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Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James' evolution as a shooter is the key to his climb up the NBA's all-time scoring list

LeBron James has now scored the third-most points in NBA history.

Five minutes into the second half of Sunday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, James moved past Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Hall of Famer Allen Iverson was among those in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center to congratulate the 16-time All-Star on yet another impressive milestone in his Hall of Fame career.

That James finds himself in this position isn't a huge surprise - he was one of the most hyped draft picks we've ever seen, after all - but it's easy to forget just how much he has improved throughout his career, specifically as a shooter. Not that he entered the NBA with a broken jump shot, but as one Western Conference scouting director told Marc Stein before he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, " his shot is the one element of his game that has been red-flagged ."

His jump shot was certainly an issue in his rookie season. While he averaged 20.9 points per game en route to winning Rookie of the Year, James shot only 41.7 percent from the field. He finished at a decent rate at the rim, especially when you consider that he was only 19 years old, but he shot 33.2 percent from midrange and 29.0 percent from 3-point range, both of which were well below the league average.

Even though it was something he continued to work on during his first go-around with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it wasn't until James joined the Miami Heat as a free agent in 2010 that his jump shot became a legitimate weapon. He credits the San Antonio Spurs for making him a better all-around shooter because of how they defended him in the 2007 NBA Finals, a series in which he averaged 22.0 points per game on 35.6 percent shooting from the field.

"Because of the Spurs, in a lot of my early years, [they are] part of the reason why my jump shot is a lot better today," James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin of ESPN in 2019 . "My first Finals appearance in '07, they went under on everything and I didn't shoot the ball, I wasn't comfortable with shooting the ball at that point in time in my career.

"So I give a lot of thanks to their scheme, a lot of thanks to a lot of other teams that I went against."

His third season in Miami was particularly dominant. Not only did he shoot a career-best 40.6 percent from the perimeter, James was effective from midrange, knocking down 43.2 percent of his attempts from that distance on the season. It helped him put together one of the most dominant volume scoring seasons in NBA history. According to Basketball Reference , only six players have ever averaged at least 26 points per game with a higher true shooting percentage than James did in 2012-13, a list that includes Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant.

It helped James win his second championship and fourth MVP award.

Something else James did in Miami? Score more with his back to the basket. Once again, it's something he added to his game following a loss in the Finals, this time to the Dallas Mavericks.

As Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told Kirk Goldsberry in 2013 , it transformed Miami's offence.

"When he returned after the lockout, he was a totally different player," Spoelstra says. "It was as if he downloaded a program with all of Olajuwon's and Ewing's post-up moves. I don't know if I've seen a player improve that much in a specific area in one offseason. His improvement in that area alone transformed our offense to a championship level in 2012."

That was the start of James being more conscious about his shot selection, and he's taken it to the extreme in the years since. Whereas 53.9 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim and the 3-point line in the first 11 seasons of his career, that figure has risen to 66.3 percent over the last six seasons. He rarely shoots long 2s anymore - at least, when compared to how reliant he used to be on those shots - focusing instead of getting to the basket or making the most of the extra point he gets from taking a couple of steps back.

James isn't one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA or anything, but he's around league average this season, which is pretty impressive given the volume with which he's shooting them. He's taking 6.0 3-pointers per game, up ever-so-slightly from last season, when he set a career-high with 5.9 3-point attempts per game.

James doesn't just shoot catch-and-shoot 3s either. A higher percentage of his 3-point attempts actually come off the dribble. His efficiency as a pull-up 3-point shooter has wavered over the the last few years, and yet it's given him something he can go to in isolation as his speed and athleticism has declined.

The result? James is still among the league's leading scorers at 35, an age where it's almost unprecedented to see someone playing at this level .

At this rate, he'll have a chance of catching Karl Malone and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar - the only players now ahead of him on the all-time scoring list - before he decides to call it quits.

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