On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant became the fifth member of the NBA's 30,000-point club. While round numbers have never meant as much in basketball as they do in baseball--Bryant's accomplishment got little more fanfare than a baseball player joining the much less exclusive group with 3,000 hits--the accomplishment was one worth celebrating, and it got me thinking who might join Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone in this circle.
Ordinarily, given how exclusive the 30,000-point club has been to date, the answer would probably be "nobody." However, we may be in for expansion because players are entering the NBA earlier and playing effectively longer than ever before. Most likely a couple of active players will score at least 30,000 points, and possibly more.
To estimate those odds, I turned to an old Bill James invention known as "favorite toy" that estimates a player's chances of reaching any statistical goal based on their age, remaining amount needed and a benchmark from the last three seasons. That yields a list of 16 players with a non-zero chance of reaching 30,000:
Player Age Rem Bench Sea %
LeBron James 27.9 10527 2126 7.2 90.5
Kevin Durant 24.2 19519 2282 9.5 58.1
Dirk Nowitzki 34.5 5866 1732 3.3 48.1
Carmelo Anthony 28.5 13626 1754 6.9 35.8
Russell Westbrook 24.1 23674 1786 9.6 20.9
Dwight Howard 27.0 18213 1537 7.8 14.6
Dwyane Wade 30.9 14739 1660 5.5 10.5
Monta Ellis 27.1 21224 1648 7.7 9.2
Derrick Rose 24.2 24142 1474 9.5 8.0
Paul Pierce 35.1 7065 1453 2.9 7.1
Kevin Love 24.2 25196 1522 9.5 6.7
Chris Bosh 28.7 16941 1396 6.8 4.8
Blake Griffin 23.7 26471 1465 9.8 3.4
LaMarcus Aldridge 27.4 21890 1562 7.6 3.1
Josh Smith 27.0 20731 1406 7.8 2.3
Rudy Gay 26.3 21864 1383 8.2 1.3
Brandon Jennings 23.2 26165 1334 10.1 0.8
The way favorite toy works, and appropriately so, is to regard younger players as having a much wider range of possibilities. So it is that Brandon Jennings, still more than 26,000 points away, has a chance by virtue of his 10-plus estimated seasons remaining, while just two of the six active players besides Bryant who have surpassed 20,000 points show up.
The best chance of seeing someone join Bryant in the near future belongs to Dirk Nowitzki, who would have to play at his benchmark for three and a half seasons to get to 30,000. If this year is the half, Nowitzki would need play only to 38. In reality, Nowitzki's pace will surely slow, in part due to injury, so we might be looking at the 2016-17 season before Nowitzki could potentially get to 30,000.
Looking beyond, LeBron James is already close to a lock for 30,000. Barring major injury, he will get to 20,000 this season at age 28, leaving him somewhere around a decade to add to his prodigious total. Injury is really the only way James' path to 30,000 could be derailed. Something similar is true of Kevin Durant, though he only reached 10,000 career points this season. Durant's combination of youth and league-leading scoring makes him more likely than not to score 30,000 even by what is intended to be a conservative assessment.
Both Durant and James are ahead of Bryant's pace at the same age, as charting their career scoring totals by age--not including this season--shows.
Next is a group of three players that have a realistic shot at 30,000, but will need to work to get there. Carmelo Anthony is more than halfway there and has years of prime production ahead. Still, scoring 30,000 career points will require him to remain effective beyond his prime. Same with Dwight Howard, and we don't entirely know how his scoring production will be affected by playing with Bryant for the next few seasons. Russell Westbrook could follow his teammate into the 30,000 club a few years later. Durant got a head start by entering the NBA a season earlier, but Westbrook's scoring output hasn't been far behind since then.
Beyond those six players, anyone else is a longshot. Dwyane Wade is the most prolific of the group, yet he's still just halfway to 30,000 because of injuries and a relatively late start to his career. We'll know more about the chances of young players like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love in a couple of years, and Paul Pierce would probably have to play effectively at least to 40 to reach 30,000.
As for a handful of players on the list, including Jennings, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Josh Smith, the appropriate reaction is to channel Lloyd Christmas.
UPDATE: The chart above was initially missing Derrick Rose, who did not appear in my list because he has yet to play this season, and incorrectly had players' remaining points as of the start of the 2012-13 season. Thanks to Royce Young and Trenton Jocz for pointing out the errors.
It's worth a quick note on Rose to discuss how much injuries have affected his chances of reaching 30,000. So far the ACL injury that has him sidelined at the moment is not a big factor; Rose's odds were just 8.4 percent entering the season. The real issue is the injuries that limited Rose last season, in conjunction with the lockout, which both took him off pace and cut into his benchmark. After his 2010-11 MVP turn, Rose's chances were as high as 22.3 percent.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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