On May 10, Russell Westbrook accomplished a feat many have previously considered impossible, he broke a 47-year-old triple double record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson at 181.
Westbrook broke Robertson’s record in 99 fewer games than Robertson. The former UCLA Bruin currently sits at 197 career triple doubles, with 40 of them coming just last season with the Wizards.
Often mocked by haters as an empty stat padder, Westbrook has not made the NBA Finals since the infancy of his NBA career, his fourth season with the Thunder. ESPN loud mouth Stephen A. Smith provided the same sentiments as many critics have done.
In the past, the triple double was considered a feat many players only dreamed of accomplishing, perhaps just once in their career. Today, that is no longer the case.
According to Tim Reynolds of AP, the rate of triple doubles has gone up a whopping 700% from about nine years ago.
People may argue that the pace of play is much faster than it has been compared to the past. However, if you look closer at the numbers, this sentiment is somewhat misleading.
Per Basketball Reference, the pace of play was the highest in the 1970s, during the prime of previous triple double king Oscar Robertson. Only the past three or four years the pace of play has finally crept near the extraordinary high levels of pace in the 70s and 80s. Even after this past season, the pace of play is still about nine possessions less than the all-time high set in the 1973-74 season—the first season pace of play was tracked.
Compounded with Michael Jordan playing within the triangle offense and the Bad Boy Pistons playing defense like they were playing hockey, the pace of play was the slowest ever in the 90s and 00s, thus the 700% increase should not be that shocking after knowing the history of pace.
The real reason triple doubles have become more of a norm today comes down to two factors. One is the continuous rise in three-point attempts. The increase in perimeter shots has a direct correlation to the steady decline in offensive rebounds. Knowing this, it makes sense how players today are able to attain statistics more frequently than before.
The other factor is the tendency for officiating to now favor the offensive player. Since it's more difficult to defend today without being called for pointless fouls, the likelihood for offensive stats will definitely see an uptick.
Going back to Westbrook’s triple double dominance: has he singlehandedly made the stat overrated? Obviously with the frequency he racks them up, it becomes easy for most people to accept that as the norm more so than an accomplishment.
Indeed, if Russell Westbrook played most of his career during the 90s and 00s era, he would probably not have the same number of triple doubles as he does now. At the same time, his accomplishment as the triple double king should not be downplayed, especially now knowing the Big O got most of his triple doubles when the pace of play was literally at an all-time high.