Having coached LeBron James for two seasons already, coach Frank Vogel knows the drill by now.
When the Los Angeles Lakers superstar is approaching a statistical milestone to further add to James’ decorated career, Vogel will get a heads-up from a public relations staffer.
“Our PR team, more than anyone, will just kind of let us know, ‘Hey, he’s going to pass this person,’ with this many points or rebounds or whatever,” Vogel said, having been through it countless times since 2019. “Social media, you see it on there sometimes.”
Rather than make some grand gesture, Vogel acknowledges the achievements but recognizes that James — 36 and entering his 19th season — is just fine with the understated.
“Nothing in an official capacity, but when it happens you congratulate him on it,” Vogel said. “But it’s really, he’s very in the moment more than thinking about those big-picture things. I think it’s more of a reflect-after-the-fact type of thing and when you cross those milestones, you feel good about it.
“But you either won a game last night or lost a game, and what’s the next step in our process? Practice tomorrow. Those types of things. He really stays in the moment a lot.”
James has repeatedly said he won’t look in the rearview until he’s retired, at which point, he and his longtime friend and business partner, Maverick Carter, will reminisce and share stories while uncorking bottles of wine.
What unfolds this season could cause them to grab another bottle from the cellar. Here’s a look at the next accomplishments James could notch in 2021-22.
When James passed Hall of Fame guard Allen Iverson on the all-time scoring list in 2015, he slipped in a dig at how his game was described by the media in the nascent stages of his career. “For someone that’s not much of a scorer — as you guys have deemed me — it is pretty cool,” James said.
While journalists got that wrong, one trope repeated by talking heads that has proven to be accurate is how James, at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, is a point guard in the body of Hall of Famer and former Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone.
And he’s in range to pass his body double for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list this season. James enters this season 1,561 points behind Malone. If he plays in every game and averages 25 points a night — which is right in range with his average the past two seasons — he’ll pass Malone on the list somewhere around Game No. 63 vs. Golden State on March 5.
In fact, if James can maintain a 25 points per game average moving forward, he’ll need 121 games to pass Hall of Fame great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) for No. 1.
While the all-time scoring list celebrates offensive skill over time, James is also set to move up a couple longevity lists. If he plays all 82 games this season, he can move from 19th to a tie with Tim Duncan for 10th on the all-time games played list with 1,392. If James logs 1,314 more minutes, he’ll jump from No. 6 to No. 3 on the all-time list, passing Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki (who is currently third with 51,368 regular-season minutes played).
James comes into the season with 12,903 made field goals, putting him in third behind Malone and Abdul-Jabbar. He would need 625 makes to pass Malone, which is doable considering he had 643 in 2019-20, but is still a ways away from Abdul-Jabbar, who has 2,934 more made field goals than James. He would need to average nine makes per game for nearly four full seasons to pass the former Bucks and Lakers center.
As far as attempts go, James is fourth on the all-time list with 25,604. With 607 more attempts this season, he’ll vault both Kobe Bryant and Malone into second. He’s still 2,703 attempts behind Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time mark.
On the flip side, James is currently fourth in all-time missed field goals. If he clanks 718 more, he’ll move past Hall of Fame big Elvin Hayes (third with 13,296 misses) and longtime Celtics star John Havlicek (second with 13,417) to settle behind Bryant, who registered the most missed shots in league history with 14,481.
THREES AND FREES
As the NBA has undergone a 3-point revolution the past decade, so too has James’ game. He set career highs in both the volume of makes (2.3) and takes (6.3) he had from 3 last season.
“Once I’m in the gym, I’m in my range,” James once told ESPN.
His makes have piled up. He entered this season with 1,979 made 3s, which puts him 13th all time and fourth among active players with only Stephen Curry (second), James Harden (fifth) and Damian Lillard (10th) above him. He needed four more triples to pass Nowitzki (which he accomplished in Tuesday’s season opener) to move into the top 12 and five more to pass Kidd for 11th. The most made 3s James has ever had in a season is 149; if he can make 165 this season he’ll pass Paul Pierce for No. 9.
James enters the season fifth all time in free throws made with 7,582, though he’s shooting under 70% over the past three seasons and also averaged a career-low 5.7 attempts per game last season.
He needs 113 makes from the line to pass Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson for fourth. Becoming the all-time free throw king is probably out of reach. He is 2,250 free throw makes behind Malone’s all-time record. He’d need to make six per game for 368 games (or four and a half seasons) to catch him.
ASSISTS, REBOUNDS & TRIPLE-DOUBLES
James has already cracked the top 10 in all-time assists, coming into the season ranked No. 8 with 9,696. If he becomes the seventh player to hit the 10,000 assists plateau, he’ll pass Robertson (9,887) in the process.
With 640 assists — a total he has reached four times in his career thus far — he can move past Magic Johnson, Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into the top five. But he’ll also be chasing his buddy Chris Paul in the process, who entered the season fifth with 10,225 assists.
Compared to his other accomplishments, James is relatively average when it comes to rebounding at 42nd all time. By hauling in 400 rebounds, which is roughly his average, he’ll move ahead of Red Kerr and Shawn Marion, into the top 40.
He can also further distinguish himself by adding rebounds and assists to his point totals. With 249 more rebounds and 304 more assists, he’ll become the first player to reach the 10,000 mark in each category.
And his next triple-double will be the 100th of his career, which would make him just the fifth player to reach that mark, along with Kidd, Johnson, Robertson and new teammate Russell Westbrook. That next triple-double would also break a tie between him and Elgin Baylor for the second most in Lakers history (James has 26 through his first three seasons in L.A.), putting him behind only Johnson.
James laments the fact he has never earned Defensive Player of the Year and brought it up last offseason after the Lakers signed Marc Gasol. “Marc has my Defensive Player of the Year trophy at his house,” James said on the “Road Trippin’ Podcast,” referring to the 2012-13 season when James came in second to the big man.
But the guy whose signature play of his career came on the defensive end — the chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals — has the stats to show how good he has been as a stopper.
James ranks 13th on the all-time steals list and will move up to No. 10 with 50 more swipes, passing Mookie Blaylock (12th) and Malone (11th) along the way to unseat Alvin Robertson. If he records 100 steals, to bring his career total to 2,163, he’ll pass Hakeem Olajuwon — a two-time DPOY winner — for ninth.
James is also 104th on the all-time blocks list with 982, and with 26 more swats — one more than last season’s total — he can move comfortably into the top 100 and pass the likes of Mike Gminski, Emeka Okafor, Chris Andersen, John Salley, Bobby Jones and Rick Mahorn.
James already replaced Michael Jordan as the premier postseason scorer back in 2017 and told ESPN at the start of training camp that adding to his four championships in hopes of getting closer to Jordan’s six remains a deep passion.
“I still have a burning desire inside of me to want to continue to win and hold Larry O’Brien’s Trophy at the end of the season,” James said.
On his intended road to the title, he can solidify his statistical stronghold on the record books.
James, who already ranks No. 1 in points, playoff games, minutes, field goals, free throws, steals and turnovers, can climb to the top of the postseason triple-doubles list with three more to pass Johnson (who has 30 to James’ 28).
James is also second in playoff 3s, only 38 behind Stephen Curry at No. 1. And while Curry’s career should have a lot of time left, James’ team might be better suited for deeper runs in the short term than the Golden State Warriors. James has hit 38-plus 3s in a single postseason three times in his career (2017, 2018 and 2020).
He’s second in playoff assists, too, with 1,919, but it’s less likely he catches Johnson for No. 1. He’d need to average seven assists over 61 playoff games to break that all-time mark.
And with 2,381 career rebounds in the playoffs, James could catch two of the greatest centers in postseason boards with a Finals push by the Lakers. He would move from No. 6 to No. 4 and pass Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal with 118 rebounds this postseason.
Vogel, the L.A. PR staff and James’ teammates will be closely monitoring these benchmarks that are in the four-time champion’s reach.
“I try to give people their flowers, man,” Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “You have to. Any accomplishment, especially things that guys on this team will accomplish and can accomplish or have the opportunity to accomplish. You want to celebrate them, you want to not overlook those moments and not take those moments for granted.”