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We’re less than a month from the opening of NBA training camps, and while their teams will focus collectively on winning a title, a number of individual career goals are within reach for the league’s active legends. Here are the records that could fall and the players who could break them in 2018-19.
As soon as he dons the Dallas Mavericks uniform this coming season, Nowitzki will set the NBA record for most campaigns with a single team after signing another one-year, $5 million contract this summer. The 40-year-old equaled Kobe Bryant’s 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017-18.
While Nowitzki mulled retirement in 2016 and 2017, he played 77 of the Mavs’ first 78 games this past season. His performance (12 points on 57.5 percent true shooting and 5.7 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game) was encouraging enough to make clear his desire to return in 2018-19 even before undergoing surgery in April on the bone spurs that have plagued his ankles throughout his career. He also hasn’t ruled out playing beyond this season, suggesting he will continue to consider retirement year by year.
The greatest European player in NBA history, Nowitzki is the league’s all-time leading scorer among foreign-born players. The 2007 MVP can add even more accolades to a Hall of Fame career this season:
• With 34 games played this season, Nowitzki could move into third place on the career list, surpassing Karl Malone (1,476) and John Stockton (1,504) for his career. Should he remain healthy this season, Nowitzki could potentially challenge Robert Parish’s all-time record of 1,611 career games in 2019-20.
• Nowitzki’s 31,187 career points currently rank him sixth in NBA history, and he needs just 232 points this season to catch Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place. Nowitzki scored 927 points at age 39 last season.
• If Nowitzki sinks 60 more 3-pointers than Joe Johnson this season, he will move into the top 10 in NBA history, although he will have to hold off J.R. Smith, who sits just one career 3-pointer behind him. Nowitzki made 138 triples last season, Smith made 143, and Johnson made 40. (We should probably take the time to repeat: J.R. Smith could climb into the all-time top 10 for 3-pointers made.)
• Nowitzki needs 277 rebounds this season to move into the top 25 all time. — Ben Rohrbach
It remains to be seen whether LeBron’s first year in forum blue and gold will bring an immediate return to NBA royalty for a Los Angeles Lakers franchise that has missed the playoffs for five straight years, but the King’s inaugural run through the Western Conference should include a number of opportunities for him to continue his assault on the NBA’s individual record books:
• James enters his 16th season in seventh place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, with 31,038 points. Outscoring Dirk by 149 points would allow him to overtake the German and, considering James has managed that in each of the last 13 seasons, that seems like a solid bet. (Unless Dirk found a drastically different supplement regimen this summer, that is.) James needs 381 points to catch Wilt Chamberlain, currently sitting fifth, and 1,254 points to reach Michael Jordan in fourth.
It’s unlikely James can climb any higher than that this season. He’d need 2,605 points to catch Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time list, an average of 31.8 points per game over a full 82-game season; the most he’s ever scored in a single season is 2,478, all the way back in 2005-06, and his highest per-game average was 27.4 points per game, in 2009-10. So barring an age-34 LeBron going absolutely and historically ape-poop in his first year in L.A., it seems likely that the Mamba’s spot is safe, and that those Lakers fans tormented over the existential crisis of whether they can make enough room in their hearts for Kobe and LeBron will get to put off dealing with LeBron pushing Kobe down the scoring list for one more year.
• James can also climb into the top five all-time in field goals. He sits seventh right now, with 11,280 makes, 439 behind fifth-place Bryant; LeBron has made 621 or more shots in each one of his 15 NBA seasons.
• As dominant a scorer as he’s been for the past decade and a half, James has always seen himself as more of a playmaker and facilitator, and he’s got the chance this season to enter the top 10 all-time in career assists. James will start the season in 11th place with 8,208 career assists, 316 behind the great Andre Miller for the No. 10 spot. LeBron has never notched fewer than 387 assists in a season — and that was the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, when he played 62 of a possible 66 games — and he dropped a career-high 747 dimes last season, so this one seems like a lock. (Climbing higher ought to be tough, though; even replicating last season’s career-best mark wouldn’t get him up to Gary Payton at No. 8, and his old buddy Chris Paul sits in ninth, 500 assists ahead of LeBron and sure to log plenty more with the high-powered Houston Rockets.)
• With a fully healthy season, James — who, remarkably for a dude in his 15th season, led the NBA in minutes played last season — could move up near the top 10 in total career minutes. As it stands, he’s 18th with 44,298; a 2,500-minute campaign would move him past Moses Malone, Robert Parish, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and John Havlicek to within striking distance of Payon (47,117) in 12th place.
• James needs 135 steals to reach 2,000 for his career, a mark only 12 NBA players have hit. He’s snagged that many three times before, but hasn’t done so since the ’08-’09 season.
• If LeBron can not only break the Lakers’ postseason drought, but lead L.A. to a deep run, he could make a run at the top spot in career playoff games. He’s now fourth, with 239, just five behind Robert Horry and 12 behind Tim Duncan. Reaching Derek Fisher’s all-time record of 259, though, would require the Lakers to play 20 postseason games this year … which would mean James’ new gang had gone, at minimum, deep into the Western Conference Finals.
• If the Lakers do stick around for a while come spring and summertime, LeBron could have a shot at moving up to second all-time on the playoff assist charts, too. He’s in third now with 1,687, but would catch John Stockton for second place with 152 more postseason dimes; for reference, James logged 198 assists in the 2018 playoffs.
It’d take quite a bit more sharing for him to reach the top of the mountain, though. The all-time record is 2,346 postseason assists, held by … Magic Johnson, the man who brought LeBron to L.A. this summer. — Dan Devine
Nine seasons into his career, Curry is already a lock for the Hall of Fame. His career accomplishments include back-to-back MVP awards in 2015 and 2016, three NBA championships in the last four years and five straight All-Star appearances. Just 30 years old, Curry should still have plenty of basketball ahead of him, so long as his ankles stay healthy, but already he can climb the NBA’s all-time rankings:
• If Curry replicates his free-throw shooting performance from last season (92.1 percent on 302 attempts), his career percentage would rise from 90.3 to 90.5 percent — a touch higher than Steve Nash’s all-time career record (90.4 percent). He’d then have to stay there for the rest of his career.
• Currently ranked seventh in NBA history with 2,129 career 3-pointers, Curry will surpass Paul Pierce and catch Jamal Crawford in the first month of the 2018-19 campaign. He could climb as high as third on the all-time list this season by making 84 more 3’s than Kyle Korver and 153 more than Jason Terry (who remains unsigned). Curry, whose 402 3s in 2015-16 are a single-season record, will then set his sights on Reggie Miller (2,560) and Ray Allen (2,973) to solidify his status as Greatest Shooter Ever.
• Curry needs just eight more playoff 3-pointers to eclipse Allen for the postseason record. — BR
An early-season injury prevented the all-time table-setter from making his 10th All-Star appearance last season. A mid-conference-finals injury prevented him from helping do the all-but-impossible: carrying the Houston Rockets past the Kevin Durant-era Golden State Warriors and into the NBA Finals. Those disappointments aside, Paul was brilliant in the first year of his pairing with eventual MVP James Harden, proving a perfect offensive partner and defensive organizer for a Rockets club with designs on making another run at the champs this season. Along the way, he could climb up the all-time lists on both ends of the floor:
• Paul sits ninth in career assists, with 8,708 through 13 seasons. Equaling last year’s 457 dimes would push him up over 9,100, which would move him past Isiah Thomas for seventh on the all-time list, but still a ways away from Oscar Robertson (9,887) in sixth.
• Despite failing to top 100 steals last season for only the second time in his career, CP3 still became one of 12 NBA players ever to crack 2,000 for his career. Seventy-eight more would supplant Karl Malone for 10th place all time; 105 would push him past Alvin Robertson into ninth. (Paul’s swiped that many in a season 11 times, leading the NBA five times.) — DD
More records made to be broken
In addition to the laundry list of accolades that Nowitzki, James, Curry and Paul can add to their resumes, a handful of other Hall of Fame candidates will climb some all-time rankings this season:
• Russell Westbrook‘s 104 career triple-doubles puts him three behind Jason Kidd on the all-time list. Westbrook, whose 42 triple-doubles during the 2016-17 season set a single-season record, could catch Magic Johnson with 34 more triple-doubles this season. Despite averaging a triple-double each of the last two seasons, Westbrook still needs 74 more to match Oscar Robertson’s career record of 181.
• Carmelo Anthony‘s 25,417 career points put him 19th on the all-time list. He averaged 16.2 points over 78 games for a total of 1,261 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. His role on the Houston Rockets in 2018-19 may be smaller, but even still, he needs just 980 more points to knock Paul Pierce from the top 15 on the career scoring list. Alex English, Kevin Garnett and John Havlicek stand between them now. Similar production to last season could even launch Anthony as high as 12 on the ledger.
• Vince Carter, who signed with the Atlanta Hawks this summer, needs 132 points to become the 22nd member of the NBA’s 25,000-point club. He scored 313 at age 41 for the Sacramento Kings last season.
• After playing his first 17 seasons for the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker will back up All-Star point guard Kemba Walker on the Charlotte Hornets this season. The 36-year-old four-time NBA champion needs 1,057 points to become the 45th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points. He scored 421 points in 55 games for the Spurs last season. The still-unsigned Jamal Crawford, 38, needs 1,094 points to join the same club. He scored 822 in 80 appearances for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.
• Should he return for a 16th season, Dwyane Wade will bump Clyde Drexler (22,195 career points) from the top 30 scorers in NBA history with 114 more points. Kevin Durant, who already has 20,913 in his career, can also jump as high as 30th on the career points list with another MVP-caliber season. — BR
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