At the moment, the list of the NBA’s top 10 all-time leading scorers consists of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon. By the end of next season, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan and LeBron James could be part of this elite group.
Right now, the threshold for the top 10 is 26,946 career points, which is what Olajuwon scored during his 18 NBA seasons. Among active players, Nowitzki is in the lead at 7th, with 28,119 points in 17 years. If he keeps the pace of last season (1333 total points, 17.3 on average), he should move up to sixth, bumping down Shaquille O’Neal.
And what about other active players with a chance to make it into the top 10? Duncan, 14th on the list, is the closest. He has 25,974 points in 18 NBA seasons. In 2014-2015 he scored 1070 points (13.9 per game). He needs 972 points, which on 77 games he played last season means averaging 12.6 points a night to tie with Olajuwon at 10th.
Paul Pierce is 16th all-time with 25,899 points since 1998. He’ll be playing, most likely, for the Los Angeles Clippers next year. Like Duncan, he had no injury problems last season despite his age, playing 73 games, averaging 11.9 points with a 868 points total. To reach Olajuwon, he needs 1047 points. Through 73 games, that’s averaging 14.3 a night. Probably too much for Pierce right now.
And then there’s LeBron James. Only 12 seasons in the league, but already 20th, and with 24,913 career points. He scored 1743 last season but played only 69 games, missing 13 which is the most he’s ever sat out for injury and rest in his career. That still amounted to averaging 25.3 points a night, his lowest since his rookie year. To make the top 10 next season, James needs 2033 points, which on 69 games is 29.4 a night. Not something he can’t do, but he won’t do it, unless he has to play without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving again. On a more reasonable 75 games, it’ll mean 27.1 per game. Possible? For sure. Likely? James is probably going to wait one more year to hit the top 10.
Kevin Garnett, with 25,949 career points, is closer than both James and Pierce, but considering how many games he has played over the last two years and what a small part he is in an offense, it’s unlikely he’ll ever make it that high up this list.