LeBron James has had his fair share of haters and criticism, even after surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in NBA history. Despite this historic accomplishment, there will be those who will try to diminish his achievement. They may argue that he is a compiler and that his longevity is what led to his high score, or that he is not clutch enough because of his 4-6 record in the NBA Finals. They might even question his scoring ability by pointing to the fact that he only has one scoring title. Some may even scoff at the era he played in, saying it was easier because of hand-checking.
However, if you are looking for criticism of LeBron James, you have come to the wrong place. This is a space to celebrate and explain why LeBron James, not Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the greatest scorer we have ever seen.
LeBron’s game is much more than just scoring. He has been a dominant force in the league for over two decades, leading his teams to several championships, and being a four-time MVP. He has an incredible all-around game, with exceptional passing, rebounding, and defense abilities. He is a true leader on and off the court, inspiring and motivating those around him. LeBron’s longevity and consistency make him stand out, not just as a scorer but as a player.
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His impact on the game is undeniable, and it is not just about his numbers. LeBron James has revolutionized the way the game is played, introducing new techniques and styles of play. He has also been a strong advocate for social justice and has used his platform to make a positive impact on society.
Sure, debating greatest scorers across eras and positions is ultimately fruitless. It’s highly subjective, and there’s no real consensus. But where’s the fun in that?
Here are the cases for five other GOAT scorers and why none ultimately hold up to the kid from Akron.
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LeBron James: Crowned the GOAT Scorer
GOAT scorer resume:
- 38,387 career points (most in NBA history… for now)
- The skyhook (most unstoppable shot in NBA history)
- The Stans Say: “Can you imagine if he never went to UCLA?”
Out of respect for the 39-year record holder, we’ll start with Mr. Skyhook himself.
LeBron James has surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but it’s worth noting that no player in league history has had a more dominant and unstoppable shot than Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook. While others may have been able to do more, the fact that Abdul-Jabbar’s best trick was better than anyone else’s is a testament to his greatness.
It’s also worth mentioning that Abdul-Jabbar should not be dismissed as a “compiler.” At his best, he was one of the most efficient scoring champions in NBA history. For example, his back-to-back scoring titles in 1971 and 1972 showcase his prowess as a scorer. In fact, if you rank every single scoring champion in NBA history by field goal percentage, Abdul-Jabbar comes in first and second, which is the hallmark of a great scorer.
LeBron’s rebuttal: The claim that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time leading scorer is about to be overtaken by LeBron James. But, it’s worth questioning if the greatest scorer in NBA history can be someone who ranks outside the top 20 in playoff scoring average. In comparison, James averages over five more points in the NBA Finals and has an 8-1 advantage in 40-point games. Although James doesn’t have a signature shot like Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, he is a more versatile scorer with the ability to adapt to complex defenses. James is also continually working on improving his skills, including practicing the skyhook.
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GOAT scorer resume:
- 10 scoring titles (most all-time)
- 30.1 PPG in regular season (most all-time)
- 33.5 PPG in postseason (most all-time)
- The Stans Say: “Would average 45 in today’s NBA“
The argument for Michael Jordan being the greatest scorer is clear and simple: he has the most scoring titles and the highest average points per game. Furthermore, he led the Bulls in scoring in 32 of his 35 NBA Finals games, demonstrating his ability to perform at the highest level in clutch moments. It’s unlikely that Jordan would ever score just eight points in a 45-minute NBA Finals game.
Jordan’s fans and supporters, including lifelong Bulls fans, claim that if he played in today’s NBA, he would average 45 points per game. As a young player, Jordan was known for his explosive finishing moves, but he later became the greatest mid-range scorer of all time with his signature turnaround fadeaway shot over either shoulder. Despite every defender knowing what was coming, they couldn’t stop it. This is what sets Jordan apart as the GOAT scorer.
LeBron’s rebuttal: When comparing LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain’s 16 combined Finals appearances, James holds five of the top five highest scoring averages and eight of the top nine. While Chamberlain dominated during the regular season, his playoff scoring average decreased in each of his 13 trips to the playoffs. On the other hand, James’s career playoff scoring average is nearly two points higher than during the regular season and increased in six of his last seven playoff appearances.
To be considered the greatest scorer of all time, one’s performance under playoff pressure must be taken into account.
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GOAT scorer resume:
- 36.2 career PPG in Game 7s (best in NBA history)
- Highest career true-shooting percentage of every 25K scorer
- The Stans Say: “He’s the greatest three-level scorer ever.”
Out of the 600+ NBA players who have played in multiple Game 7s, Durant stands out with the highest point average. Regular season success and 40-point games in early round series are impressive, but it’s the performance under pressure that truly sets the greats apart. In Game 7s, no player has been able to match Durant’s combination of size, skill, and efficiency in scoring. With a career true-shooting percentage that is unmatched in NBA history, Durant is a scoring powerhouse. When compared to LeBron, Durant holds the advantage in head-to-head matchups, and his scoring ability is unmatched by any player.
LeBron’s rebuttal: When it matters most, LeBron’s track record trumps Durant’s reputation. LeBron has hit seven game-winning buzzer-beaters, while Durant has only three, and none of them have come in the playoffs. Furthermore, LeBron has a better performance in clutch moments in the postseason, with five game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final minute in the playoffs, while Durant falls short.
With the game on the line, James outshines even Durant.
GOAT scorer resume:
- Four straight 50-point games
- Two scoring titles and four runner-ups
- The Stans Say: Best tough shot-maker in NBA history
The supporters of Kobe Bryant’s scoring abilities highlight his exceptional footwork, a relentless drive to win, and unmatched dedication. When the USA formed the Redeem Team in 2008, it was Kobe, not LeBron, Dwayne Wade, or Carmelo Anthony, who led the team, took charge in the close gold medal game against Spain. Kobe studied the greatest players and imitated every move in Michael Jordan’s arsenal.
Bryant’s audacity to shoot and make any shot, even with multiple defenders on him, was unparalleled. Just search for videos of his game-winning shots on YouTube, and you’ll be amazed by his shot-making ability.
LeBron’s rebuttal: When it comes to clutch situations, James has more options to win. He can overpower opponents with his strength and speed, hit 3-pointers on the move, and make tough shots in transition. James excels at creating high-pressure scoring opportunities better than any other player in history. With the most game-winning buzzer-beaters in NBA history and significantly better shooting splits in clutch moments than Bryant, James’ dominance is supported by factual, results-driven records, rather than being based on folklore.
Greatest scorers in NBA history
My stance is clear: LeBron comes first, followed by everyone else. While Jordan is the only one who can truly challenge James, I placed Jordan ahead of James in my rankings a year ago, primarily due to his 10-scoring titles. However, as time goes on, I am more and more impressed by James’ scoring abilities, especially considering he’s still putting up over 30 points per game in Year 20.
James has perfected his scoring to a point where he can seemingly effortlessly score 30 points. Meanwhile, at the same age, Jordan was scoring a less efficient 23 points and had limitations that James has yet to experience.
Additionally, James has competed against a multitude of top-tier scorers in his era, including Bryant, Durant, McGrady, Iverson, Anthony, Harden, and Curry, all of whom would have been the second or third-most prolific scorers in Jordan’s era. However, when comparing Jordan’s competition for scoring titles, there’s no contest. This could have played a role in Jordan winning remarkable 10-scoring titles.
Without further ado, I present my updated list of the 15 greatest scorers in NBA history.
Here are my thoughts on the remaining top 15 scorers:
Bryant was a near-replica of Jordan in terms of footwork, mannerisms, and mentality.
Baylor was a trailblazer as an above-the-rim scoring threat with the third-best scoring average in league history and a precursor to the Eurostep.
The Logo, Elgin Baylor, holds the third-highest scoring average in Finals history, only behind Rick Barry and Jordan.
Harden’s isolation scoring may not be for everyone, but his relentless efficiency from free throws and 3s nearly toppled the 2017 Warriors’ dynasty.
Embiid has the highest per-minute scoring average in NBA history and boasts an unmatched array of moves for a big man.
Barry has the highest scoring average in Finals history at 36.3 points per game.
Gervin, also known as the Iceman, won three consecutive scoring titles and four of five seasons, similar to Durant.
Irving’s on-ball wizardry and sharpshooting ability, combined with his crafty finishing at the rim, make him unmatched in league history.
Bird’s 47-point game where he scored 10 of 21 shots with his left hand, despite not being a left-handed shooter, demonstrates his unmatched scoring talent.
Iverson makes the final spot with four scoring titles in an era rich with talented scorers and a playoff scoring average of 29.7, second in NBA history behind only the top scorer on this list.