James' longevity should give him edge in all-time scoring race
NBA Mailbag (cont.)
Let's move straight to your questions:
In the last mailbag, you discussed the possibility of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record. One of the things that you mentioned, in terms of why it would be difficult for LeBron and KD to reach such a milestone, is that, unlike Nos. 1 & 2 on the scoring list (Kareem and Karl Malone), both KD and LeBron are perimeter players. Noting the evolution of "small-ball" lineups, their impressive height and reach as wing players (KD at 6-foot-9 and LeBron at 6-8) and the likelihood of both bulking up long term over the course of their careers, would it not be feasible for either to become full-time power forwards toward the latter stages of their careers? And would such a positional switch, in your opinion, bolster their chances of breaking the scoring record?
-- Dino, Chicago
It's a good question, Dino, and I thank you for asking it. LeBron is already a part-time power forward, and he would have a much easier time making the full-time transition into the post as you suggest. Durant also could move into the post as needed in his 30s. You already see him playing with his back to the basket when he finds a mismatch he can exploit.
The built-in advantage for Abdul-Jabbar and Malone is that they were able to maintain their efficiency even as their athleticism diminished. That's going to be more difficult for perimeter players regardless of the style of play. If the league continues to trend toward small ball, that will invite more quick players than ever onto the court -- making it all the more difficult for older perimeter scorers to be able to create their own shots.
No matter how you look at it, anyone who aims to score 40,000 points is going to have to maintain a high rate of efficiency into his late 30s. Malone was able to continue facing up for jumpers, posting up and rolling to the basket after screening for John Stockton. Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook was an unstoppable weapon to the very end. Neither player required the burst that is needed to create space on the perimeter.
And yet there are four active players -- Kobe Bryant, James, Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- who are positioned to rank eventually among the top 10 scorers all-time. All four entered the NBA as teens, giving them an advantage over Abdul-Jabbar and Malone, who were both 22 as rookies. In other words, the four current players were able to squeeze in extra years of production at the front of their careers, at an age when Abdul-Jabbar and Malone were in college.
So I've decided to come up with ballpark projections for how much James, Durant and Anthony may score over the next 10 seasons (through the end of the 2021-22 season). This is one of the sillier things I've ever done. Who's to say what will happen over the next decade? Injuries, trades and other calamities could change everything. But here it is, based on what we've seen so far.
James, 27, currently in his 10th season with 19,578 points. He could play another 10 seasons at least while moving closer to the basket as he ages. James has been extremely durable, missing only 33 games in 10 seasons. Unselfishness could limit him his points total: Abdul-Jabbar and Malone were primarily scorers who never averaged more than 5.4 assists in any season, while James is far more willing and able to pass. Projection: 36,000-40,000 by age 37.
Durant, 24, in his sixth season with 10,629 points. Though he is a scorer rather than a specialist shooter, Durant's ability to shoot will extend his career. His length will enable him to score from all areas of the floor, even as he loses a step athletically toward the end of his career. He has missed only four games over the previous three seasons. Projection: 30,000-32,000 by age 33 (with many more years left to play thereafter).
Anthony, 28, in his 10th season with 16,483 points. He has the best post game of any player on this list, along with exceptional shooting range. But he has also missed 80 games, has scored more than 2,000 points only once in his career and he trails James -- his classmate in the 2003 draft -- by more than 3,000 points overall. Projection: 32,000-36,000 by age 37.
There are at least another five current players on their way to scoring 20,000 or more points -- Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith. (I didn't bother to guess the outcomes for stars who have played five or fewer years, including Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George.)
The key question for all of these players isn't how much they'll score in their peak years. More important is how long they'll be able to extend their ability and continue to score prolifically into their late 30s. Based on his durability, size and versatile skills in the post, James looks as if he might be relevant for a longer time than any of his rivals -- even Durant.
Can you please explain to me why the package the Magic got was better than what the Rockets were offering for Dwight Howard? I don't fault the Magic for not wanting to build around Andrew Bynum, but the offer Houston was reportedly making still seems worlds better than the cache of role players the Magic ended up with.
-- Bryan Gelecki, Papillion, NE
I have to believe this much, Bryan: If the deal with Houston had been superior, then the Magic would have sent Howard to the Rockets.
As it was the Magic received three young contributors -- center Nikola Vucevic and shooting guard Arron Afflalo are both starting, and promising 19-year-old rookie small forward Maurice Harkless is playing 17.6 minutes off the bench. The three first-round picks they received aren't going to be near the top of the lottery, but draft picks are going to grow more valuable than ever as the effects of the new collective bargaining agreement settle in and teams are in need of contributors on cheap rookie contracts.
The Rockets were up against it in a potential trade for Howard because he repeatedly said he didn't want to sign long-term with them. If they weren't willing to aggressively outbid for Howard, then they should be credited for their wisdom: Their patience enabled them to acquire James Harden, who isn't known to have the health problems and other baggage carried by Howard.
One deal that might have made more sense would have involved sending Howard to the Nets, though the timing may not have been right for the Magic, and they may yet be relieved to not be rebuilding around Brook Lopez, who has been vulnerable to injury in the last two years.
These trades never look good for the team that is forced to move an unhappy star. Equal value is never received for someone like Howard. The one lesson I've learned is that it's wise to wait before judging. Remember how Memphis was hammered for sending Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008? The Grizzlies received Marc Gasol in that deal, and he has turned them into surprise contenders to reach the NBA Finals.
You're joking, right? Steve Nash will be 39 in February, is coming off a broken leg and isn't the same player he was when he was winning MVPs. No other team was out there trying to hire Mike D'Antoni, a coach with a flawed system who never did more than entertain in the regular season before fizzling out in the playoffs and, lest we forget, quit on his last team. This has "Rudy T Era" written all over it again.
-- Charles Freeman, Los Angeles
Based on what they've shown over the last month, Charles, the Lakers have affirmed many of your points. I continue to believe that perspectives will change when they're healthy for an extended span of time. My view is that each of their key people, including D'Antoni, has earned the benefit of the doubt, and that the hard times today will galvanize them and bring out the best in them soon enough. They're all proven and proud winners who will not accept losing once they're healthy and playing together. We'll know who they are, for better or for worse, by the All-Star break.
The Point Forward's Rob Mahoney highlighted the issues Jeremy Lin and James Harden are having when they share the court. Would the Rockets consider moving Lin to the Sixth Man role? And, if they were unable to find a way to get the players to co-exist, who would they consider trading first: Lin or Harden?
-- Jordan, Houston
The Rockets made a big investment in Lin, and their extremely young roster isn't built to win this year. My opinion is that they need to invest a longer period of time in finding out whether Lin and Harden can play together, because this season provides them with that luxury -- right now it's all about building something for the future. They surely looked good together in Lin's return to New York Monday night. (The pair combined for 50 points, on 18-of-33 shooting, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.) If the Rockets ultimately decide that Lin and Harden can't play together and one of them has to be moved, then the goner is going to be Lin. Harden isn't going anywhere.
Kevin Love recently put the Timberwolves on blast for botching his extension -- last year. What gives with Love's timing? And, if you're the Timberwolves, where do you go from here knowing that your franchise cornerstone will bolt the first chance he gets?
-- Mark Jones, Kansas City
Love has had a frustrating season, Mark, and he clearly wasn't happy with insinuations that he didn't break his hand while doing pushups. He doesn't sound as if he's likely to stay.
Every star in the league can be difficult to deal with. Tim Duncan came close to leaving San Antonio years ago and had to be talked into staying. There isn't a star in the league who isn't demanding. Every team lucky enough to have one or two stars invests a lot of time in building and maintaining a constructive environment that keeps the stars engaged in a constructive way. You asked where the Timberwolves go from here: Their job is to create a roster and environment that convinces Love to stay rather than to leave. That's their job, just like it's the job for every franchise in the NBA, and there's no sense in feeling sorry for them.