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.
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.
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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.
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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.