A couple of weeks ago I glanced at the box score of an Oklahoma City Thunder game. “Wow,” I said to myself. “Westbrook already has a triple double and it’s still only the third quarter.” Then I looked at the score. The Thunder was down by 16 points and we were just past halftime.
I don’t understand why fans encourage and are so interested in Russell Westbrook’s deliberate pursuit of averaging a triple double for the entire season. How come in the past stat-padders were ridiculed but somehow Westbrook is admired this year? When Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points 25 rebounds per game he was criticized for playing for stats. Why isn’t Westbrook held to the same standard? Is it because as fans we just want to see the record broken/tied? Besides, this triple double nonsense is not even helping the Thunder win games anyway. How does a triple double help your team win games? Sure the gaudy numbers look good on paper but these empty stats do not produce wins. Over the past 20 seasons, every league MVP has come from a team seeded one or two in their respective conference. The Thunder are currently tied for the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Not MVP material.
Let me back up a bit before I get too excited. A triple double is when a player reaches double figures in any three of the major stat categories. A classic example and the most common case of a triple double is a player recording at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Just one time in NBA history has a player averaged a triple double for an entire season and that was way back when Oscar Robertson did so in 1962. According to encyclopedia.com, Robertson told John Jackson of The Record, “When I was making those triple doubles, I didn’t know anything about that—and I didn’t care. I was just on a team that was small up front and needed some rebounding help. I didn’t think about it until after I got out of the game.” That’s the fundamental difference between Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is totally conscious of his record pace and will make silly plays just to maintain it.
MVP stands for Most Valuable Player and what Russell Westbrook is doing is not valuable for anyone other than himself. 55 years ago when Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double he still finished third behind Bill Russell (who averaged 18.9 points and 23.6 rebounds for the 60-20 Boston Celtics) and Wilt Chamberlain (who averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds for the 49-31 Philadelphia Warriors). Contrast what Westbrook is doing to what James Harden is doing this season. James Harden turned around a 41-41 team to the third best team in the NBA so far this year. Harden may also become the second player ever to lead the NBA in scoring and assists all while doing so at a much more efficient rate than Russell Westbrook. That is valuable. Winning matters and the Thunder are on pace to win under 50 games this season. The last time the MVP played on a sub-50-win team was way back in 1982 when the Moses Malone won it with the Rockets.
I am not denying Russell Westbrook’s insatiable drive or otherworldly athleticism. But does he make his team significantly better? He is a point guard that shoots the ball 25 times per game, which by the way is the most shots per game since Kobe Bryant averaged 27 shots per game in 2006. Westbrook is also shooting seven three pointers per game despite being just a 33.7% 3-point shooter. In fact, the Thunder’s record when Westbrook shoots at least nine threes is 5-29. So the excessive shooting and overall ball dominating is not advantageous for the Thunder. Oh yeah, and I didn’t even mention turnovers yet. Last year James Harden set the record for the most turnovers in NBA history with 374. Westbrook is on pace to turn the ball over 451 times this season, a notorious rate which would even make most streetball player shutter. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently took some heat when he remarked Westbrook isn’t even an MVP candidate. I wouldn’t quite go that far but I certainly am not as impressed with all these triple doubles as you probably are. You can take the label of averaging a triple double, I’ll take the label of being a winner.
Efraim Andrew Wakschlag is originally from Silver Spring and currently lives in Chicago. He attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and graduated from Yeshiva University in 2014. He is a prolific writer on the NBA and authored “10 Squared: An Unconventional Analysis on the NBA” when he was in Yeshiva University.