LeBron James' Impressive Scoring Prowess Demands More Respect

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

David Richard/USA Today

Four-time MVP and Miami Heat megastar LeBron James continues to turn the NBA history books into his autobiography.

They say records are made to be broken, and James has apparently adopted that claim as a personal challenge.

During Miami's 122-121 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night, the King forced his way into the now-28-man group of 23,000-point career scorers.

Naturally, he reached that impressive mark at a younger age than any player in NBA history, according to Fox Sports Hoops' Twitter account:

Why is this natural? Because James is basically the youngest to do anything in NBA history.

Last January, he became the youngest to clear 20,000 career points. The script was familiar by that point—he'd already been the youngest to hit 1,000 and 10,000 points. Scoring aside, he also holds "youngest ever" records for recording a triple-double, winning Rookie of the Year and taking home All-Star Game MVP honors.

And less than four months removed from his 29th birthday, he became the first player to reach the 23,000-point milestone before the age of 30, according to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Information):

As the NBA's official Twitter account noted, it wasn't exactly a photo finish. James was more than a year younger than the previous record-holder, injured Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant:

These numbers need a little bit of context to be properly interpreted.

There's a difference between being the "youngest" and being the "quickest" to do something. A preps-to-pros leaper, James got something of a head start over many of the game's great scorers. He might be the league's youngest 20,000-point scorer, but he wasn't the quickest. James scored his 20,000th point in his 726th NBA game. Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain needed just 499 games to hit that mark.

This isn't meant to diminish the historical significance of James' accomplishments. In fact, it says a lot about his maturity that he could seemingly figure out this league as quickly as he did.

He's been a difference-maker from the moment he first stepped foot on the NBA hardwood. He tallied 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds as a wide-eyed rookie. The transition took a little longer for Bryant, also a high school import (7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists during his first season).

Jae C. Hong

James, of course, is so much more than a scorer.

He sees the floor like a point guard and shreds it just the same (career 6.9 assists per game). He's spent more of his NBA tenure on the perimeter than down in the paint, but you'd never know that by his glass work (career 7.2 rebounds a night).

Thanks to an otherworldly combination of size (6'8", 250 pounds), speed and strength, he can—and does—defend anywhere on the floor.

"That's why I should be Defensive Player of the Year," the five-time All-Defensive first-team selection said earlier this season, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "One-through-five... No one has ever done this before."

Lynne Sladky

That versatility has its perks. Without it, the rafters inside AmericanAirlines Arena may not be adorned with championship banners from each of the last two seasons.

But it has some drawbacks too.

It distorts our view of James as a scorer. His selflessness is often misinterpreted as a lack of killer instinct. That's our problem, not his, yet he's selflessly offered up an explanation as to why we keep making that mistake.

"There are different ways to hunt," James told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.

He added, "I win by ... I don't want to say doing it my way. I am doing it my way but not in a selfish way."

For every player we've broken down for being too selfish, James is held to a different standard. We don't think he's selfish enough.

Not even when the record books tell us that his scoring prowess should be held in the highest historical regard. He might not shoot as often as some of the game's premier point producers, but the guy can shred nets with the best of them.

James' Prominent Place Among the NBA's Top Scorers
Michael Jordan22.949.730.12
Wilt Chamberlain22.554.030.07
LeBron James19.949.627.48
Elgin Baylor23.843.127.36
Kevin Durant19.148.027.35
Jerry West20.447.427.03

If the advanced statistical movement has taught us that quality trumps quantity, why do we seem to punish James for his perceived lack of quantity?

Sure, it's fun to imagine him attacking with reckless abandon. Even he, himself, wonders what that might be like.

"If you give me 37 shots in a game, I’d have 60 ... 70," James told ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh earlier this season. "I had [almost] 40 now with 18 shots, I mean ... If you give me 37 shots in a game, I’d put up 60. Easy."

It sounded then like fantasy. It wasn't.

On March 3, James scored a career-high and Heat franchise-record 61 points on only 33 shots. His opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats, entered that contest with the NBA's sixth-most efficient defense.

And James promptly ripped it to shreds.

"Sixty-one on 33 shots, that's Wilt Chamberlain-esque," Heat forward Shane Battier said afterward, via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. "That's pretty amazing. Incredible performance."

The funny (or sad) thing is James' career numbers aren't seen in that same Chamberlain-esque light. But they should be.

James' offensive arsenal has no weak spots. He's shooting 53.4 percent from the field since the start of the 2009-10 campaign. He's hit 38.4 percent of his long-range looks over the last two-plus seasons.

If there's a crack in his armor, it's his good-not-great work at the free-throw line (career 74.7 percent). That's like saying a fortified castle is vulnerable because one of the bathroom doors has a faulty lock.

James is one of the finest NBA scorers we've ever seen. It's time we start treating him as such.

Hopefully before he puts his name on every page of the record books.

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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