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Friday, April 23, 2021

Westbrook is Within Reach of the Career Triple Double Record

Tonight Russell Westbrook notched his 174th career triple double as he led the Washington Wizards in scoring (37 points), rebounds (11), and assists (11) in a 129-109 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Per Stat Muse, Westbrook has notched 10 triple doubles in his last 11 games, averaging 23/14/13 on 46 FG% (he was one assist short of a triple double in the other game) as the Wizards went 9-2 to vault into contention for one of the play-in games. Westbrook is averaging a triple double for the fourth time in the past five seasons (Oscar Robertson is the only other player in pro basketball history to accomplish that feat even once) while on pace to set career-highs in rebounding and assists. The two-time assists champion is also currently leading the league in assists. If Westbrook captures a third assist crown he will tie Rajon Rondo on the all-time list, and trail only John Stockton (nine assist titles), Bob Cousy (eight), Robertson (six), Jason Kidd (five), Steve Nash (five), Magic Johnson (four), Chris Paul (four), and Kevin Porter (four). Remember when the critics said that Westbrook was a selfish gunner who could never be an elite NBA point guard or playmaker?

Oscar Robertson has held the career triple double record for well over 40 years. Until Westbrook, no player came close to matching Robertson's total of 181 triple doubles; the distance between Robertson and Magic Johnson--who was second on the career list for over 20 years before Westbrook surpassed him--was 43 triple doubles, which would rank 10th all-time! Westbrook has nearly as many career triple doubles as LeBron James (99) and Wilt Chamberlain (77) combined. James and Chamberlain rank fifth and sixth all-time respectively. The Wizards have 13 remaining games, so Westbrook "only" has to have a triple double in seven of them to tie a record that seemed unbreakable for most of pro basketball history.

If triple doubles matter--and we have been told for decades that they do--then Westbrook is indisputably one of the greatest all-around players of all-time. It does not make sense to act like only Westbrook's triple doubles are meaningless or "stat padding."

Westbrook did not make the 2021 All-Star team, and it does not appear that he will receive much consideration for the All-NBA Team, let alone the MVP award. Someone objectively looking back on this season 20 years from now will be puzzled that a former MVP who led the league in assists while averaging a triple double and (possibly) setting the career triple double record was completely ignored in the awards voting. The MVP selection criteria are not consistently applied, to say the least. Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors are struggling to qualify for the play-in games in the Western Conference but he has proclaimed himself to be the MVP and many media members agree that he should at least be in the top five, if not the top three. It sure would be interesting if Westbrook and Curry faced each other head to head right now while Curry is on a record-setting scoring streak and Westbrook is on a record-setting triple double streak. Oh, wait--they did face each other. Let's look at the statistics:

Wizards 118, Warriors 114

Westbrook 14 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, 5-17 field goal shooting, nine turnovers +9 

Curry 18 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, 7-25 field goal shooting, six turnovers, -21

Westbrook was the primary defender on Curry. Neither player shot well, but Westbrook can impact the game in multiple ways even if he does not shoot well, and by holding the league's hottest shooter to 18 points on .280 field goal shooting Westbrook would have been the player of the game even if he had not rebounded like Wilt Chamberlain while passing like Magic Johnson.

Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo should win the MVP award this season, as they have been the two most productive and consistent players, and both of their teams rank near the top of their conferences. That being said, if Curry is going to be praised for scoring a lot of points for a mediocre team that may not even qualify for the play-in games then Westbrook should get an equal amount of praise for racking up triple doubles for a similarly situated team.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:59 PM



At Monday, May 03, 2021 1:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, David.
Have you seen how Russell's teammates let him take the defensive rebounds? Since nobody charges the offensive boards anymore, because four players are always at the 3 point line and only one penetrates, it is relatively easy nowadays to grab 10 boards.
Is it really that hard to score 10 points with today's rules, that favor the offensive players and forbid defensive ones to touch the opponent for reference?
Russ can score 10 and grab 10 any single night. In fact, any player that wants to get 10 boards (defensive ones) can do that. I took the time to watch more than 100 of them from this season and it is clear his teammates let him grab the ones that bounce of the rim.
That is why this hype around triple-doubles in today's NBA has to be examined and analyzed. The game has definitely changed, and many of us, sadly, do not enjoy it as much as we used to.

I would appreciate your comments regarding this.

Keep up the good work,

At Monday, May 03, 2021 9:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


These are the main things that I have noticed:

1) Russell Westbrook is the only player other than Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season.

2) Westbrook is on the verge of averaging a triple double for the fourth season in a five season span, a streak interrupted only by playing with the ultimate stat-padder/non-winner during a crazy COVID-19 paused season during which Westbrook contracted COVID-19.

3) Westbrook has already set the single-season triple double record, and he is on the verge of setting the career triple double record.

4) When any other player has even one triple double, many media members fall over themselves to praise that player.

5) However the game has evolved/devolved over the years would affect all players and statistics, but the only current player whose statistics are publicly criticized/diminished is Russell Westbrook.

6) I predicted seven years ago that Westbrook would inherit Kobe Bryant's mantle as both the best guard in the NBA and a vastly underrated superstar and I was prophetic on both counts.

7) Out of 232 qualifying players this season, Rudy Gobert is the only one averaging at least 10 defensive rebounds per game, and Westbrook is one of just seven players (including Gobert) averaging at least 9 defensive rpg. Every player on that list other than Westbrook is a center or power forward who is several inches taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than Westbrook.

8) I feel sorry for you that you watched so many of Westbrook's games and yet had so little appreciation for his unique greatness.

At Monday, May 03, 2021 10:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In Are Rebounds Fungible?, I refuted the notion that Westbrook is just "stealing" rebounds from his teammates. Here is an excerpt, but you should read the whole article:

"Last season, Westrbook led the Oklahoma City Thunder in rebounding (11.1 rpg, 10th in the league) and the team ranked second with 48.1 rpg. The Thunder ranked sixth in rebounding differential (+2.4), which means that their high rebounding totals are not just related to pace; they outrebounded their opponents on a consistent basis.

This season, Westbrook plays for the Houston Rockets. If Westbrook were "stealing" rebounds from his teammates, then one could reasonably expect that his former team's rebounding prowess would not decline much in his absence, and that the next best rebounder on his former team (Steven Adams) would increase his rebounding average. Instead, through 24 games (30% of the season) the Thunder rank 25th in rebounding (43.0 rpg) and 23rd in rebounding differential (-2.4). Adams is averaging 9.4 rpg, essentially the same as his 9.5 rpg average last season.

Meanwhile, last season the Rockets without Westbrook ranked 28th in rebounding (42.1 rpg) and 27th in rebounding differential (-3.4). This season, the Rockets with Westbrook rank third in rebounding (48.0 rpg) and ninth in rebounding differential (+1.8).

The numbers show that after losing Westbrook the Thunder went from being an elite rebounding team to being a poor rebounding team, while after adding Westbrook the Rockets went from being a poor rebounding team to being an elite rebounding team. Yes, there have been other personnel changes for both teams--particularly the Thunder, who also lost Paul George--but if rebounds were fungible and if Westbrook were really just "stealing" rebounds it is unlikely that his old team and his new team would have swapped places in terms of their rebounding rankings."

At Monday, May 03, 2021 2:42:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Westbrook gets some uncontested rebounds at the end of defensive possessions because it is usually his job to bring the ball up the court. The thing is if we started subtracting those rebounds from Westbrook, we'd also have to do it for players like LeBron, CP3, and every other major ball-handler in the league, who also similarly get a few uncontested rebounds at the end of defensive possessions when the other players on the team run back up the court to get ready in offensive position. Westbrook rebounds well in traffic and he's always averaged between 1.5 and 2 offensive rebounds a game each year, better than any guard, and comparable to a center nearly 6 inches taller than him.

At Monday, May 03, 2021 4:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and LeBron James get "uncontested" defensive rebounds and push the ball up the court to quickly initiate offense, they are rightly praised as multi-dimensional players who can rebound, dribble, and pass at an elite level. Westbrook is the only player I have ever heard of who is criticized for possessing this rare skill set combination.

Until Westbrook emerged as the best all-around guard in the NBA, I had never heard anyone question the value of having a point guard who is an elite defensive rebounder. That was always considered to be the best way to start a fastbreak (other than a Bill Walton or Wes Unseld-style long outlet pass).

I figured it out seven years ago: Westbrook would become the best guard in the NBA, and he would be subjected to the same kind of ludicrous criticisms that had been lobbed at Kobe during Kobe's prime. Kobe could never quite shoot the right amount of times per game, or the right field goal percentage; he dominated his position for well over a decade and he was an All-NBA performer for five championship teams, but the critics always thought they could find a supposedly fatal flaw in his game.

This is one reason that I love chess so much. Checkmate is the ultimate refutation of nonsense and empty words/statistics.

At Monday, May 03, 2021 5:51:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Westbrook good but not efficient and it doesnt translate to be able to win a ring

His triple doubles arent as impressive cause he stat padding to get them

His best skill is his motor and tenacity and athleticism

He doesnt finish great or shooot great

But he always plays hard

At Monday, May 03, 2021 9:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Since Westbrook has been in the NBA, the rings have been won by Kobe (two), Dirk (one), LeBron (four), Durant (two), stacked Warriors (three, including two with Durant), Kawhi (two). I never said that Westbrook is better than those guys. He and Durant had the stacked Warriors down 3-1, but after they blew that lead Durant ran to the stacked Warriors to become their best player.

Westbrook has been an All-NBA level performer for four teams that reached the WCF and one team that reached the Finals. That is more playoff success than many players who are more highly touted. Westbrook's playoff performances in elimination games are off the charts.

Please tell me about all of the playoff success of the guards who you deem to be more efficient than Westbrook (I am not talking about Curry winning on a stacked team, and then watching Durant get two Finals MVPs; Curry is a great player, and I love watching him play, but he has never carried a team to a title).

Also, let's list the players who had career years playing alongside Westbrook:

Durant (his only regular season MVP)
Paul George (third in MVP voting)
Harden (one of his best seasons)
Beal (career-high scoring, may win first scoring title)

Remember that the "experts" said that Westbrook was not a "true point guard" (whatever that means).

He carried the Thunder to the playoffs when the Thunder started a player (Roberson) who was such a bad shooter that at the end of close games other teams were chasing him around the court trying to commit intentional fouls; Westbrook is trying to win a playoff series and a game of tag broke out!

How is averaging a triple double for four seasons out of five "not efficient"? I never said that Westbrook was a great shooter. I said that he is a great all-around player. When Magic and Kidd racked up triple doubles did you knock them for not being great jump shooters?

Define "stat padding." Why is Westbrook, who is about to have more triple doubles than anyone in pro basketball history, the only player whose triple doubles are "stat padding"? I don't get all of the Westbrook hate. I predicted it, yet I will never understand it.

Westbrook had 10-17 (rebs)-20 (asst) after three quarters tonight. He shot 3-4 from the field and absolutely dominated. If he makes a few fourth quarter baskets he could have a 20-20-20 game--again! Wilt is the only other player to ever do that even once. As I typed this comment he added two more rebs and three more assists. 10-19-23, but he is not a great player? Nonsense.

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 1:03:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Westbrook has been playing an incredible stretch of basketball the past month and a half, some of the best I've ever seen him play. It has been exciting to watch him try and take this team to the playoffs while coming from behind. Do you see this Wizards team going very far if they manage to grab the 8th Seed? Their record has been dominant since April 7th and while the 76ers with Doc Rivers have been good, I don't have much faith in Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid even with Rivers at the helm assuming they hold the #1 seed. I think if the Wizards continue to play at this level, it definitely feels like there could be an upset, even though logically I would still say the #1 seed has the advantage.

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 2:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This is an incredible stretch, but Westbrook has been incredible for several years. He is eight rebounds short of averaging an aggregate triple double for the past five seasons.

The playoffs will probably be more difficult to predict this season than at any time since I have been posting playoff previews starting in the early 2000s. If I knew who would be healthy, who would stay healthy as the playoffs progress, and who will be rested (or rusty) then I could answer your question. The "bubble" playoffs last year were strange, though I did OK overall with my predictions. This year, teams will be playing at their home arenas, but the crowds will not be full capacity, so homecourt advantage will probably not matter as much. The Nets, Sixers, and Bucks definitely have more overall talent than the Wizards, but if any of those teams suffer injuries (or if their players returning from injuries are rusty) then things could become interesting. In the lockout-shortened 1999 season, a .500 Knicks team got hot and made it to the NBA Finals, even with Ewing being hobbled (and eventually being out of action). It would not be shocking if a .500 team got hot, caught some breaks (in terms of facing teams decimated by injuries), and made it to the Finals. What we have not seen during the Wizards' recent run is any way of determining if this is a team that can beat a really good team four times in seven games. In a "normal" season, I would not give the Wizards much of a chance, but this season is anything but normal.

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 10:43:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


Westbrook not a great finisher or shooter

I never said he wasnt a great player that obvious he won mvp

My point is he doesnt make team better and his teams have always underachieved

He makes alot of bonehead plays in crucial times

His athletticism motor will is what drives him.

The triple double is a watered down stat today everyone gets them and its never been easier to get one.

I take steph Paul or irving harden over Westbrook off top im sure a few others

I think people celebrate his individual greatness but not his team impact which usually isnt much

He a ineffcient great player

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 10:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In other words, your comment was not relevant to my article, because my article did not make any assertions about Westbrook's shooting or his ability to finish.

None of Westbrook's teams have "underachieved" relative to their overall talent level. An argument could be made that several of the post-KD teams overachieved.

Magic Johnson once dribbled out the clock in a tied game in the NBA Finals. His team lost that game and that Finals. It would be difficult to think of a more "boneheaded" play than that--but does that have anything to do with his 138 career triple doubles? Does that one play prove that he was not a great player? Why do you apply a different standard to Westbrook than you would apply to any other player?

"Everyone" does not get triple doubles, and Westbrook gets significantly more triple doubles than anyone else.

Stephen Curry is a great player, and I rank him among the top 50 all-time. It is a close call between him and Westbrook, depending on how much you value great shooting versus great all-around play. Irving does not do as many things well as Westbrook, plus Irving is small and injury-prone. No way would I take Irving over Westbrook. I would take Harden if I want a lot of empty regular season stats and then a major choke job in the playoffs. Harden is among the best ever at those things. Harden has been wonderful this season: he came into camp out of shape, complained his way out of Houston, and then has missed much of the season with an injury that is most likely caused (or at least exacerbated) by being out of shape. Meanwhile, Harden's team is winning without him. Paul and Westbrook could not stand playing with Harden because of his poor work ethic and his diva-like behavior. Harden is talented, but the baggage he brings would cause me to rank him below every guard you listed, plus a few others as well.

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 3:23:00 PM, Anonymous JR said...

Hello David,

Who said triple-doubles are that special in basketball? If you finish a game with 25, 9 and 9 you do not get the credit, but your contribution to the outcome of the game is almost the same.
Decades ago, MJ firmly believed triple-doubles were not that important, and he proved that by getting 10 in 11 games. That was a different NBA, when the paint was clogged and defenses were superior.
What I tried to tell you is that, nowadays, when a players shoots the ball, in 90% of game situations nobody goes after the offensive rebound.
Therefore, Russ (or Doncic, LeBron, or any other player) can get the defensive rebound without rivals around.
Do you give the same value to today's players getting defensive rebounds to the era in which Unseld, Moses, Thurmond or Kareem really fought for those balls?

Fans can celebrate Curry's place as all-time scorer in Warriors history, but you and I know that Wilt averaged 41 while Steph is only 24 points per game.
Fans get excited when they read that LeBron is the youngest to reach 20K, or 30K in points, when the key is not who is the youngest but who did it in less games.

You do not have to convince me that Russ is a great player. I know that. Am I allowed to say that triple-doubles are overrated due to the way the game has changed in the last decade?

At Tuesday, May 04, 2021 4:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You're "allowed" to think or say whatever you want.

Triple doubles have been praised and have been a point of emphasis for at least 40 years, dating back to Magic Johnson. The first and to date only player whose triple doubles are attacked is Russell Westbrook.

A player who averages 25-9-9 will also rack up a lot of triple doubles. How many players in NBA history have averaged 25-9-9?

A triple double is one way to single out and acknowledge versatility. If someone ever comes along and averages 25-9-9 without getting many triple doubles, I will sing that player's praises, and I will call him underrated if he is not being recognized just because he "lacks" triple doubles, but I don't think that has ever been or will ever be an issue.

The issue is that Westbrook is doing things that no one has ever done, and many people are bending over backwards to act like his statistics are meaningless. Your initial comment focused at least as much on Westbrook as on any other player or on triple doubles in general, and your comment is a reaction to an article asserting that Westbrook is an underrated player.

What is your source for Michael Jordan believing or asserting that triple doubles are not important? The fact that he had several in a row would suggest that he thought that they were important. Otherwise, why would he do it, unless you are suggesting that he sabotaged his team to pad his stats to prove a point.

Different coaches and different teams have varying philosophies regarding offensive rebounding. Some teams send two and retreat three, some send three and retreat two, etc. Some pursue the offensive rebound with the idea that if they don't get it the player closest to the defensive rebounder can jam him to hinder his dribble and/or prevent the outlet pass. If you can prove that it is significantly easier to get defensive rebounds now than it was in other eras, I would be interested to see that--but even if you prove the general case, you still would have to explain why Westbrook rebounds far better than every guard and better than most big men as well.

More teams play "small" today than in previous eras, but "small" ball includes having a player like LeBron (same size as Karl Malone), Durant (7-0 tall) or Giannias (7-0 tall) on the court, so "small" players still have to beat out at least one player who is 6-9 or taller to get rebounds.

Wilt is in my Pantheon. Curry is not. I don't see the relevance of the Wilt-Curry scoring comparison to the conversation about Westbrook's triple doubles.

At Wednesday, May 05, 2021 5:45:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


I don't get you taking Paul, Harden, or Irving over Westbrook. Paul is certainly having a fantastic season and has the Suns in a place few predicted they'd be. But, if you want to talk about someone who has come up short in the playoffs, Paul is right there. He has never been to the conference finals. Yes, his advanced clutch numbers are off the charts, but those numbers don't include the games he has missed due to injury.

Harden...has done a bit more than Westbrook, but has been given more as well. Harden's entire franchise reorganized the way they ran things from top to bottom, in order to highlight Harden's strengths and to minimize his weaknesses. That includes letting him do whatever he wanted practice wise. Trading away any players he didn't want to play with anymore. Hiring a coach that let him do whatever he wanted. Importing players with specific skillsets so that Harden didn't have to change his game at all.

I can't think of another superstar who has gotten this treatment from a franchise. And...what does Harden have to show for it? A competitive series against one of the most dominant teams in NBA history, in which Harden choked away a lead. Oh, and then Harden ran away to play with two other superstars...one of which you'd also take over Westbrook.

Irving is the most overrated player...ever. I can't fathom how anyone thinks this guys is a superstar, let alone crown him a top 5 point guard in the league. For his career, he's averaged like 60 games per season. Take any superstar level player in NBA history, reduce the number of in season games they have to play to 60...and all of them will improve their numbers across the board. Irving's numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. (And, they aren't even that good anyway). For being known as a "scoring" point guard, Westbrook has a higher career average and two scoring titles. Irving's never even averaged 30 and never won a scoring title. So what if he shoots 48%...he's only doing that in 70% of his team's games.

It takes mental fortitude, hard work, and sheer willpower to play 75+ games every season. All things you sorta dismissively praise Westbrook for having. On the flipside, Irving's played 75 games exactly once. He's at 577 career games across 10 seasons. That's like seven seasons for Kidd, Payton, AI, or Westbrook. Irving is not a leader in any sense. Consistently throws shade at his former teammates (including...Lebron). The teams he has left have all improved once he's gone. As the main guy, his teams have a losing record. He's never been on a team with another player who has had their best season. He can't stay healthy. And even when he is healthy, he takes games off for personal reasons.

At Wednesday, May 05, 2021 5:45:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


What is so amazing about him that you would take him over Westbrook? He finishes fancy wowow shots after dazzling with his dribbling? He hit one big shot in the playoffs? What I see is a me-first malcontent that is only willing to put in maximum effort when he deems the circumstances most ideal for hiself. And yet, somehow, people love this guy over Westbrook? I. Don't. Get. It. Westbrook is on the freakin Wizards, on a team with a bunch of guys under 24 years old, who didn't have a functional center for half the season, and instead of quitting, pouting, or sitting out (with a torn quad), he played through all of the noise and hate and has completely transformed the losing culture into a winning one.

Westbrook has played 80+ games seven times (and he played all 66 in the shortened 11-12 season). He began his NBA career by never missing a game for 5 seasons. As David pointed out, every star player Westbrook has played with, has had a career season. The only teammate to ever speak ill of Westbrook is Kevin Durant...who has spoken ill of pretty much everyone -- including Curry.

The only thing Irving has over Westbrook is a ring...a ring he won on the coattails of Lebron -- who had one of (if not the) greatest finals series of all time. And, no, that was not because Irving helped him achieve that. It's because Lebron took it upon himself to have that killer mindset found naturally in players like Jordan and Kobe.

At Wednesday, May 05, 2021 6:05:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Pt 3
Last part. lol. There is mayyyybe a case to make for taking Damian Lillard over Westbrook. Lillard brings all of the leadership positives while also adding in elite long range shooting. That said, Lillard hasn't done much in the playoffs either.

And, quick correction. Paul has made it to the conference finals with Harden. Just not as the main guy. And, it was in the conference finals he got hurt. How valuable were his clutch stats in games 6 and game 7?

At Thursday, May 06, 2021 1:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with most your analysis and conclusions, but I don't think that Irving is the most overrated player ever. He was a very good second option on Cleveland's championship team. He is a very gifted scorer and playmaker, and he is better defensively than many people think. His main weaknesses are size and being injury-prone. He is not a Top 50 player, and I would not take him over Westbrook, but I think that you downgrade Irving too much.

Lillard is a fantastic scorer/clutch shooter, but ultimately he is an undersized player who can be attacked on defense. I don't believe that he can be the best player on a championship team. Lillard and Paul typify undersized players who get hyped up during the regular season only to wear down and/or be physically outmatched in the playoffs.


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