe Johnson for 14th place
- Needs 196 3-pointers made to pass Dirk Nowitzki for 13th place
- Needs 202 3-pointers made to pass Jason Kidd for 12th place
Russell Westbrook has four triples-doubles through his first four games with the Washington Wizards, returning to the frequency he displayed in OKC (34 in 2018-19) but did not carry over to Houston (8) last season. This start-of-season streak in Washington has put the all-time triple-double crown in play for Westbrook this season.
- Needs 32 triple-doubles to pass Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in NBA history
LeBron James already ranks fifth in regular season triple-doubles (94) and second in playoff triple-doubles (28). He has a chance to climb both lists this season, beginning with the regular season. LeBron tallied 13 triple-doubles in 67 games last season, but has yet to reach those marks through five games this season
- Needs 6 triple-doubles to become the 5th player in NBA history with 100 career triple-doubles
- Needs 14 triple-doubles to pass Jason Kidd for 4th place
James Harden had a single-season-high 22 triple-doubles (nearly half of his career total) in 2016-17; he has just 15 triple-doubles in the last three seasons combined, but has won the scoring title each season. While the chances of him climbing the triple-double list are not high, they are not out of the question as the Rockets have a new-look squad this season.
- Needs 14 triple-doubles to pass Larry Bird for 7th place
Nikola Jokic has increased his triple-double total each season of his career, peaking last year with 13. Through the first four games of the 2020-21 season, he already has three triple-doubles.
- Needs 3 triple-doubles to pass James Harden for 8th place
- Needs 16 triple-doubles to pass Larry Bird for 7th place
Rajon Rondo ranks 12th all-time in triple-doubles, but has just four over his past four seasons combined, including zero last season with the Lakers. He is playing limited minutes off the bench for Atlanta, so the odds of him climbing the ranks are not very high.
- Needs 2 triple-doubles to pass Bob Cousy for 11th place
Unlike Jokic, Ben Simmons has seen his triple-double total drop with each passing season of his career. Simmons had a career-low six triple-doubles last season. But if he matched htat total, he would climb five spots in the rankings.
- Needs 1 triple-double to pass Michael Jordan for 15th place
- Needs 2 triple-doubles to pass Grant Hill for 14th place
- Needs 4 triple-doubles to pass John Havlicek for 13th place
- Needs 5 triple-doubles to pass Rajon Rondo for 12th place
- Needs 6 triple-doubles to pass Bob Cousy for 11th place
Luka Doncic led the NBA in triple-doubles last season with 17 in 61 games played; while he has yet to record one in his first four games of the 2020-21 season, it’s just a matter of time before they return.
- Needs 2 triple-doubles to pass Elgin Baylor for 17th place
- Needs 4 triple-doubles to pass Michael Jordan and Ben Simmons for 15th place
- Needs 5 triple-doubles to pass Grant Hill for 14th place
- Needs 7 triple-doubles to pass John Havlicek for 13th place
- Needs 8 triple-doubles to pass Rajon Rondo for 12th place
- Needs 9 triple-doubles to pass Bob Cousy for 11th place
- Needs 19 triple-doubles to pass Fat Lever for 10th place
These rankings assume Doncic passes both Simmons and Rondo before they add to their triple-double totals; and that Doncic will finish the year ranked ahead of both players.
Gregg Popovich has 1,279 wins on his record and ranks third all-time entering 2021.
- Needs 21 wins to become the third coach to ever win 1,300 games
- Needs 54 wins to pass Lenny Wilkens for 2nd place in wins
Doc Rivers is in his first season as head coach of the Sixers, and while reaching 1,000 career wins is highly likely for Rivers, it may not come this season as he would need 53 wins with only 67 games remaining on the schedule.
- Needs 53 wins to become the 10th coach to ever win 1,000 games
Dallas’ Rick Carlisle is the third-longest tenured coach in the NBA today, trailing only Popovich and Erik Spoelstra.
- Needs 5 wins to become the 16th coach to ever win 800 games
- Needs 38 wins to pass Cotton Fitzsimmons for 15th place in wins
James Harden is the ninth player to win three consecutive scoring titles. If he leads the NBA in scoring again this season, he would join Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with four or more consecutive scoring titles. Harden also has a chance to become the sixth player to win at least four scoring titles in a career.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
If Giannis Antetokounmpo repeats as league MVP, he would join Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as the only players to win the honor for three consecutive seasons.