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LeBron James doesn’t view himself a scorer.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star prefers playmaker — someone who does many things at an elite level to help his team win.
“I’m not a player who sets out to say, ‘OK, I need to dominate scoring,’ ” James told reporters. “For me, if you know my career, I try to dominate in all facets — rebounding, assisting, defending, getting some blocked shots, chasing down and I’m going to sprinkle in some scoring as well.
“When you categorize who I am as a basketball player, it won’t say ‘scorer.’ There’s too much more attributes to my game, and then you can talk about scoring as well.”
After scoring 16 against the Magic on Thursday night, James is 25 shy of 30,000 career points. When he hits the mark — likely Saturday at home against Oklahoma City — James will join just six other players with 30,000 points. He claimed he didn’t know exactly how many points he needed to reach that milestone.
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“I haven’t really even thought about it, to be honest,” he said. “I know I am getting close. I don’t know where I am. I’m honestly telling you the truth. This is not one that I’m losing sleep over to be honest. Like I told you, scoring has never been the end all, be all as a basketball player.”
Scoring doesn’t define James’ game, but in his 15th season, he has established himself as one of the game’s greatest scorers, with a solid chance to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. (He is also in great position to finish in the top five all-time in points and assists.)
James trails Dirk Nowitzki (30,808), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32,292), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Karl Malone (36,928) and Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).
“It’s not up there in the goals I set out for myself to be in this league,” James said. “I definitely looked at the list and saw the list and seen of all the guys that have played in this league and the number of guys that have played in this league. It’s definitely a select few. It’s a select company. So in that right, it’s special. But I can honestly sit here and say that I’ve never set out to set scoring records or be a part of a scoring club.”
Not only will the 33-year-old James become the youngest to reach 30,000 points, he will also be the fourth-fastest to do it in games — behind Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan and Chamberlain.
“When I walk into the 30,000-point club they’re going to look at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” James said. “I ain’t supposed to be there.”
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James is there and belongs, despite what he said. His career scoring average is 27.1, and he has averaged at least 25 points a season every year outside of his rookie campaign, while shooting 50.3% from the field and 34.3% on three-pointers for his career.
What will it take for James to become the all-time leader? Short answer: He needs to average 21.6 points in 70 games per season from 2018-19 through 2022-23 when he’s 38 years old.
That accounts for a declining scoring average as he gets older. There are no signs of him slowing down, so it’s not out of the question that he hovers around 25 points per game for the next few seasons and declines to about 19 points per game in five seasons.
There is precedent of players scoring at least 20 per game in their late 30s. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 23.4 and 17.5 points at 38 and 39 years old; Malone 21.2 and 20.4 at 38 and 39; and Jordan 22.9 and 22 at 38 and 39.
Other factors on James’ side are durability and health. He rarely misses games due to injury, having played in 94% of possible games. Malone was equally durable — playing 82, 81, 80, 81 games in four of his final five seasons.
James should play more in the low post as he gets older, giving him more opportunities to score closer to the rim and at the foul line.
The final question is: Does James want to play into his late 30s? In Toronto last week, James said retirement is not close and that he doesn’t feel 33.
But he acknowledged his misses his three children’s events and said they will be a significant factor in his decision.
James’ kids don’t attend games on school nights, so he would like to reach 30,000 on Saturday when they can be at the arena.
“That would be pretty cool,” said James who added his kids “couldn’t care less” about his basketball accomplishments.
He also said the game will let him know when it’s time retire. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which James leaves the game when he discovers he can’t be as effective as he’s been season after season.
That’s not the case now, and it doesn’t look like it will be the case for the next few seasons, giving James a strong chance to surpass Abdul-Jabbar. That would be quite an achievement for a player who doesn’t consider himself a scorer.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter.