The triple-double is a unique basketball feat in that it shows near-mastery of three discrete skills on the court. However a player combines points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocks, it's usually a sign that a player is contributing in as many ways as he can to help his team win.
In other words, the triple-double tends not to be the province of role players like Rockets post man Chuck Hayes(notes). In six seasons with Houston, Hayes has established himself as a very solid interior defender and rebounder, particularly given his relatively small stature at 6-6. He has averaged 7.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 2.4 apg this season and tends to help the club by doing the kinds of things that don't show up in the box score.
Nevertheless, Hayes accomplished the unthinkable last night by posting 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 131-112 home win over the Golden State Warriors. But was it the most improbable triple-double in NBA history? Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus investigates:
Hayes is an unlikely triple-double candidate, but just how rare was his milestone? Dating back to 1986-87, Basketball-Reference.com lists 191 players who have posted point-rebound-assist triple-doubles. Of them, Hayes' career assist average of 1.2 per game is second lowest.
Player Year APG_car APG_sea
Rodney White 02-03 1.1 1.7
Chuck Hayes 10-11 1.2 2.4
Robert Parish 86-87 1.4 2.2
Clarence Weatherspoon 93-94 1.5 2.3
Sam Perkins 92-93 1.5 2.0
Kenny Thomas(notes) 05-06 1.5 2.0
Hayes' triple-double looks a little more predictable when we consider his assist average this season, which is best of this group. Hayes has been handing out extra assists lately, including seven in a win a week ago. On the other hand, most of the other guys were nightly double-double threats. Hayes had just 15 double-doubles in his career, so getting the points and rebounds categories filled in was no sure thing. (This is also true for Rodney White, a middling rebounder. He also had a 12th of his total assists for the season in his triple-double, almost certainly the most improbable in modern NBA history.)
Congrats to Rodney White, who still maintains at least one notable mark in his otherwise uninspiring career. And while you may want to put Hayes's triple-double in context by noting that it came against the defensively lax Warriors, it's not as if he demanded the ball every time and embarrassed himself -- like, oh, I don't know, Javale McGee -- en route to these stats. Some games are played faster than others, and Hayes just happened to play extremely well in this one.
This performance was not a sign of things to come for Hayes -- it is extremely unlikely that Hayes will post a triple-double again in his career. Instead, it's a chance for everyone to feel good for a player who works his tail off and contributes to the team in any way he can in every single game. This performance is just a chance for everyone to praise him, not to imagine that he could become a threat to post triples-doubled on a regular basis.
It's hard not to feel good for the guy. I mean, just look how happy he was after the game, as quoted by Jonathan Feigen for the Houston Chronicle:
"Inside, I'm jumping for joy," Hayes said. "I am so juiced inside. It's a great achievement. I'm excited. It's something you read about. It's something you see the great stars do. Never in a million years did I think I'd get it. I just looked at my phone. I got a lot of text messages. I know they're all from home."
Savor it, Chuck, because you've earned it.