Kobe’s Assault on the Scoring Record

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Kobe Bryant is marching up the NBA’s all time total points ranking. He dropped 31 points on the Knicks tonight with his standard conscience-free incredishot style. The prevailing perspective is that Kobe, currently in sole possession of 5th place on the list, will definitely make it up to third place (needs to pass Wilt and Jordan, will do so in 2 seasons at his current pace), probably make it to second (could pass Karl Malone in 3-4 years projecting some reduction in production as he ages), and could conceivably take first place (would pass Kareem in 5-6 seasons at age 38 if he maintains a diminished but still 20+ pts/gm pace).

That’s the story of Kobe Bryant climbing the “Bean” stalk to steal the #1 spot away from the giant, Kareem, not unlike Bruce Lee in Game of Death… also that kid Jack.

What nobody is talking about is Kobe’s place on the all-time playoff scoring list. Allow me. Below you will find the top ten players in total playoff points. As always, shout out to Basketball-Reference.com for providing free stats for the masses.

Totals Per Game Shooting
Rk Player G MP FG FGA 3P 3PA FT FTA PTS FG% 3P% FT% PTS
1 Michael Jordan* 179 41.8 12.2 25.1 0.8 2.5 8.2 9.9 33.4 .487 .332 .828 5987
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 237 37.3 9.9 18.7 0.0 0.0 4.4 6.0 24.3 .533 .000 .740 5762
3 Kobe Bryant 208 39.3 9.0 20.2 1.3 4.0 6.0 7.3 25.4 .448 .335 .815 5280
4 Shaquille O’Neal 216 37.5 9.4 16.8 0.0 0.0 5.4 10.7 24.3 .563 .504 5250
5 Karl Malone* 193 41.0 9.0 19.5 0.0 0.2 6.6 8.9 24.7 .463 .162 .736 4761
6 Jerry West* 153 41.3 10.6 22.6 7.9 9.8 29.1 .469 .805 4457
7 Tim Duncan 176 39.5 8.5 17.0 0.0 0.2 5.6 8.3 22.7 .502 .167 .678 3990
8 Larry Bird* 164 42.0 8.9 18.8 0.5 1.5 5.5 6.2 23.8 .472 .321 .890 3897
9 John Havlicek* 172 39.9 8.4 19.4 5.1 6.1 22.0 .436 .836 3776
10 Hakeem Olajuwon* 145 39.6 10.4 19.6 0.0 0.1 5.1 7.1 25.9 .528 .222 .719 3755
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2012.

As you can see, Kobe is already 3rd all-time in playoff scoring behind only Kareem and MJ. It’s much more difficult to project total points per playoffs than it is total points per season, because, health concerns aside, we know how many games a player will play in the regular season. In the playoffs, the quality of the player’s team determines how many games he will play (in two ways – the team has to be good enough to progress, but if it’s too good it will eliminate opponents very quickly, minimizing games played).

So we’ll need to do a lot of semi-educated guestimation. First let us prognosticate that the Lakers will always make the playoffs while Bryant is on the team. Minimum possible playoff games would be 4 if the Lakers were swept in the first round. Let’s also assume that they will not be swept from the first round. Maximum total playoff games would be 28 per season, if Lakers were to make the finals and play all 7 games in all four series. Let us further postulate that this will never happen, and certainly will not happen every season for the rest of Kobe’s career.

So somewhere between 4 games and 28 games is our range per season that Kobe might play. We need to use our powers of reductive deezoning to narrow that range a bit. We’ll work from the notion that the Lakers are not getting a lot better or a lot worse any time soon. Their only tradeable assets are their best players, so they won’t be getting anything great without losing something great, and because they are a good team, they aren’t likely to improve a lot through the draft. Furthermore they have a lot of money tied up in a few good players, so free agent thievery isn’t looking promising for them either. Therefore they are probably as good as they are likely to be, and with careful management, should stay around this level for a few more seasons. This is a team that seems destined to miss the Finals but could finish anywhere from a tough first round out to somewhere in the conference finals. On average, that’s a second round out or between 8 and 14 games. Let’s split the difference and a call it 11 games.

Whew. That was the least scientific method I’ve ever employed. I’m a little dizzy actually. Maybe you should all sit down before we proceed. Okay? Okay.

11 playoff games per season. 25 points per game average. 275 points per playoffs.

To reach Kareem in 2nd place Kobe needs 478 more points. He’ll get there in 2 seasons at the projected rate.

To reach Jordan in 1st place Kobe needs 707 more points (a deliriously high number considering the fact that Kobe has already played 29 more playoff games than MJ). According to our projection, that’s just 3 more seasons.

So not only does Kobe have a shot at becoming the most prolific regular season scorer of all time, he’s almost a shoe-in to leave the game as the all-time leader in playoff points. In fact, if he plays long enough to break Kareem’s regular season scoring record (5-6 seasons), he should build up a pretty good buffer between himself and Jordan in total playoff points.

I’m not honestly a big proponent of rating players by their total career production. Those numbers say far more about how long a player played pretty good ball than they do about how good he was in his prime. But when Kobe’s merits are weighed on the Stage of History (welcome back!) the record book will decree: Most Career Point, Most Career Playoff Points, Most All-Star Appearances, Most All-NBA Team Selections, Most All-Defensive Team Selections… according to my science-free projections, the aggregate achievements are going to push him very high on a lot of lists.

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2 Responses to “Kobe’s Assault on the Scoring Record”

  1. High Above Courtside Says:

    I’m surprised the Wilt did not make the list. Also there are more rounds of playoff than West and Havlicek played.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      With Wilt it definitely is about there being fewer rounds, and his willingness to become a second or third option in LA. Similar for West and Hondo I’d think. Fewer rounds and lots of talented teammates to share the scoring load.

      Nice to hear from you!

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