Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is threatening to become the first NBA player to average a triple-double since Cincinnati Royals Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson achieved the double-figure points, assists and rebounds mark during the 1961-62 NBA season. A lot has changed in the league since then, which is why Westbrook’s current averages of 31.8 points, 10.4 assists and 10.6 rebounds would make such a feat a remarkable achievement in line with some of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. If not the greatest individual season in NBA history.
As Westbrook takes on each new opponent while the OKC season drawls on, we’ll be updating his chances at matching the Big O’s feat.
If you’ve given the NBA’s 2016-17 season even a passing glance, you’re likely already tired of the ongoing talk discussing the voting for the league’s MVP award.
Russell Westbrook, at various times, has been the outright leader in his chase for his first league MVP, as has fellow would-be first timer James Harden alongside San Antonio wunderkind Kawhi Leonard and, perhaps, the most potent of the four in LeBron James. One supposes Golden State will once again have to settle for 60-some wins and their earned rank of championship-favorites.
The talk is tired, though, cool to discuss in the moment when Westbrook – or Harden, or Kawhi, and less pointedly LeBron (on a free throw? Come on) – comes through with a massive night, but the chatter hardly ages well as the NBA Nights devolve into Analysis Afternoons.
There will be plenty of well-informed chatter surrounding Westbrook’s MVP odds between now and the presentation of the trophy, in a race that is likely down to the former OKC teammates in Russ and James Harden. What should probably count now, though, is the counting. The reason we’re watching the spaces that include the triple-doubles. The outrageously expected parts.
Russell Westbrook set an NBA record in scoring 57 points during his latest triple-double, on Wednesday, securing his team’s playoff seeding (the Thunder are almost assured to take on Houston, in a No. 6 vs. No. 3 matchup, in the first round of the playoffs) and his move toward becoming the first player to average a triple-double since, well, not Michael Jordan.
Scottie Pippen, forever the forgetful type, has already left MJ behind:
Scottie Pippen played with Michael Jordan who, in one year, got to be Michael Jordan for an entire NBA season. And several seasons before and after that one year. He was Michael Jordan for a lot of the time, and Scottie Pippen was around for most of those times, though Scottie has apparently forgotten.
Perhaps Scottie was trying to say this:
Russell Westbrook is the closest thing I've seen to 1980s Michael Jordan and nobody else comes anywhere near as close, really
— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) March 28, 2017
That’s Scottie, he’s a bit mercurial. Russell Westbrook’s season, however, does rank. Regardless of individual award helpings or the idea that we have to make clear and lasting distinctions between the performances of players that are incalculably incomparable. Harden and Westbrook, born nine months apart, are barely functional as alternating discussion points, so imagine how hilarious it would be to try and compare what Westbrook is doing with Basketball Hall of Famers who were born in 1963 or, in Oscar Robertson’s case, 1938.
There is far, far too much to discuss and (hopefully) discern when picking apart Westbrook’s work in relation to James Harden, a former teammate pulled into the NBA just a year after Russell, working at what is technically the same position on the court. The differences between the two are too multifold to intelligently break down that any extended discussion of the two’s merits (to say nothing of Kawhi’s, KD’s, LeBron’s, MJ’s or The Big O’s) is the seeming definition of pointless.
Though this won’t stop others from getting their points in. We’re going to go with rebounds and assists, as well.
Westbrook has eight games left in his season, starting on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. He’s worked in all 74 of his team’s contests so far this campaign, and though he’s denied its importance all season, he is looking to average a triple-double for an entire season. As this is the penultimate Westbrook Watch of the regular season, this is the task ahead of Russell: Between now and April 12 Westbrook will have to pull in 39 rebounds and dish 51 assists in order to secure a triple-double’s averages.
That’s in case we never want to round up, which luckily we probably won’t have to do with Westbrook’s chase. Don’t worry about the points, as Russell (who leads the NBA in scoring) hit the amount of points needed to average double-figure scoring in 2016-17 all the way back on Dec. 17, when he scored 26 against Phoenix. He added 22 assists and 11 rebounds in the win.
That speaks to the enormity of the task in familiar ways that we still shouldn’t forget, in ways that should have nothing to do with the drop-down menu that leads to a wonk’s MVP pick.
These are ways and means that Jordan, that Kidd, that Magic, that Bird and that Havlicek could not overcome. It seems as if every other night since November has been dotted with news about yet another ridiculous Russell Westbrook line, and yet he’s still going to need until, perhaps, April 5 in order to ensure those triple-double averages.
That’s how hard it is. And, lest we forget, Westbrook would still need to come through with nearly 10 rebounds a game and almost 13 assists per game – over the next four contests – in order to have logged all the points, rebounds and assists needed to become the first NBA player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson in 1962.
He’ll still have to take it all the way to April 5. If, even, by then. That’s how spectacularly tough this all has been.
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