Mr. Triple-Double: Russell Westbrook
I’ll preface this article by saying that it is going to be very analytical. I geek out on numbers and statistics in the NBA, which explains my love of watching Russell Westbrook (Mr. Triple-Double). So bear with me while reading through all the numbers and try to let them really sink in. Trust me, it makes the story on display in front of the numbers that much more interesting.
There have only been two players in the history of the NBA to average a triple-double, 10+ points, 10+ rebounds and 10+ assists, for the duration of an entire season. The two players are Oscar Robertson in the 1961-1962 season and Russell Westbrook in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. Russell is currently averaging a triple-double through 26 games this season too. In the following paragraphs, I am going to attempt to put into perspective just how remarkable the statistics are behind Westbrook’s improbable triple-doubles run.
During the 2016-2017 season, there were 117 triple-doubles recorded across the entire NBA. Westbrook accounted for 42 of them. That means Westbrook had 36% of all the triple-doubles in the NBA that season AND he recorded a triple-double in more than 50% of the games he played. Take a second to let that sink in. There are 82 games in the NBA regular season, and Westbrook had a triple-double in 42 of them. The next closest player that season was James Harden with 22, almost half the amount Russell tallied. 42 triple-doubles also broke the record for most in a season, with the previous record being 41. That was held by Oscar Robertson in the aforementioned 1961-1962 season.
Russell Westbrook vs Oscar Robertson
Oscar’s triple-double record was considered one of those miraculous and unbreakable sports records, similar to Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive hitting streak and Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played record. And guess what? Westbrook not only broke Oscar’s triple-double record, but also topped Robertson by averaging a triple-double for a whole season TWICE, backing up the 2016-2017 campaign by averaging a triple-double again in the 2017-2018 season. In the 2017-2018 season there were 108 triple-doubles across the league. Westbrook accounted for 23% of them with 25 total. His total triple-doubles fell off, however he still maintained the per game average for the entire season.
The reason a triple-double is not common in the NBA is because it takes an impressive amount of effort for an athlete to impact a basketball game by scoring, crashing the boards and creating shots for teammates. The fact is, Russell Westbrook has to be considered one of the greatest all-around basketball players to ever step on the court, solely due to how impactful he is in so many facets of the game.
All-Time Triple-Double List
At the age of 30, Russell Westbrook is already third on the all-time triple-doubles list with 111. Oscar Robertson currently holds the record with 181. Second place Magic Johnson is far behind with 138. At his current pace, Westbrook will pass Oscar when he is 32 or 33 years old. If he remains healthy, he will absolutely shatter 181. What Oscar did in the 1961-1962 season was supposed to be a once in a lifetime feat, but Russell is making it commonplace. Almost a third of the way through the 2018-2019 season, Russell is averaging 21 points, 10.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game. If he can three-peat averaging a triple-double, there needs to be a statue put up outside the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City the next day.
My main issue surrounding Westbrook’s improbable statistics is that people have started to simply expect a triple-double from him. It’s more of a story if he doesn’t get one in a game, which is absurd. By doing this, we are downplaying the greatness of what we are witnessing. We’re not giving it the proper recognition it is due. There never has and never will be a player in the NBA who has a motor comparable to Westbrook. He plays the first game of the regular season with the same ferocious mentality he would play with in a Game Seven of the NBA Finals. That is special. Russell plays for his pure love of the game. In my opinion, he should have been the unanimous Most Valuable Player in the NBA the past two seasons. His unfathomable statistics back that up.