Lost in all of the commotion about Russell Westbrook’s triple-double average for the 2016-17 season is a slightly less rare but equally shocking statistic.
Along with joining Oscar Robertson in NBA history, Westbrook is the first player since Karl Malone in 1989-90 to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds per game. According to Basketball-Reference, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is the only player shorter than 6-foot-5 to reach that milestone.
David Robinson nearly matched Malone in 1993-94, averaging 29.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, and Shaquille O’Neal came close on several occasions, averaging 29.3, 29.3 and 29.7 points along with double-digit rebounds in 1994-95, 1993-94, and 1999-00, respectively. Yet almost doesn’t count when it comes to arbitrary sports milestones.
Westbrook critics will point to his many uncontested rebounds, especially on missed free throws. There’s some merit to that argument, but my response is twofold. First, every other player in the past 27 seasons had an equal opportunity to pad their stats. Many took those opportunities, as well. Yet none combined rebound and scoring like Westbrook.
I said soon after Durant left that Russell Westbrook would average a triple double and win MVP. Congratulations, Russ.
Second, that stat-padding is a strategic decision by Oklahoma City. Their bigs are far better at boxing out than they are at passing the ball to start the break, so the Thunder choose to get the ball into Westbrook’s hands as quickly as possible. You see a similar strategy from the Washington Wizards and John Wall — the fastest baseline-to-baseline player in the NBA — it’s just not quite as egregious.
If a little bit of numbers-hunting leads to a more efficient offense, who am I to criticize the result?