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Kobe Bryant: Would a Lockout Ruin His Chance at the All-Time Scoring Record?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 8, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As Kobe Bryant moves up through the all-time scoring leaders, the question is being asked whether he could take the all-time scoring lead.

Based on his current total and season average, he should finish the season with somewhere in the ballpark of 27,900 points, which would put him 10,400 points behind the current leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The question is: How long would it take Kobe to score those 10,000 points? Based on his current career scoring average, it would take him 5.08 years to accomplish the feat, so the rough eyeball test leaves the door open.

However, I wondered, how much decline is realistic over those years? Is it realistic to accept that a 37-year-old Kobe is going to score at the same rate as a 32-year-old Kobe?

The easy math says just stick another year on the end of his career and that solves it. Over a six-year span, he would have to score only 21.32 points per game in order to achieve the all-time scoring lead—that sounds pretty realistic. 

Then again, he is a shooting guard. Rather than just suppose it's reasonable, I checked to see what sort of decline we should expect to see realistically over time. I looked at some of the best scoring guards of all time to see what they did after 32 and what sort of decline they had over time.

Looking at Alex English, Julius Erving, Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Ray Allen and Dale Ellis, the guards and forwards with the most points after 32, I looked at what sort of decline they had from year to year on average.

In the table below is the average rate of decline for each year after the age of 32. I considered average rates of decline, how many average points per game can be expected, what that translates to per season, and how far he would be behind Kareem. 

Age Percent of Previous Year's Scoring Kobe's Projected Points/Game Kobe's Projected Season Points Total Behind Kareem
33 91.8 22.4 1836 9128
34 94.4 21.2 1735 7392
35 89.1 18.9 1546 5847
36 94.3 17.8 1459 4388
37 66.4 11.8 970 3417

Using historical decline rates, it would seem that even if there were no more decline for Kobe after the age of 37, he would have to play until 41 to reach the all-time scoring lead. It's highly unlikely that either of those things would be true.

However, let's assume that Kobe does better than the average decline rates. Let's award him a better retention of his skills than the others have had as their careers wind down.

There are reasons to be optimistic. Kobe is a highly-conditioned athlete and that's not likely to change. He's also skilled, so it's possible that he could retain his scoring average as he gets older better than most. 

I gave him the most optimistic decline rate I could consider, based on being slightly better than the best decline rates of some of the others as they got older.

The general trend is that the older players get, the more the decline rate increases.For that reason, I'll postulate that Kobe declines by two percent next year, four percent the year after and so on, with the decline rate increasing by just two percent per year. That assumption would give Kobe the best retention of his production of any scoring guard in history.

Here's what that would look like. 

Age Percent of Previous Year's Scoring Kobe's Projected Points/Game Kobe's Projected Season Points Total Behind Kareem
33 98.0 23.9 1960 9004
34 96.0 23.0 1882 7122
35 94.0 21.6 1769 5534
36 92.0 19.8 1627 3726
37 90.0 17.9 1464 2262
38 88.0 15.7 1289 973
39 86.0 13.5 1108 -135

So, if Kobe is able to maintain an unprecedented rate of maintenance over the next seven years and doesn't get injured, he could theoretically pass Kareem before he turns 40. That's important because only one guard in the history of the NBA, John Stockton, has scored more than 200 points after the age of 40.

Considering Kobe's early entry out of high school and the fact that he's already played 3,500 more minutes by the age of 32 than any guard in the history of the NBA, it's not very likely that he would be able to do much past the age of 40.

At present, it's not impossible for him to surpass Kareem's total provided he escapes injury and maintains a high level of conditioning. What is apparent, though, is that any games missed this season due to a lockout would have to be made up at the end of the season when he was 39.

Because of decline rates, every game that he misses this season would need to be made up at the end of his career and those games aren't worth as much.

If he were to miss six games this season, it would push him into another season, playing at 40, to break the all-time record.  Admittedly, that's being pretty exacting of the projections here, but keep in mind this is highly optimistic in Kobe's favor; therefore it doesn't change the basic premise.

Games played at 33 are going to have a much higher value than games played at the age of 40; therefore, the longer any lockout lasts, the more difficult the all-time scoring lead becomes for Kobe to achieve. 

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