Russell Westbrook Ties Oscar Robertson's Single Season Triple Double RecordRussell Westbrook produced 12 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds in just 27 minutes as his Oklahoma City Thunder routed the Milwaukee Bucks 110-79 on Tuesday night. Westbrook has tied Oscar Robertson's single season record with 41 triple doubles and he has five games left to possibly set a new mark. Westbrook got his 10th rebound and 10th assist in a sequence that has become his trademark: he grabbed the defensive rebound, pushed the ball up the court and passed to a teammate (Taj Gibson in this instance) for an easy transition bucket. This is the eighth time in Westbrook's career that he has notched a triple double while playing fewer than 30 minutes (no other player in league history has more than three such triple doubles).
Westbrook has an active streak of seven consecutive triple doubles, tied for second on the all-time list behind Wilt Chamberlain (nine); the only other players who had seven consecutive triple doubles are Robertson, Michael Jordan and Westbrook himself earlier this season. That streak is part of a larger run during which Westbrook has posted a triple double in 11 of his last 13 games; the Thunder are 8-3 in those 11 games and 9-4 overall, solidifying their hold on the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
The Thunder are 32-9 when Westbrook has a triple double and 12-24 in the rest of their games; basically, the Thunder play at the same level as the San Antonio Spurs when Westbrook performs exceptionally but if he is "merely" great then they play at the same level as one of the five worst teams in the league. The direct impact of Westbrook's play on the ability of an otherwise mediocre team to win games is rare in NBA history, particularly for a guard; Pete Maravich with the mid-1970s Jazz and Kobe Bryant with the mid-2000s Lakers are perhaps the only two guards whose dominant play (albeit with a different style than Westbrook's) had a similar effect on the win/loss records of otherwise weak teams.
Westbrook needs just 16 assists in the next five games to average a triple double for the entire season, a feat that has only been accomplished once in pro basketball history; Robertson did it in 1961-62 (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg) and he also averaged an aggregate triple double overall during the first five seasons of his career. Like Westbrook, Robertson regularly posted "big" triple doubles, namely triple doubles featuring 30 or more points. This is remarkable and sets Robertson and Westbrook apart from the other players who rank in the top five on the career triple double list. Wilt Chamberlain had voluntarily reduced his scoring from 50-plus ppg to around 24 ppg by the time he started racking up triple doubles. Magic Johnson amassed most of his triple doubles when he was averaging less than 20 ppg and Jason Kidd was never a big-time scorer.
It is fitting that Kidd had a front row seat (as Milwaukee's head coach) for Westbrook's 41st triple double of the season; Kidd was the master of the triple double during his era, racking up 107 of them (third on the all-time list) during his 19 season career. During his prime, Kidd was one of the few players who seemed potentially capable of averaging a triple double for a season but the reality is that he never came close to doing so. Kidd averaged more than 10 apg three times in his 19 year career. His single season rebounding career-high was 8.2 rpg, during a season in which he scored 13.0 ppg and averaged 9.2 apg; Kidd actually came closer to averaging a "triple single" in his best rebounding season than he came to averaging a triple double. During his prime, the closest Kidd came to averaging a triple double was 1999-00 (14.3 ppg, 10.1 apg, 7.2 rpg).
The only player other than Robertson and prior to Westbrook who came reasonably close to averaging a triple double was Magic Johnson, who averaged 18.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 9.5 apg in 1981-82. The next season, he averaged 16.8 ppg, 10.5 apg and 8.6 rpg but he never again averaged at least 8 rpg for an entire season.
One other player should be mentioned: Lafayette "Fat" Lever. Listed at 6-3, 170, Lever was a remarkable all-around point guard in the 1980s and early 1990s. During a four year run, he averaged 8.9 rpg, 8.1 rpg, 9.3 rpg and 9.3 rpg with scoring averages fluctuating between 18.3 ppg and 19.8 ppg but he only reached the 8.0 apg mark once in his career.
In short, Westbrook's feat is astonishing on many levels: (1) he is averaging a "big" triple double (30-plus ppg, en route to clinching the second scoring title of his career), (2) he is averaging 10-plus rpg as a 6-3 guard (which would be unprecedented and noteworthy even if he was not a big-time scorer and playmaker) and (3) his triple doubles are essential for the Thunder to be able to compete. If anyone else had averaged 30-10-10 that player would have been a landslide MVP winner; some people like to mention that Robertson finished third in the MVP voting during his triple double season but Robertson was competing against the 50 ppg version of Chamberlain and Bill Russell during the middle of his 11 championships in 13 seasons dynasty. Robertson would have won the MVP in just about any other season in NBA history and indeed he won the MVP two years later with a 31.4 ppg/11.0 apg/9.9 rpg stat line.
Sadly, some media members remain stubbornly determined to minimize the significance of Westbrook's accomplishments. During a recent radio segment, Jared Greenberg stated that an MVP case for Westbrook based on him averaging a triple double for the entire season is flawed because James Harden is on track to finish the season "only" 160 rebounds away from averaging a triple double. It should be pointed out that with five games to go in the season roughly half of the players in the NBA do not have 160 rebounds for the entire season! Applying Greenberg's flawed logic, I came within 160 rebounds this season of being a better rebounder than about half of the players in the NBA. Give me a break; if you enjoy interviewing Harden more than you enjoy interviewing Westbrook or if you feel compelled to pump up the Daryl Morey "stat guru" method of team construction then just say so directly--but don't insult everyone's intelligence with statements that just flat out make no sense.
Putting aside the fact that Harden is going to fall a "mere" 20% short of matching Westbrook's rebounding total, Harden's overall statistics must be considered in the context of the fact that Coach Mike D'Antoni's system inflates the numbers of his point guards: he turned an average point guard into "Linsanity" and (with the help of some misguided MVP voters) he turned All-Star Steve Nash into a two-time MVP. You could swap out at least 10 other point guards for Harden and the Rockets would still win at least 50 games but if you take Westbrook off of Oklahoma City's roster--or if Westbrook has an "off" night of, say, 28 points, five rebounds and eight assists, as he did against Chicago in a 28 point loss--then the Thunder would be in the Draft Lottery.
Westbrook's 2016-17 regular season is one of the greatest individual seasons in pro basketball history--period, end of discussion.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:13 AM