All the King's Records: Projecting LeBron's Career 3-Pointers and Free Throws

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterAugust 16, 2019

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

As LeBron James enters his 17th NBA season, Bleacher Report is taking a look at where the four-time MVP sits in the history books in several statistical categories now, after his projected 2019-20 season and following the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.

Already near the top of the all-time leaderboards in numerous categories, James has passed some of the game's greatest players, and even more legends are about to be bumped down the rankings. Here's where the series stands:

Part I: James' total regular-season and postseason minutes.

Part II: James' total blocks, steals and rebounds.

Part III: James' total assists and turnovers.

Part IV: James' advanced stats, including PER, win shares, VORP and box plus/minus.

In Part V of All the King's Records, we look at where James could finish his career in total three-pointers and free throws.

           

3-Pointers Made: 2019-20 and Future Projections 

When predicting James' stats both for this season and beyond, I've based his numbers on 71 games played per season, as that's the average amount of time he's spent on the court over the past five years. That allows him to miss 11 contests per year for injury or rest.

His final career projections for all stats came under the assumption he'll play five more years, meaning a retirement at age 39 following 21 total seasons.

The three-point shot has never been a strong suit of James' game, although it hasn't been a weakness, either.

James owns a lifetime 34.3 percent success rate from deep, making 1.4 of his 4.2 attempts per game. During his 16 years in the NBA, the league average has fallen anywhere between 34.7 percent and 36.7 percent, meaning he's been slightly below average from outside the arc.

His personal three-point percentage has dipped as low as 29.0 percent during his rookie season and as high as 40.6 percent in 2012-13 while with the Miami Heat. 

Throughout his career, a defense has typically done its job if it can make James shoot a three. Given his nearly unstoppable transition game, skills in the post and prowess on both ends of a pick-and-roll, forcing him into a pull-up three is a satisfying result.

Like most of his game, James' outside shooting has improved throughout his career. Years of working on his craft, combined with teaming up with legendary shooters such as Ray Allen, Mike Miller, James Jones and Kyle Korver, have made opponents pay close attention to him even outside the arc.

Despite his improvement in this area, James has made it known he can impact the game in multiple other aspects first, as he told ESPN's Dave McMenamin in December: 

"I've been working on my jump shot for quite a while now and increasing my range every year. For me personally, it's weird, because I know where the league is going. But at the end of the day, I can go out there and not take a jump shot and still have an effect on the game.

"I just know how to play the game. I'm just very cerebral about the game. But I understand that you got to, at times, keep the defense off-balance, and being able to take a jump shot here, a couple 3s there, keeps them off-balance. But for me personally, no matter where the league is going, if there's a jump shot, 3 craze going on in our league, I can literally not take a jump shot and be fine."

Despite James not professing his love for the three-ball, he's taking more of them than ever. That could be a byproduct of the way the game is evolving or simply a method of preserving his body heading into Year 17.

During his first 10 years in the league, just 19.6 percent of James' shots came from three. Over the past six, that figure has increased to 24.8 percent, including a career-high 29.9 percent last season.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a three-pointer against the Brooklyn Nets on March 22, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

That translated to 2.0 makes on 5.9 attempts per game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018-19, both of which are also career highs.

James currently ranks 19th on the all-time list for made three-pointers and is sixth among all players rostered for the 2019-20 season.

Projecting James moving forward is trickier here than with other stats. While James' points, rebounds and assists will inevitably decline with age, the number of triples he attempts and makes could actually increase. He will no doubt want to preserve his energy for the postseason as much as possible from here on out, which means we'll likely see stats similar to the ones he put up this past season.

Given the projection of 71 games played per year, that means James would add approximately 142 made three-pointers per season to his career total. 

LeBron James Career Three-Pointers Projection
Year:2019-202020-212021-222022-232023-24
Age:3536373839
Three-Pointers:1,8692,0112,1532,2952,437
All-Time Rank:16111076
Basketball Reference

The projection factors in the likely rise of Klay Thompson (No. 16 overall) and James Harden (No. 9 overall), as well as the assumption that James won't catch either given his advanced age and lower three-point-attempt rate. JJ Redick sits only two spots and 23 three-pointers behind James, and will likely pass the four-time MVP this upcoming season, although James' projected longevity should ultimately place him ahead of the 35-year-old shooting guard.

For James, this means he could jump all the way into the top 16 by the end of next season and as high as sixth overall when his career comes to a close.

That's not bad for someone who doesn't have to shoot in order to have an effect on the game.

James' Current Rank: No. 19 all-time

Projected 2019-20 Rank: No. 16 all-time

Projected Career Rank: No. 6 all-time

                 

Free Throws Made: 2019-20 and Future Projections

Getting to the charity stripe hasn't been a problem for James throughout his career. 

In 16 seasons, he has finished in the top 10 in free-throw makes 12 times, including 2008-09 when he led the league with 594. He's already the active leader in made free throws and is eighth overall on the all-time list.

James would be even higher if not for his pedestrian 73.6 percent lifetime average from the line. He's never shot better than 78.0 percent and converted a career-low 66.5 percent last season.

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

At least twice, James has tried to overhaul his mechanics at the line with the help of teammates. Allen attempted a makeover with James when both were members of the Heat in 2013, and Korver made James stagger his stance with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017.

Neither alteration had lasting results.

The good news? While his percentage at the line remains iffy, the amount he's getting to the charity stripe has been steady.

James' free-throw-attempt rate (number of free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt) of 38.2 percent in 2018-19 was his highest since 2014-15, as were his 5.1 makes on 7.6 attempts per game. For someone who's likely to cut down on drives and settle for outside shots more as his career advances, he's proving he can still draw contact.

Taking James' average number of free-throw makes per game over the past five years (4.9) and multiplying it by his projected 71 games would add 348 to his career tally each season.

LeBron James Career Free-Throws Projection
Year:2019-202020-212021-222022-232023-24
Age:3536373839
Free Throws:7,4887,8368,1848,5328,880
All-Time Rank:54422
Basketball Reference

James should pass Michael Jordan for fifth overall this year and could potentially move all the way to No. 2 by the time his career is done.

At this pace, James would have to play until he's 42 to pass Karl Malone's all-time record of 9,787 made free throws, a record that isn't in danger of falling anytime soon.

James' Current Rank: No. 8 all-time

Projected 2019-20 Rank: No. 5 all-time

Projected Career Rank: No. 2 all-time

                 

Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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