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After nearly 40 years, the NBA has a new all-time leading scorer, as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the league's most prolific scorer ever Tuesday night. James' ability to produce points consistently at a high level for two decades is unparalleled, and one of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of the game. It also got us thinking: Who could be next to climb this high in the scoring record books? 

Needless to say, anyone who hopes to make it all the way to the top of the scoring ladder will need to play for an extended amount of time, like both James and Abdul-Jabbar did, and they will also need the benefit of good health. Extreme durability is a characteristic of both James and Abdul-Jabbar, as neither player ever missed an entire season due to injury issues.   

Given the fact that James still appears to be near the peak of his powers as a player, and he doesn't appear to have any plans to slow down any time soon, he's far from done adding to his all-time total. Thus, it seems unlikely that any other current player will ever catch 'The King' in scoring. However, Abdul-Jabbar's mark is set in stone at 38,387 career points, and with the science that now exists to maximize and extend player's careers combined with the pace with which the game is played these days, it seems at least plausible (albeit unlikely) that other players could catch up to Kareem.

Here's a look at four current players who could potentially challenge Abdul-Jabbar's mark. 

1. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

  • Age: 34
  • Career points (as of 2/8/2023): 26,684

Durant is the most obvious answer here. He currently sits 14th on the all-time scoring list with well over 26,600 points, and he'll likely move up to 12th before the current campaign comes to a close. He would already be even higher if he wasn't forced to miss the entirety of the 2019-20 season because of an Achilles injury.

At 34 years old, Durant is still one of the NBA's best scorers when he's on the floor, as evidenced by the fact that he's averaging 29.7 points per game this season. As a player that relies heavily on his size and his shooting stroke to produce points, Durant should be able to continue to score at a high clip, even as he loses athleticism with age. If anything, he seems to be getting more efficient, as he's shooting a career-high 55 percent from the floor this season. 

When LeBron James, the NBA's new all-time scoring leader, was asked recently what other players he could see ultimately catching Abdul-Jabbar and potentially even himself, he mentioned Durant immediately, and for good reason. 

"[Kevin Durant] is the first one who comes to mind, for sure," James said. "His name is not 'Easy Money' and 'Slim Reaper' for no reason. He does it so effortlessly. His ability to shoot the 3-ball, shoot the midrange, get to the paint and also shoot 85 to 90 percent from the free throw line...  Those are key ingredients." 

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks 

  • Age: 23
  • Career points (as of 2/8/2023): 8,531

Few players have put up points at the rate that Doncic, 23, has early in his career. In the midst of his fifth season in the NBA, Doncic has never scored below 1,500 points in a single season, and he currently has over 8,500 points to his name. He can score from anywhere on the court, and he makes doing so look effortless. Plus, the thing about Doncic is that he doesn't necessarily rely on blazing speed or crazy athleticism to score his points. This means that his skill set on the offensive end should age well and afford him the opportunity to pile up the points over the course of his career. 

Doncic's desire to play the game long enough to climb all the way up the scoring ladder could be the only thing that holds him back. When asked recently if he thought there was a chance he could ultimatly catch James, he shot the idea down quickly, saying he didn't plan to play as long as LeBron has.

"If you're saying me, there's no way because I'm not playing that much," Doncic said. ".. I don't know about 20 years. That's a long time to play basketball. I'd rather go back to my farm in Slovenia."

Perhaps Doncic will change his mind about how long he wants to play as his career continues. 

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 

  • Age: 28
  • Career points (as of 2/8/2023): 15,706

Giannis started his career slowly when it comes to point production, but he has been making up for it over the past six seasons. During that time, he has never averaged below 26.9 points per game over the course of a campaign, and he has compiled the bulk of his 15,000-plus career points. He's already the Bucks' all-time leader in point production, but he still has quite a way to go to catch former Buck, Abdul-Jabbar. 

The good news is, at just 28 years old, Antetokounmpo still has a whole lot of productive basketball ahead of him, which means he could make a real run up the all-time scoring ladder. Ultimately it could come down to how long Antetokounmpo wants to play. He's never been an elite shooter, and that could hurt him in this chase, but like LeBron, he always keeps himself in peak physical condition, and as a result Antetokounmpo seems like the type of player that could play for another decade at a high level. If he does that, he will certainly find himself near the top of the all-time scoring list. 

4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics 

  • Age: 24
  • Career points (as of 2/8/2023): 9,218

This one seems like a bit of a longshot -- and it probably is -- but Tatum has been a scoring machine since he entered the league in 2017, and even though it feels like he's been playing for a long time, he's still just 24 years old. The most impressive thing about Tatum's offensive output at this point in his career is that he's increased his scoring average every single season.

Here's a look at Tatum's points per game average over his first six seasons:

  • 2017-18: 13.9
  • 2018-19: 15.7
  • 2019-20: 23.4
  • 2020-21: 26.4
  • 2021-22: 26.9
  • 2022-23: 30.9

Tatum is fourth in the league in scoring this season, and he's still not done tweaking and improving his game. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see his average increase again next season. As a guy who has established himself as a top option in the league, Tatum seems like the type of player destined to win a scoring title or two.

Even if Tatum's average doesn't increase from his career high mark of 30.9 next season, it seems safe to assume that his production will remain steady (i.e. near 30 points per game) for the foreseeable future. His days of averaging in the teens or low 20's are long gone. If Tatum can string together a bunch of seasons where he's averaging in the high 20's or low 30's, he could shoot up the all-time list pretty quickly.

One thing that could help Tatum in this regard is improving his efficiency. Tatum is a career 45 percent shooter from the floor, and he's never shot better than 47 percent for a single season. If he can get that number up closer to 50 by improving his shot selection (something he's already done since the start of his career), he would be able to pile on points even more prolifically. 

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