By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
In 1962, Oscar Robertson finished the season averaging 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, and 12.5 rebounds. It was only his second season in the NBA and at the age of 23, he became the first person to ever average a triple-double over the course of an entire season.
Robertson came close to repeating that feat in each of the following three seasons, but little did he know at the time that he would still be the only player to accomplish this feat more than 50 years later.
Much like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points scored in a single game, Robertson’s 1961-1962 season has long been considered one of the most unbreakable records in sports. Most people would argue that the game has changed too much for anyone to average a triple-double over the course of a season. Most people would’ve said this as recently as last summer.
As of this writing, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is averaging 31.2 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.5 rebounds per game with a mere 11 games left in the regular season.
Westbrook, 28, has long been considered one of the best players in the NBA. His explosive athleticism combined with court awareness and ability to score effectively from mid-range make him a matchup nightmare, and has allowed him to lead the Thunder to a likely playoff berth despite losing fellow All-Pro Kevin Durant last summer to the Golden State Warriors.
Some argue that Westbrook is just chasing statistics. While there may be a level of truth in that, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through 71 games the Thunder won 29 of the 35 games where Westbrook finished the game with a triple-double. Meanwhile, they’ve won only 13 of the 36 games when Westbrook falls short. It’s easy to criticize a player for chasing statistics, but when the team wins as a result, the criticism is less warranted.
The Thunder may not be vying for one of the top seeds in the Western Conference, and it seems unlikely that they could challenge the Warriors in the playoffs. But they should be pretty well locked into the sixth seed, remaining competitive in what could’ve been a lost season following Durant’s departure. Credit Westbrook, who signed an extension earlier this year to remain in Oklahoma City, for putting the team on his back and willing them to contention.
While Houston Rockets guard James Harden is also having a phenomenal year, averaging 29.4 points, a league-leading 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, if Westbrook finishes the season as the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double, he should run away with the MVP award. Harden would be deserving in any other year, but this season has been historic for Westbrook, and Harden has a stronger supporting cast and is in the most point guard friendly system ever created.
If the season ended today, as of this writing, these two players would face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Hopefully NBA fans will have the opportunity to see that matchup and watch these two incredible talents face off in a seven-game series.
Westbrook still has a long career ahead of him, and if the Thunder can replenish the team with additional star power in the next couple of years, he’s the kind of player that can lead a team to a championship. Meanwhile, one of the greatest feats in NBA history might be repeated, giving the final games of the regular season some additional drama for fans to revel in.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.