Nowitzki vs. Malone

Check out highlights of Dirk Nowitzki and Moses Malone's careers as Nowitzki passes Malone on the all-time scoring list.

Records were made to be broken, the old adage goes, but they were also meant to be witnessed. And as Dirk Nowitzki continues his climb up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, it’s becoming more fun to forecast when he’ll pass the players ahead of him on the list.

As it stands now, Nowitzki, currently sitting in seventh place on the list, needs 478 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place. North of O’Neal is a pretty sizable gap until you finally reach Wilt Chamberlain at No. 5, but Nowitzki has a chance to pass him if he plays another two or more seasons.

Place Player Career Points
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
2 Karl Malone 36,928
3 Kobe Bryant 32,482
4 Michael Jordan 32,292
5 Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
6 Shaquille O’Neal 28,596
7 Dirk Nowitzki 28,119

To figure out exactly when Nowitzki has a chance to pass O’Neal, we must first use some information from the past. For example, Nowitzki has never scored fewer than 1,300 points in a season in which he’s appeared in at least 60 games. That alone almost guarantees that, health permitting, the Big German will pass the Big Aristotle by New Year’s Day.

Second, Nowitzki hasn’t averaged fewer than 17 points per game since his rookie season in 1999. While it’s true that his minutes are set to drop to as low as 26-28 per game, according to Rick Carlisle, Dirk figures to maintain his high level of efficiency just the same. This means that, while he might not average exactly 17 per game, he could easily be somewhere in that neighborhood.

Finally, it’s likely that he’ll be held out of some latter halves of back-to-backs this season, but luckily the Mavericks don’t have as many of those as they’ve had in years past. This means that, as long as Nowitzki’s body cooperates the way it should given his workout routine, he won’t be missing many games for rest-related reasons.

With that, let’s run a few different scenarios to figure out when No. 41 will rise to No. 6 on the all-time scoring list — one for a scoring average of 15 points per game, one for a scoring average of 17 per game, and one for 20 points a night. (Don’t forget: He averaged 21.7 points just two seasons ago. Scoring 20 isn’t totally out of the question if he gets off to a hot start.)

Points Per Game Date He’ll Pass O’Neal Opponent
15.0 Dec. 30
17.0 Dec. 23
20.0 Dec. 12

As fortune would have it, if Nowitzki averages precisely 15.0 or 20.0 and plays in every game, he’ll move past the legendary O’Neal at the American Airlines Center. Last season Dirk jumped past both Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes at the AAC and it was a very cool scene.

Beyond O’Neal, it’s hard to project when Nowitzki could pass Chamberlain for a spot in the top five. As it stands now, he’s exactly 3,300 points behind Wilt, meaning he’d need to average 20.2 points per game and play every game the next two seasons to pass him before the end of his current contract. (Or he could accomplish the feat by scoring 40.3 points per game in 82 games this season, and I don’t think anyone would say no to that if it could happen.)

In all likelihood, Nowitzki wouldn’t be able to pass the great Chamberlain until the 2017-18 season, and at that point he’d need nearly 900 more points to pass Michael Jordan, which would be an absolutely astonishing feat. To think that a gangly kid from Germany could possibly end up with more career points than perhaps the greatest player ever is pretty awesome.

Passing Jordan probably wouldn’t happen until the 2018-19 season, or perhaps even later, and by then Nowitzki will be 41 years old. Seems fitting. And, hey, when you’re dealing with a list like this, nothing is out of the question: Abdul-Jabbar scored his final career points a week after his 42nd birthday.

This is all looking very far ahead, though. For now, all we need to worry about is what will happen this season, and there’s a good chance it will involved That Dude climbing even higher on the list of the best players to ever lace them up.

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