Russell Westbrook: the new triple-double king

Adam Zalewski, Staff Writer

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     In typical heart-stopping fashion, Russell Westbrook has set the record for triple-doubles in an NBA season with number 42 on the year, which came Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. Westbrook clinched this historic mark with an assist to Semaj Christon with a little over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, that was not the end of the evening for Russ, as he went on to score the final 15 points for the Thunder, capping off his scoring spurt with a 36-foot three-pointer to seal the victory as time expired.

     His final stats on the evening totaled 51 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, his third triple-double this season while scoring at least 50 points. Prior to this season, there had only been six such games in NBA history. In addition to setting the triple-double record, Russell also moved into fourth place on the all-time list for career triple-doubles, passing Wilt Chamberlain. Only Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Jason Kidd have more than Westbrook’s 79 career triple-doubles.

     The way that Russell set the record has been indicative of his season with Oklahoma City, as he needs to put up monster numbers in order for the Thunder to win games. The Thunder are just 13-25 when Russ does not record a triple-double for the season and the late game scoring heroics have become a trend over the past few weeks, with similar last moment shots coming against the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic. Westbrook leads the NBA in “crunch time scoring,” a metric that is defined as being points scored in the last five minutes of a game when the game is within five points. Russ has 247 such points in this season alone, far out-pacing the rest of the NBA.

 

Russell Westbrook became the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1961/62.

 

 

     There will be claims of stat padding on the season for Russell, but those claims can be quickly countered. Advanced metrics tell us that on average, 8.9 of Westbrook’s 10.7 rebounds per game are “uncontested”. The two big men in the game at any such time do the dirty work in boxing out their men and Russell swoops in from the perimeter to grab the rebound. This is not so much padding stats as it is a scheme to get the ball into the hands of the most dynamic player in the league as quickly as possible. If Russ pulls down a rebound, he is immediately able to start attacking down the court, leading to easy buckets for him or his teammates.

     Westbrook will be taking the final game of the regular season off, as the Thunder will be playing the Nuggets once again, and so his stats for the regular season are finalized. Russ set career highs across the board, scoring 31.9 points per game, to go along with the 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists. These numbers stack up very favorably with Oscar Robertson, who totaled 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game during the 1961-1962 NBA season. In addition to all of his accolades for this season, Westbrook will take home the scoring title in addition to potentially taking home the MVP award.

     Looking to the future, the Thunder will be taking on the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. This is a dream first round match-up, as it pits the two leading MVP candidates against each other right off the bat. The Rockets will be a tough opponent for Oklahoma City, as James Harden and Mike D’Antoni have led a resurgence in Houston.

     If the Thunder want to see the second round, they must be able to lighten the load on Westbrook. The Rockets have an offense that can explode at times, and the Thunder will be hard-pressed to keep pace with only Westbrook scoring. It will be a difficult series for the Thunder to win, but Russell Westbrook has been an underdog his entire life, so don’t count him out just yet.