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Russell Westbrook Is The Greatest Triple-Double Machine In Recorded History

Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. Westbrook has wreaked havoc on opposing NBA teams, piling up 17 triple-doubles so far this season, which ties Magic Johnson’s 1988-89 season for the most in the last 33 years.1

Westbrook sucks opposing defenses into the paint before dishing to Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka or a Thunder shooter waiting in the corner. Or he can just score it himself. Westbrook was last season’s scoring leader and is this season’s No. 2 in assists. While averaging 24 and 10, he’s also having one of the greatest rebounding seasons ever for a guard — without the aid of deferential bigs on the team.

Westbrook is not alone, though. The NBA is in the middle of a triple-double boom. The 73 triple-doubles posted this year are five shy of the leaguewide regular-season record since 1984. But the league has expanded since then, offering more games and therefore more potential triple-doubles. The rate of triple-doubles per 100 league games is 6.2 this year, the third-highest over that span. Besides Westbrook, Draymond Green has 13 and Rajon Rondo — collecting his stats in a considerably less aboveboard manner than Russ and Dray — has a half-dozen, one shy of his single-season best.

flowers-westbrook_triple_doubles-1

But Westbrook’s triple-double splurge — and the league’s as a whole — is way more impressive than it appears on the surface. That’s because Magic’s “Showtime” Lakers teams from the ’80s played at a much faster pace, giving players more possessions per game to score, assist and rebound. Ditto for Oscar Robertson: The Big O played in the early 1960s, a time of breakneck back-and-forth play that allowed him to pick up a mountain of box score stats.

Adjusting for pace shows that Westbrook is in rarefied territory in averaging a triple-double per 100 possessions; and he did it last year, too. It’s an exclusive group: Only eight players have ever done so for a season, and just four of them — Westbrook, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson — have done it for multiple seasons. Also on this list: Draymond Green this season.

PER 100 POSSESSIONS
PLAYER SEASON TEAM PACE POINTS REBOUNDS ASSISTS
D. Green 2016 GSW 99.6 19.2 13.3 10.4
R. Westbrook 2016 OKC 96.8 34.0 11.3 14.9
R. Westbrook 2015 OKC 95.7 41.1 10.6 12.5
L. James 2013 MIA 90.7 37.5 11.2 10.1
L. James 2009 CLE 88.7 40.8 10.9 10.4
J. Kidd 2008 NJN 91.5 16.0 11.4 14.7
J. Kidd 2007 NJN 91.4 18.6 11.7 13.2
J. Kidd 2006 NJN 89.8 19.1 10.4 12.1
J. Kidd 2005 NJN 89.1 21.0 10.8 12.1
J. Kidd 2002 NJN 91.8 20.7 10.2 13.8
G. Hill 1997 DET 84.5 30.9 13.0 10.5
D. Walker 1990 WSB 99.4 12.9 12.0 10.9
M. Johnson 1989 LAL 100.1 28.7 10.1 16.4
M. Johnson 1983 LAL 103.8 21.1 10.9 13.2
M. Johnson 1982 LAL 103.1 22.5 11.7 11.6
M. Johnson 1981 LAL 102.7 27.2 10.9 10.8
T. Boerwinkle 1975 CHI 99.7 13.8 15.6 11.1
Players who have averaged a pace-adjusted triple-double

Data through April 6, 2016.

Source: basketball-reference.com

Where is Oscar, though? While the Big O’s 1961-62 season remains the only time a player managed to average a triple-double per game for an entire season, he’s not included in this list. His Cincinnati Royals played at an incredible pace: nearly 125 possessions per 48 minutes. And because of that, Robertson fell just short of averaging a pace-adjusted triple-double that vaunted season — his stat line was 26.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.9 assists per 100 possessions. That said, Robertson averaged a ridiculous 30-10-10 per game over his first six seasons.

Not all triple-doubles are created equal, though. Westbrook isn’t just barely notching triple-doubles, he’s getting them by huge margins. To better capture a player’s excellence in all three categories — scoring, rebounding and assisting — we can calculate an “impressiveness” score, by taking the geometric mean of the pace-adjusted averages.2

This way of looking at seasons penalizes players who perform really well in a few categories but poorly in others. So a scoring- and rebounding-heavy forward who doesn’t rack up many assists won’t rank highly. By calculating impressiveness scores for all players, we capture the occasional season — like Michael Jordan’s in 1988-89, for example — that fall short of the arbitrary triple-double threshold but are astounding nonetheless. (Note to the young ’uns: That Jordan season was an absurd 40 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists per 100 possessions.)

The table belows shows the top 20 player seasons by impressiveness in all three categories, as indicated in the “Weighted Score” column. Also included, for comparison, is the best year for Wilt Chamberlain (his 1963-64 season ranks 47th overall in impressiveness) and Oscar Robertson (his famed triple-double season is 86th). No offense to those all-time greats, but their triple-double abilities aren’t as impressive when pace is factored in. — at least for points-rebounds-assists triple-doubles. Chamberlain was a prolific shot blocker, but we don’t have the stats from that time to track triple-doubles with blocks.

PER 100 POSSESIONS
PLAYER SEASON PACE PTS. REBOUNDS ASSISTS WEIGHTED SCORE
R. Westbrook 2016 96.8 34.0 11.3 14.9 17.9
R. Westbrook 2015 95.7 41.1 10.6 12.5 17.6
K. Garnett 2005 89.1 31.4 19.1 8.0 16.9
M. Johnson 1989 100.1 28.7 10.1 16.4 16.8
L. James 2009 88.7 40.8 10.9 10.4 16.6
L. James 2010 91.4 40.0 9.8 11.5 16.5
M. Johnson 1991 94.1 26.6 9.6 17.2 16.4
K. Garnett 2004 89.0 33.2 19.0 6.8 16.3
L. James 2013 90.7 37.5 11.2 10.1 16.2
G. Hill 1997 84.5 30.9 13.0 10.5 16.2
M. Johnson 1990 96.3 30.0 8.9 15.4 16.0
M. Johnson 1987 101.6 31.1 8.2 15.9 15.9
C. Paul 2009 87.8 32.4 7.9 15.7 15.9
K. Garnett 2003 91.9 29.6 17.3 7.8 15.9
M. Jordan 1989 97.0 40.0 9.9 9.9 15.8
L. James 2008 90.2 39.6 10.4 9.5 15.7
G. McGinnis 1975 105.1 33.7 16.1 7.1 15.7
L. James 2016 93.3 36.1 10.8 9.8 15.6
R. Westbrook 2014 95.4 35.7 9.4 11.4 15.6
K. Malone 1997 90.0 40.0 14.4 6.5 15.6
L. James 2012 91.2 38.1 11.1 8.8 15.5
K. Love 2014 97.3 35.5 17.0 6.0 15.4
L. James 2011 90.9 36.4 10.2 9.6 15.2
D. Cousins 2015 95.4 35.5 18.7 5.2 15.2
D. Robinson 1994 90.1 39.2 14.1 6.3 15.1
L. Bird 1985 101.6 34.3 12.6 7.9 15.1
L. Bird 1987 98.6 33.6 11.0 9.2 15.0
L. Bird 1988 97.9 37.6 11.6 7.7 15.0
W. Chamberlin 1964 115.1 33.3 20.2 4.6 14.5
O. Robertson 1962 124.9 26.7 10.8 9.9 14.2
What are the greatest points/rebounds/assists seasons?

Weighted score is the geometric mean of points, rebounds and assists (per 100 possessions). Data through April 6, 2016.

Source: basketball-reference.com

But hot damn, look at Westbrook! His last two seasons are the most impressive scoring-rebounding-assisting seasons in history, when all three are weighed equally. Despite his team’s playing at a slower pace, Westbrook’s last two seasons have managed to surpass Oscar Robertson, Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson — you name it. Russell Westbrook is the greatest triple-double machine on record.

Neil Paine contributed research assistance.

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CORRECTION (April 11, 5:45 p.m.): An earlier version of the chart in this story had mislabeled y-axis tick marks. The chart has been fixed.

Footnotes

  1. According www.basketball-reference.com, which tracks triple-doubles going back only to the 1983-84 season.

  2. In this case, the geometric mean is the cube root of the product of the three categories, per 100 possessions.

Andrew Flowers writes about economics and sports for FiveThirtyEight.

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