Behind the numbers: Russell Westbrook’s 100 triple-doubles

Russell Westbrook recently joined the 100 club. We looked into the numbers behind this achievement and if it’s as great as it seems.

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(Photo Credit: Erik Drost)

Russell Westbrook has been putting up ridiculous numbers over the past two seasons. The Oklahoma City guard has been a triple-double machine and with his most recent he joined a select group of NBA players with 100 triple-doubles.

Westbrook has joined Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107) in this exclusive club. We dug into the numbers behind his achievement and see if Westbrook is as great as his numbers suggest.

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A statistical surge

Russ hasn’t always been a triple-double threat during his career. In fact, during his first six seasons in the league, he only mustered eight triple-doubles. So why the sudden boom in stats? Part of this surge can be explained by Westbrook growing into himself as a player but there are other factors that have played a bigger part.

For a player in Westbrook’s position of point guard, the most challenging aspect of a triple-double will always be the rebounds. Over the past 10 years, the style of the league has changed to make this barrier easier to overcome 

Teams are shooting a higher percentage of three-point shots than they were even 3 years ago. In the 2014-15 season, the average number of three-point attempts per game in the NBA was 21.25. This season it is 28.91.

Why is this important? A missed three-point attempt is more likely to result in a long rebound, a rebound that bounces out to the perimeter. As a point guard, this is the area Westbrook will likely be,  meaning he can snare a higher number of rebounds than a point guard would have in the past.

This shift in the game is not solely responsible for Westbrook’s stellar rebounding. Westbrook is an elite rebounder at his position – often crashing the offensive glass to give his team extra possessions. However, there has been a definite increase across the league in the number of rebounds point guards are snaring and Westbrook has enjoyed this.

The change in shooting patterns has played a part but by far the biggest reason Westbrook’s stats have surged recently is the defection of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. 

Durant was OKC’s primary scorer and also a reliable rebounder and since he left Westbrook has taken over the statistical hole left by Durant. Since Durant left OKC have been utterly reliant on Westbrook for scoring, playmaking and to a lesser extent rebounding.

It is not surprising that 60% of Russ’ triple-doubles have come since KD left OKC.

Could he overtake the mighty ‘O’?

Westbrook is still well short of Oscar Robertson’s all-time record of 181 career triple-doubles but at his current pace, he has a decent shot at claiming the crown. Russ’ turns 30 this year, and it is reasonable to think he might have four more years at somewhere near the top of his game.

He would need to average 20 triple doubles a season to overtake Robertson and seal his place as the NBA’s triple-double king.

The league Robertson played in was very different to the one Westbrook is tearing up. The pace of the game was much higher during Robertson’s career meaning there were more rebounds to go round. In addition, the average height of an NBA player was much lower in the 60s and 70s when Robertson played. At 6’ 4” Robertson was huge for a point guard in his era whereas Westbrook, who stands at 6’ 3”, is about average size for his position.

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Are they good for his team? 

There are similarities between the career of Robertson and of Westbrook’s to date. Despite the immense personal statistics, both have found team success scarce. Robertson’s lone NBA title came in 1971 when he played a supporting role to Kareem.

There is a strong argument to be made that Westbrook’s career should not be defined by the number of triple-doubles he ends up with. The best OKC team he has played on was the 2011-12 squad that made it to the NBA Finals. That season Westbrook didn’t register a single triple-double.

When Westbrook is putting up a triple-double every other night, it is symptomatic of a team that is functioning poorly, relying too much on an individual and doomed to come up short in the playoffs. This season the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have eased the burden and as a result, Westbrook has had nowhere near as many triple-doubles.

That OKC is a better team this year than they were last is indisputable. However, they are still too reliant on Westbrook’s individualism. When we look back on Westbrook’s career lets hope, we remember him for more than just the triple-doubles but for the great teams he was a part of.

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