Kobe Bryant will catch Michael Jordan, and maybe Karl and Kareem, too

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Kobe Bryant passed Wilt Chamberlain for No. 4 on the all-time scoring list on Saturday. Michael Jordan is next. But is there a chance Kobe can catch Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Kobe Bryant is now the No. 4 most prolific scorer in NBA history, as his 19 points in Sacramento on Saturday were enough to push the Lakers' living legend to 31,434 points, 15 ahead of Wilt Chamberlain.

As the chart below shows, it won't be long before Kobe catches the one and only Michael Jordan. Each colored block represents one season. You'll notice that Kobe has now appeared in two more seasons than MJ did. (And yes, that includes the Wizards stint.)

Kobe-scorers_medium

Kobe is 859 points behind MJ for No. 3. He's scoring about 2,000 points per season these days, so if he doesn't fall off much he'll catch Jordan around Christmas 2013.

Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are long-term projects. If Kobe maintains his current 27 points per game average indefinitely, it would take 203 games to catch Karl and 257 games to catch Kareem. The Lakers have eight games left this season. His current pace would have Kobe reaching Malone midway through the 2015-2016 season, and reaching Kareem at the end of that season or the beginning of the 2016-17 season. Bryant would be 38 in that season.

One issue to note though is that Karl and Kareem both slowed down significantly in their 18th seasons, and even more in their 19th seasons. Next year will be Kobe's 17th season. Of course, Kobe is younger than they were at this point in their careers: he went straight from Lower Merion High to the pros, while Malone spent three years racking up points for Louisiana Tech and Kareem spent four years at UCLA. There are two ways this could go: a career that started at a younger age could prevent Kobe from hanging on until he's close to or beyond age 40, or his having not supplied valuable years to a college program could allow him to end up No. 1 on the list by age 38.

For my money, it's too tough to tell right now whether Kobe will make it to Kareem. I don't doubt his ability to stay in shape, but playing at this level for 20 years is just crazy. That's what he'll have to do to end up No. 1.

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