LeBron James would rather count triple-doubles than points

LeBron James doesn't like to be referred to as a point guard, even though he has effectively played the position for years. He doesn't like to be classified as a power forward, even though he has won championships playing swaths of games at the position.

And he has never been crazy about being called a scorer, even though he's now one of the most elite scorers in NBA history.

James joined the all-time top 10 in scoring over the weekend, six weeks before his 32nd birthday. This week, he'll likely become the youngest to reach 27,000 points. He's a little uncomfortable talking about it because he doesn't want scoring to be his central legacy.

"Scoring has never been on my list of goals," James said. "Facilitating, getting my guys involved and rebounding, defending, getting blocked shots and things of that nature always ranked above that."

He says it has been gratifying that he now can call the greatest play of his career a defensive one: the chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. That moment is the centerpiece of his newest Nike commercial, in which James calls the block the "defining" play of his career.

He's making it clear he does not want to be defined as a scorer. He will not aim for 60 points in the final game of his career as Kobe Bryant did, majestically if self-servingly. If James chases a stat threshold on his final night, it will be a triple-double. And he's not waiting for the swan song; he has been chasing triple-doubles for years.

The truth is, James is not as gifted at scoring as his totals indicate. Perhaps even more than the others on the NBA's top-10 scoring list, he had to pour work into becoming an elite scorer. Reaching these heights on the all-time list is a validation of his efforts. His natural talent for passing -- he's a 1-percenter in terms of vision and court awareness -- is unquestioned. Ambidextrous and blessed with excellent touch, he has been a great ball handler from an early age. But the rest didn't come as easy.

James had to learn to shoot. He had to learn footwork to play from the post. He had to learn to think through the offensive game to find ways to stay potent after he began playing alongside high-scoring teammates. Those goals, he says, are what the scoring milestone is truly about.

Over the first seven years of his career, James shot just 31 percent on shots from 10 to 15 feet and 36 percent on those from 16 feet to the 3-point line. Over the past seven seasons, he boosted that to 40 percent from 10-15 feet and 41 percent on the longer jumpers. Though it's a battle he still fights -- including last season as his shooting numbers took a hit -- James worked to refine his balance so he has a repeatable form. He increased his field goal percentage for seven straight seasons, topping out at 57 percent in 2013-14.

In the 2006-07 season, James shot just 39 percent on post-up plays, averaging 1.9 of them per game. In those days James would often not fight for position in the post and allow himself to be pushed away from the hoop -- even by smaller defenders. By 2009-10 he was hitting 57 percent of his post-up shots, though he was still averaging fewer than two per game. In 2013-14, James led the league in post-up shooting at 56 percent and had boosted his numbers to four chances per game.

He honed those skills by working on technique during the summers, including in 2011 when he went to work with Hakeem Olajuwon and had it filmed so he could study the tapes.

When James went to Miami in 2010, he saw his shot total fall by two to three per game. But he kept his scoring rate nearly the same. He did it by becoming devoted to efficiency, hunting for shots that weren't just open, but in parts of the floor where he knew he excelled. He also became focused on improving his 3-point shooting.

James and then-teammate Dwyane Wade would occasionally play games within games, trying to best each other in shooting percentage. Occasionally it miffed coach Erik Spoelstra, who thought James passed up open shots because he was focused on his percentages. During his four seasons in Miami, his true shooting percentage -- which takes into account 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting -- was 60 percent or better each year.

Add that all together and it's a lot of points, the type of numbers that might convince observers that he was a scorer.

"I've played with a lot of great teammates that have allowed me and entrusted me to do what I do," James said. "Also it's a testament to me just taking care of my body and working on my craft throughout my career."

Yes, that body -- it's well-suited for scoring points, too. He's 6-foot-8 and somewhere between 260 and 270 pounds. For most of the past 10 years, James has been devoted to body maintenance. Stretching, yoga, preventative training, cold tubs, hot tubs, hyperbaric chambers, dry ice therapy -- he spent time with it all to extend his career. He has missed only 57 games in 13-plus seasons, and many of them were for rest.

His size also is a weapon; he just powers through contact. Since entering the league in 2003, James has 1,116 and-1s in his career, easily the most of any player in that stretch. At his peak, he was averaging 1.5 and-1s per game.

James might also contend he has another thousand buckets after fouls that were not called. No matter how you look it, that's a lot of extra points.

Hitting the top 10 -- James has a chance to be in the top seven by the end of the season -- has forced him to embrace his scorer status. James might not want that label, but he also cares about the game's history and he likes his new company with names such as Kareem, Michael, Wilt and Kobe, to name a few.

"For me to be in the top 10 with so many great players that played this game ... it's an honor," James said. "It's pretty cool."

Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.