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When will unstoppable LeBron James set NBA scoring record?


Every LeBron James conversation can, and often does, turn into a debate.

He ushered in an era of star empowerment, but not all of its effects have been positive. Maybe James is the best player ever, or maybe Michael Jordan is. There might not be an aspect of his game that is the greatest we have ever seen. Stephen Curry is the universally acknowledged greatest shooter of all time. Most agree Magic Johnson holds the unofficial passing title. There have been stronger players and more athletic wings and springier leapers and surer ball-handlers. What has made King James unique?

As he closes in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring mark, a record that has seemed untouchable for decades, maybe it is this: LeBron is literally unstoppable.

From his rookie season of 2003-04 through 2017-18 — a span of 15 seasons — James made 14 All-Star Games, averaged 27.2 points and 38.8 minutes per game and 76.2 games per regular season.

It took until 2018-19 — James’ first season with the Lakers, during which he turned 34 — before he sustained a major injury, suffering a tear in his groin that cost him 17 straight games. He shrugged off the injury and won another NBA championship in the so-called Bubble a season later.

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket during the game against the LA Clippers on January 24, 2023 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California.
Soon to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, LeBron James also ranks third all-time in minutes played.
NBAE via Getty Images

There has been no slowing a generational athlete with a famously rigid training regimen. When James was 18, fresh out of high school and taking the leap into the NBA under an unprecedented glare, he immediately averaged more than 20 points a game and did things we had never seen before. Today, when James is 38, he is still doing things we have never seen before.

James is scoring 29.9 points per game, seventh-most in the NBA and easily the most in his battle against ghosts. No one 38 or older had even averaged 25 points per game before him. In 1985-86, a 38-year-old Abdul-Jabbar established the previous high by averaging 23.4 ppg, half a point more than a 38-year-old Jordan in 2001-02. James is putting up historic scoring numbers without compensating by upping his shots; James’ 7.0 assists per game are the most ever by any 38-year-old not named John Stockton.

A 38-year-old James is outscoring his 18-year-old self (20.9) and 28-year-old self (26.8). He will be a deserving All-Star for the 19th time while he is the third-oldest player in the entire NBA. Consider his elders: Miami’s Udonis Haslem, an unofficial assistant coach who has played in five games, and Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, who has played in three.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against Dan Issel #44 of the Denver Nuggets during a game circa 1983 in Denver, Colorado.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points has stood as the NBA’s all-time points mark for almost 34 years.
NBAE via Getty Images

In the spirit of baseball’s Hall of Fame season, let’s attach this controversial descriptor to LeBron: He’s a compiler. Where others have turned solid season after solid season into a Hall of Fame career, James has turned dominant season after dominant season into an all-time career.

Soon he will do one more thing we have never seen before: Compile more points than Abdul-Jabbar.

The Bucks and Lakers legend never played fewer than 62 games in a season in an era when players suited up every single day. He sky-hooked his way past Wilt Chamberlain’s 31,419 career points, a record previously thought to be unbreakable, in 1984 and played another five seasons. He was the standard by which consistent excellence was measured in his day, and 34 years later, we have found the new standard.

After scoring 20 points against the Spurs on Wednesday night, James needs 158 more to eclipse Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387. There is a (very) outside chance New York can witness the history up close: James, whose Lakers play Monday at Barclays Center against the Nets, would need to average more than 52 points in his next three games to set the mark at the Garden against the Knicks on Tuesday.

LeBron James
Post photo illustration

Whenever he does it, arguments will follow. Some will shout about how Jordan’s peak was more impressive. Others will point to Abdul-Jabbar’s dominance or Bill Russell’s rings or Larry Bird’s everything.

Weighing legacies while contrasting different generations is nearly impossible, which is why we rely on concrete numbers so often. Here is one more: LeBron James has been an NBA player for 20 years and was not an NBA player for 18 years. Stars come and go, but James has never left and has never approached the downturn that comes for just about everyone else.

Maybe that is how we should remember LeBron whenever he walks away: The arguments about him never stopped, but neither did he.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on January 26, 2023.
New York Post

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Catch a rising star

The New York football season is over, so mock draft season has arrived.

On Wednesday, ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his first mock draft, which serves as partial NFL promo and partial catnip for football fans.

Kiper is projecting a pair of receivers to come to town, with the Jets drafting Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 13 and the Giants selecting USC’s Jordan Addison at No. 25.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba #11 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball after a reception during the second quarter against the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl Game at Rose Bowl Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California.
Though he played only three games as a junior last season, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba made an impression as a sophomore, catching 95 passes for 1,606 yards.
Getty Images

Smith-Njigba’s link with Garrett Wilson probably will be mentioned often. They played together with the Buckeyes, and the Jets standout once said Smith-Njigba is “as good as I’ve ever seen, probably the best I’ve ever seen.” Smith-Njigba has a high ceiling and a high risk attached to him, having played just three games last season because of a hamstring issue. The guess here is the Jets would be better off helping their offensive line early in the draft rather than getting another offensive weapon, but a lot will change between now and draft day.

The Giants have a more obvious need at receiver, and Addison had a monster season at Pitt in 2021 (100 catches for 1,593 yards with 17 touchdowns) before an ankle injury hampered him last season.

How will Pat answer?

The biggest NFL news Wednesday, though, came out of an opening statement at a news conference in Kansas City.

“I’m doing good,” Patrick Mahomes told reporters. “AFC Championship week, ready to go.”

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs drops back to pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 21, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Patrick Mahomes’ high ankle sprain likely will keep him confined to playing from the pocket against the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
Getty Images

From all indications, it appears Mahomes will play Sunday in the conference title game against the Bengals, eight days after suffering a high ankle sprain in a divisional-round win over the Jaguars.

Presuming Mahomes plays, it will not be the same, mobile quarterback under center that we are used to. High ankle sprains can take months to heal, and he will not be able to run like he has all season. If Mahomes is to avenge last year’s AFC Championship loss to the Bengals, he will have to do it differently, relying more on his arm and less on his unique playmaking ability.

This has been a season of adjusting for Mahomes, who lost Tyreek Hill in the offseason and must have heard the whispers that he wouldn’t be the same without his deep threat. He responded by throwing for a career-best and league-leading 5,250 yards along with 41 touchdowns.

His arm should be ready to go Sunday.


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