Triple-Double: A cheap stat?

by Henry Liao

Are triple-double games now a “common” stat, a dime a dozen?

Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook has had four straight triple-double games through April 1, but the last two – vs. Charlotte and at Detroit (April 2 Manila time, a 120-91 defeat to the sad-sack Pistons, with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists) – were in a losing cause.

This season, four players have had streaks of three consecutive T-Ds or longer – Westbrook, who also had four straight T-Ds to open the season (all losses), plus Brooklyn’s James Harden, Miami’s Jimmy Butler and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokuonmpo each with three straight.

In contrast, only Rondo, then of Boston but now with the LA Clippers following his trade from Atlanta on NBA trade deadline day last March 25, and Andre Iguodala, then of Philadelphia/Denver/Golden State and now with Miami, had consecutive T-Ds from 2009-10 through 2013-14.

Russell Westbrook [photo from russwest44 Instagram account]
Russell Westbrook [photo from russwest44 Instagram account]

Overall, Westbtrook owns 18 T-Ds this season, far outdistancing Denver’s MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and Brooklyn’s James Harden with a dozen apiece, and Dallas’ Luka Doncic with nine.

Westbrook currently ranks second on the NBA’s all-time triple-double ladder at 164 games (and counting) during a 13-year career, trailing only “The Big O Oscar Robertson, who finished his distinguished 14-year tenure (1960-74) with the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks with a total of 181 T-Ds.

Westbrook amassed 35 points, 14 rebounds and a season-high 21 assists in the Wizards’ 132-124 victory over the Indiana Pacers to become the first NBA player ever to collect a 35-point, 20-assist triple-double.

It marked only the third time this season that a player chalked up a 30 and a 20 in the same game.

Against the Pacers, the hard-driving UCLA alum also became the Wizards franchise’s all-time leader in that department with his 16th T-D in just 38 games. Darrell Walker, a guard, had previously owned the franchise’s old mark with 15 over 283 games from 1987-91.

Russell Westbrook had registered triple-double averages in three straight seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19 while donning the Oklahoma City colors. He posted 42 T-Ds in 2016-17, eclipsing by one Oscar Robertson’s feat with the Cincinnati Royals in 1961-62, en route to capturing NBA MVP honors.

Still, his heroic act was not enough, Westbrook got traded to the Houston Rockets before the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 wars before being jettisoned to the Wizards for oft-injured John Wall in an exchange of high-priced playmakers prior to the start of the current season last December.

It would seem that his triple-double performances did not mean much for they did not really translate into team victories.

In the ongoing 2020-21 campaign so far, one out of every seven games has resulted in a T-D by an individual player. That represents an increase of 47 percent over the previous season and nearly 700 percent from nine years ago when there were only 18 T-Ds for the entire 2011-12 season.

Rondo, then with the Celtics, owned six of them. No other player got more than one.

So far this season, 14 players have had multiple triple-doubles. The league is on pace to break the one-season record of 127 T-Ds even in a pandemic-triggered shortened format of 72 games – instead of 82 – per team.

Moreover, this is the fifth consecutive year that the NBA has seen players secure at least 100 triple-doubles – and it was Westbrook who turned in the trick in losing effort against the Charlotte Hornets last March 30.

At game No. 692 overall, it also marked the fastest the league has ever reached the century mark in that category.

Triple-doubles are so common nowadays and it cheapens the stat if it does not directly lead to a team victory.

Said New Orleans Pelicans bench strategist Stan Van Gundy:

“They’re nice, round numbers and people get into those things in sports. But I’ve never really been one who though a whole lot of the whole triple-double thing. To me, they’re such arbitrary numbers. What, if you get 10, 10 and 10 that’s better than 35, nine and nine? There’s a big difference between 15 points and 35 points. There’s a big difference between 10 rebounds and 18 rebounds. And there’s a big difference between 10 assists and 17 assists. So, to say a triple-double is a measure of a great game, I don’t know.”

True. Very true.

Of the 32-year-old Westbrook’s 18 T-Ds this season, 10 came in a losing effort.

Need I have to overstate its importance?