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NBA fact or fiction: LeBron James scoring 40,000 points is more impressive than you think

Each week during the 2023-2024 NBA season, we’ll dive deeper into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an effort to determine whether the trends going forward will be more based on fact or fiction.

[Last week: Is the NBA All-Star Game fixable?]

This week’s topic: In the NBA scoring era, 40,000 points are not That a lot, right?

We’ve brought up the unbreakability of LeBron James’ scoring record here before, and now that he’s on the verge of becoming the first player ever to score 40,000 points in his career — the founder of the 40,000-10,000-10,000 club — we’ll remind you that Yes, this standard will most likely be met and exceeded at some point, even if that day comes long after we are gone. Records are there to be broken and all that.

But we’re here today to put 40,000 into perspective. How hard will it be for someone to catch LeBron?

Consider these fun facts:

  • At Giannis Antetokounmpo’s current free throw percentage of 65.8%, it would take him – using the allotted 10 seconds for each freebie – a full week straight without rest at the charity stripe to reach 40,000 points.

  • Stephen Curry would have to repeat his performance against Sabrina Ionescu 1,380 times – over a span of 27 hours, without rest, without slowing down – to reach 40,000 points in a three-point contest.

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 28: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half of game X at Crypto.com Arena on February 28, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

LeBron continues to make scoring look easy at 39 years old. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Or this astonishing data:

  • Everyone else besides Anthony Davis on the Lakers has combined to score 40,138 points in their careers.

  • Every team in the NBA has combined to score 35,553 points this season. LeBron passed that in 2021.

  • Teams are averaging 115.3 points per game this season – the most in more than 50 years – so it should an entire franchise four and a quarter seasons to score 40,000 points.

  • It has been since November 25, 2019, when Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard came off the bench in Los Angeles, that the Lakers have scored 40,000 points as a team. Before we knew what COVID-19 was.

Oh, we can go on. LeBron James’ 40,000 points are more than the combined totals of these star duos:

Think of everything Tatum and Brown have accomplished over the past eight seasons, including eight All-Star bids between them. Double it, and they power catch James – if he doesn’t push his total north of 45,000.

Remember, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested this week, “I think LeBron is aiming to sign a multi-year deal with the Lakers this offseason that will be worth nine figures,” something like $180 million over another three years. Since James has never scored fewer than 1,500 points in an 82-game season, 45,000 isn’t out of reach.

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So. A lot of. Points. Larry Bird and Charles Barkley combined to score 45,548 points in their careers.

Future Hall of Famers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have built a dynasty together over the past decade, winning four championships in six trips to the NBA Finals and a combined 410 regular-season games – scoring a combined 45,222 points. Only last season did they reach 40,000.

Want more? If the following players maintain their current career pace, they will reach 40,000 points in…

Dončić could do it! Or could he? He entered the NBA averaging 21.2 points per game, and increased that to a league-leading 34.4 points per game this season (his sixth), as he surpassed 10,000 career points. He will have to repeat his career three more times – unless a 55-year-old LeBron is still playing in 2039.

But when James set the all-time scoring record, Dončić was asked if anyone could catch the king. He said: “No way. It’s always possible, but it’s going to be very tough. You have to have a guy who plays in that shape for 20 years, how he holds his body up. I’m just saying, without basketball skills it’s very hard to keep that body. If you tell me, it’s impossible because I don’t play that much.”

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As Dončić said, “It’s always a possibility.” James attempted three three-pointers a night as a rookie and didn’t make two per game until the 2018-19 season, when he was 34 years old. In contrast, Dončić attempted seven 3s per night as a rookie and is making about four per game this season. Someone will take ten a night as a rookie and make seven per game at some point in their career. And what if the NBA adds a 4-pointer?

Who will do it? That is the question. Maybe LeBron James IV. Maybe Curry and Ionescu’s grandchildren will meet, produce a flame-throwing god, and he’ll set the new NBA scoring standard. Maybe a robot.

Seriously, build a cyborg that scores 30 points a night. Program him to play 82 games per season, and by the 17th season he will reach 40,000 points. Only smartphones stop working after a few years and are not at risk of being attacked by Draymond Green. Of course, who’s to say James isn’t already that cyborg?

Provision: Fiction. It turns out that 40,000 points is actually quite a lot. Congratulations, LeBronJames.

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