Through the first 26 games of the NBA regular season, Russell Westbrook is still on pace to do something that no NBA player has done since 1962, when Oscar Robertson became the first, and only player to average a triple-double throughout the course of an NBA season.
So far this year, Westbrook is averaging 30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.6 assists per game, which has him right in the middle of the MVP race. This was a debate sparked up by NBA fans and analysts alike once Kevin Durant left for Golden State, but I don’t think any of them could have actually imagined Westbrook doing it.
It’s not even a third of the way through the season, but already people are keeping close eyes on Westbrook, who earlier this year had a streak of seven straight triple-doubles snapped earlier this week against the Celtics. Westbrook has 12 triple-doubles so far this season, but is already being fed up with the chase, as his Thunder are just 15-11.
Russ is putting up these numbers despite the Thunder running the NBA’s 21st most efficient offense and is tied for 24th in turnover percentage, in large part due to Westbrook’s NBA leading 5.6 turnovers per game.
But the question still remains; can Russell Westbrook maintain this pace and match Oscar Robertson?
The first thing to mention is that touches shouldn’t be a problem for the UCLA product. Westbrook’s usage rate of 42% is a league high. Also, Westbrook logs over 35 minutes a night, which means he’ll have ample time to fill up the stat sheet. The Thunder also play at the NBA’s sixth fastest pace, giving Westbrook more possessions to get a bucket, a rebound or an assist.
There is virtually no worry about Westbrook’s scoring being in double figures. He’s taking a ridiculous 24 shots per game and an additional ten at the line, where he hits more than eight per night. The scoring output is the least of Russ’s worries.
As for rebounding, this one could be tougher, but Westbrook has always been a great rebounder, especially for a guard. His rebounding rate 16.5% (meaning he rebounds 16.5% of shots missed while he is on the court) is 41st in the entire NBA, making him the leagues second best rebounding guard behind Jeremy Lamb. He corrals 25.9% of opponents missed shots while he’s on the court, a crazy number for a guard and a percentage that has him 23rd in the NBA. With Westbrook’s rebounding ability and Oklahoma City forcing almost 50 misses a game from their opponents, rebounding is certainly an attainable goal.
Probably the hardest category for Russell to achieve his triple double status in will be assists. Which sounds crazy considering that he has the ball in his hands most of the time he’s on offense. Westbrook also has a 23% assist rating, which is only 62nd in the NBA. And, outside of the numbers, there isn’t a player on the Thunder roster who can really be relied on as a secondary scorer.
Victor Oladipo is a nice complimentary piece, but has never been known as a scorer and sprained his wrist and has missed the last few games. Enes Kanter is the third leading scorer on the roster, but only gets nine shots up per game. Steven Adams is the only other player on the roster that scores in double figures on a consistent basis, and he’s far from a threat offensively. Depending on how long Oladipo is out, Westbrook’s quest for a triple-double could rely on his backcourt partner.
Again, outside of the numbers, knowing how Westbrook plays is also a serious factor in this situation. He always plays with a head full of steam and is always in attack mode. His consistent energy makes him a threat to make a play on any possession. He gets to the free throw line easily, and excels at attacking the basket, which allows him to get into double figures in scoring easily. He can read shots of the rim and glass, but can also sky above big men to haul in rebounds. Off those boards, he excels at pushing the pace and finding teammates streaking down the court for easy layups and dunks.
Scheduling doesn’t really play too much of a factor for Westbrook. For as every elite defense the Western Conference has, like the Grizzlies, Jazz, Clippers and Spurs, there is an equally as bad defense, such as the Lakers, Trailblazers, Timberwolves and Nuggets.
The point guards that Westbrook will face aren’t the best defensively. Steph Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard aren’t known for their defensive chops as much as their offensive ones. Chris Paul is one of the better defensive guards in the league, but Russell has owned Paul over the course of his career (27 ppg, 6 rpg, 8 apg) when the two match up.
Ultimately, this will come down to Russell Westbrook’s will. He’s already stated the triple-double talk is annoying him, and only cares about winning. If there’s one thing we know about Westbrook, it’s that he’ll do what he wants. If he wants to complete this historic feat, he’ll do it. If he’s willing to sacrifice the hunt to win more games he’ll do that. Unfortunately, for the Thunder to continue to win, they’ll need more performances like his 15/13/10 performance against the Phoenix Suns earlier this year.
I think Westbrook will average a triple-double on the year. He has the willpower, and is good enough to overcome his lack of manpower offensively. Strap yourselves in, folks, because Russell Westbrook is about to make history this year.
Cover Photo via Sporting News