Russell Westbrook’s phenomenal numbers have fascinated the basketball world. He enters the final month of the NBA season averaging for the entire season one of the sport’s revered standards for a single game: the triple-double.
But referring to it as Westbrook’s “pursuit” would be presumptuous. The relentlessly energetic Oklahoma City Thunder point guard simply was liberated when longtime All-Star teammate Kevin Durant left through free agency to join the Golden State Warriors last summer. Once the new season started, the triple-double, and history, began pursuing Westbrook.
He is currently leading the league at 31.6 points per game, while averaging 10.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists. If Westbrook sustains those double-digit numbers, he will join the great Oscar Robertson as the only player in NBA history to post double figures in three statistical categories for an entire season, which the ‘Big O’ achieved in 1961/62.
Through 61 games, Westbrook has stuffed 30 triple-doubles into Thunder box scores. Just don’t mention it to him. The subject irritates.
“This triple-double thing is getting on my nerves,” he told reporters, and that was back in December.
“For the hundredth time, I don’t care. All I care about is winning.”
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Remarkably enough, as it turns out, Westbrook’s triple-double prowess is about winning. In the 30 games that he has achieved the individual feat, Oklahoma City are 24-6. When he falls short, his team are 11-20.
Nothing else flies so directly in the face of the notion that there is a selfishness to Westbrook’s all-around dominance. Even when he and Durant were together as the backbone of one of the NBA’s best teams, Westbrook controlled the ball. He always has played at a more frenetic pace than the rest of the league.
Certainly his high-RPM style has made him one of the most turnover-prone players, but it remains a singular asset. His motor defines him.
"Not normal," teammate Steven Adams told the New York Times.
After Westbrook collected his fourth consecutive triple-double this week against the Utah Jazz, in the Thunder’s fourth straight victory, Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told reporters that Westbrook is “playing with a level of optimism, a level of enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude all the time.”
Not surprisingly, even Westbrook at 100 per cent hasn’t made the Thunder a threat to go far in the postseason. No “one-star” team does. Oklahoma City are in a tight race for the four-through-seven seeds in the Western Conference.
A fourth-place finish would at least give the Thunder a first-round series with home-court advantage. That, says Westbrook, remains his focus, while letting others admire his stat sheets.
To put Westbrook’s 30 triple-doubles into perspective, some of the sport’s best didn’t achieve that many in their entire careers. Michael Jordan totalled 28, Kobe Bryant 21.
Only nine other players in NBA history have more than 30 career triple-doubles. Only seven players in the NBA this season have posted more than one.
Of course, it is Westbrook’s rebounding numbers that truly astound. Point guards, especially ones who stand six-foot-three, don’t lead their teams on the boards. But Westbrook averages about three more rebounds per game than seven-foot centre Adams.
Going to the basket, using his strength and athleticism, is just part of his game.
"I like it because I can just box my dude out," Adams told The Oklahoman newspaper. "It's great that he actually comes in and takes it."
Indeed, analysts have noted that Westbrook leads the league in an odd category known as “uncontested defensive rebounds,” thanks to accommodating teammates who leave the stray caroms to their hustling point guard.
Ah, but who’s counting? Right now, just about everyone.
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