Westbrook Sets Single Season Triple Double Record in Electrifying FashionBy today's twisted NBA standards, Sunday's game between Oklahoma City and Denver was "meaningless" for Oklahoma City, as the Thunder were already locked into the sixth seed and a first round playoff matchup with third seeded Houston. Thus, the Thunder "should" rest Westbrook--but the Thunder do not operate that way and Westbrook would not stand for it if they did. He not only played in the game but he scored the Thunder's final 15 points as they roared back from a 14 point fourth quarter deficit. The Thunder trailed 105-98 with just :47 remaining but then Westbrook sank three free throws and scored on a driving layup before capping off the festivities with a 36 foot game-winning three pointer at the buzzer. By the way, this game was most assuredly not meaningless for Denver or Portland, two teams locked in a battle for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. Westbrook's dagger knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs. Watching Westbrook and the Thunder give their best effort in a "meaningless" game for them that had meaning in the overall standings sure felt much better than watching Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue bench his best players and thus hand a win to his buddy Doc Rivers, whose L.A. Clippers may get homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs thanks to Lue's gift.
This is the third recent game in which Westbrook has saved the Thunder after they seemed to be hopelessly behind; we have not seen a player repeatedly and almost singlehandedly alter the outcomes of games in this fashion since Kobe Bryant did this--and Bryant typically did it primarily by being an unstoppable scoring machine, while Westbrook not only is an unstoppable scorer (it seems like almost an afterthought to mention that he has clinched his second scoring title) but also a tremendous rebounder and passer.
Westbrook finished with 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists--his third 50 point triple double this season, which is more than any other NBA player has posted in his entire career. This was also Westbrook's 42nd triple double of the season, breaking his tie with Oscar Robertson for most triple doubles in one season. The Thunder are 33-9 in those games. Not surprisingly, they enjoyed a +10 scoring margin with Westbrook on the court versus Denver and were outscored by nine points during the 11 minutes he was not in the game (a pace which adds up to a 39 point loss when projected over 48 minutes).
During Friday night's loss to the Phoenix Suns, Westbrook had already clinched averaging a triple double for the entire season, a feat previously only accomplished by Robertson. It is bizarre to hear anyone speak of the triple double as being an "arbitrary" statistical milestone; no one had said such a thing when players such as Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd racked up triple doubles. The Westbrook haters cannot seem to decide if it is better to minimize the importance of the triple double or to emphasize that James Harden has also had a large number of triple doubles this season; it is funny to hear anti-Westbrook arguments that veer wildly across the landscape like a drunken sailor: "Triple doubles don't matter but Harden has over 20 of them this season and if Harden had just 160 or so more rebounds he would have averaged a triple double as well and almost averaging a triple double is just about as impressive as actually averaging a triple double." Huh?
On Sunday night, a Houston reporter lobbed a softball question to Harden about how much winning should matter in the MVP race and Harden tried to smack it out of the park by saying that winning should matter more than anything. OK, fine--then the MVP this season should be Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry. There is just no way to twist the numbers or the facts to make Harden the MVP this season and it is a relief that the voters seem to finally be understanding that, at least if the most recent unofficial poll is correct in projecting that Westbrook has taken the lead over Harden.
While Harden begged for MVP votes, Westbrook responded to similar softball questions by repeatedly stating that he has been blessed and that he feels blessed to compete at the highest level. He did not ask for anyone's MVP vote because he lets his game do his talking, yet another way that he resembles Kobe Bryant.
I am not a big fan of per-minute projections but it is worth noting that if Westbrook averaged the same mpg as Robertson did during his triple double season in 1961-62 while maintaining his current production then his numbers would be 39.9 ppg, 14.6 rpg and 13.3 apg.Westbrook is putting up astounding individual numbers and his triple doubles are highly correlated with the Thunder's success. If the Thunder win their last two games they will finish with 48 victories, an amazing accomplishment one season after the departure of MVP candidate Durant and defensive anchor Serge Ibaka.
If you are an MVP voter who every year has voted for the best player on the best team and this season you vote for Durant, Curry or Leonard I cannot be mad at you--but no one else has a valid reason or excuse to not select Westbrook, who has set individual records while carrying what would otherwise be a Lottery team to the sixth best record in the Western Conference.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:42 AM