There are two things we know Kobe Bryant loves to do — score points and win NBA championships.
Given the current sorry state of the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of accomplishing the latter, now might be a good time for Bryant to go all out after the former, at least until the Lakers can become competitive again.
That’s because there’s another title that Bryant can reach even if he never adds to his future Hall of Fame collection of five NBA championship rings, two single-season scoring titles and list of Most Valuable Player Awards (one as a league MVP and two others, for the NBA Finals).
Standing in fourth-place on the league’s all-time scoring list with 31,700 points, Bryant is the present leader among active NBA scorers, and if he remains healthy enough, he could pass Michael Jordan’s 32,292 points to move into third place by around the middle of December.
Next up would be Karl Malone and his 36,926 points, which would have to wait for the following season.
Bryant would then finally set his sights on a fellow Laker great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose 38,387 points currently make him the reigning all-time scoring champion.
What is the likelihood of Bryant replacing Abdul-Jabbar at the top of the all-time scoring list?
Pretty good, if you go by Bryant’s numbers when he’s played the most.
During the nine seasons in which the 18-year veteran started at least 73 games, Bryant scored 64.5 percent (20,447) of his total career points. That’s an average of 2,272 points per season over those nine years.
To pass Abdul-Jabaar, Bryant would have to play three more seasons while averaging slightly less points — 2,229 — per season to score the 6,688 total points he needs to become the highest scorer ever.
Seven of those seasons have come within the past nine years, and just two years ago — during his last full season before he missed all but six games last year after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon and knee fracture — Bryant scored 2,133 points (just 96 fewer than that 2,229-point average Bryant would over each of the next three years to catch Abdul-Jabaar).
Since the Lakers are cap-strapped with low expectations for team success next season, there isn’t much reason for Bryant to subjugate his own game, the number of shots he takes or the points he scores in favor of his teammates.
And back in June, Bryant said he was “one hundred percent” healthy and ready to go for next season.
Beyond that, Los Angeles will have a lot of salary cap space available beginning with the 2015-16 season. If the Lakers can successfully use that flexibility to build around their franchise player and once again become legitimate contenders in the Western Conference, Bryant may look to score a bit less while letting teammates share the spotlight a little more, so he can win.
Ultimately, winning another title is still most important to Bryant. Yet even if Los Angeles improves significantly, a healthy Bryant will still be the focus of the Lakers’ offense, even during the twilight of his career.
Bryant, who recently turned 36 on August 23, would still be two years shy of his 40th birthday before entering the final season of the three years he would likely need to pass Abdul-Jabbar.
Of course, any further injuries would derail Bryant’s ability to reach the all-time scoring mark. But Bryant has also become so meticulous about staying in good enough shape to ensure his career longevity for as long as possible, that he started a recent weight loss trend among other top NBA stars to do the same as they approach the age of 30.
It’s one of the key things that helped Bryant (at 34 years and 104 days) become the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points.
Having already done that, it would be fitting if Bryant also ended up as the player with the most points the NBA has ever had.
Doing so won’t be easy, especially as Bryant soon closes in on completing two decades in the league.
But if his Achilles tendons, knees and every other main body part hold up long enough, and if Bryant can keep scoring at the rate he has in recent years, for at least another three seasons, there could very well be a new Laker at the top of the all-time scoring list.
Tags: Kobe Bryant