Whether or not Russell Westbrook wins MVP is practically insignificant. He’s already etched himself in the NBA history books.
The Thunder point guard became the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double for a season. Only Oscar Robinson in 1961-62 also accomplished the feat.
Westbrook clinched it with his sixth assist Friday against the Suns in a 120-99 loss:
There it is!
— NBA (@NBA) April 8, 2017
When he went to the bench for good with 2:33 left, he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, just two away from what would have been a record-breaking 42nd triple-double this season. But the season-average record is his:
— NBA (@NBA) April 8, 2017
Here’s a sampling of reaction on Twitter:
— Steve Francis (@SteveFranchise3) April 8, 2017
I said soon after Durant left that Russell Westbrook would average a triple double and win MVP. Congratulations, Russ.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 8, 2017
Russell Westbrook will average a triple double this season….but his most impressive stat; he's had the audacity to play in every game.
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 8, 2017
No matter who gets MVP, for Russell Westbrook to be the first player to officially average a triple double since the Big O is otherworldly.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 8, 2017
A list of things Russell Westbrook is:
3. Triple Double King
4. King of the Prairie
5. Not a villian
— OKC Thunder Gal ⚡⚡⚡ (@okcthundergal) April 7, 2017
Austin Rivers was right about Russell Westbrook's historic season. 👀 pic.twitter.com/6pwGXissAr
— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) April 7, 2017
Here is Westbrook’s fairly subdued post-game interview:
Before Friday’s game, here’s what Robinson had to say about Westbrook’s historic season:
The NBA compiled the best Westbrook highlights from this season, and it’s worth a watch:
It should be noted that Westbrook still has a ways to go to catch Robinson’s career triple-double mark:
.@royceyoung looks at the unbelievable numbers behind Russell Westbrook's historic season.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 8, 2017
But it’s worth debating: Is Westbrook better now than Robinson was in the early 60s? At the very least, is Westbrook’s season better than Robinson’s in ’61-62?
When the Thunder’s season started, the front office, coaching staff, trainers and medical team all got together and developed a plan that coach Billy Donovan would rigidly follow throughout the season. Knowing Westbrook — and knowing the responsibility he would eagerly shoulder — they were going to monitor his workload and diligently manage his minutes. He played more than 40 minutes in a game only five times — all in overtime contests — and his season-high was 45 minutes. In putting up his 30-10-10 averages, he did it in nearly 10 fewer minutes per game and 25 fewer possessions per game than Robertson. Increase Westbrook’s workload to the 44.3 minutes per game Robertson played in 1961-62, and Westbrook would be at 39.9 points, 14.6 rebounds and 13.3 assists per game.
ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh adds to that by showing how impressive the record is considering Westbrook’s playing time:
It’s obviously hard to compare Westbrook to Robinson because the game has changed so much. It’s clearly easier to earn a triple-double now than it was when Robinson played:
There has been a remarkable triple-double boom — the previous NBA record of 78 leaguewide in a single season has been shattered — and there doesn’t seem to be a great explanation as to why. Some point to better offenses, more spacing or friendlier rules. But in reality, maybe the easiest way to understand it is that one transcendent player is doing transcendent things: Of the NBA’s 111 this season, roughly 37 percent have come from Westbrook. Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James have combined for 73 triple-doubles. The rest of the NBA: 38. But even with the lopsided distribution, the NBA saw an overall revolution — and a diversity in where they were coming from and how they were achieved. Overall, 22 players have recorded triple-doubles this season. Nikola Jokic has had six, showcasing his flashy passing ability as a 6-foot-11 big man. Draymond Green had the first triple-double without 10 points, substituting 10 steals instead. Giannis Antetokounmpo used his length, athleticism and versatility to pick up two. Harden and Westbrook each had two 50-point triple-doubles, something that hadn’t been done since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s. Not all triple-doubles, or triple-doublers, are created equal, and this season showcased the variety.
But The Basketball Network’s Zach Cronin argues there also is more of a focus on defense in today’s game:
The Thunder’s commitment to defense — and that includes Russ — makes Westbrook’s achievement that much harder because he’s expending energy on both sides of the floor. Nobody played defense back in the 60s, and the Royals finished seventh (out of nine) in points per game allowed (121.3) and eighth in defensive efficiency (96.9 points per 100). Oklahoma City is 16th in points allowed (105.9) and ninth in efficiency (107.6), and Westbrook’s the tone-setter on the perimeter.
What do you think? Who’s the better player: Westbrook this season or Robinson in 1961-62?