How Russell Westbrook normalised the extraordinary to become the NBA's all time triple-double leader

It started after less than 30 seconds, on the Wizards’ very first possession of the game. Russell Westbrook with a performatively lethargic off-beat dribble at the top of the key, a burst to the left and a bruising shoulder against the incoming defender Bogdan Bogdanovic.

By the time Bogdanovic recovered his balance from the contact, one can only imagine it was like going shoulder-to-shoulder with a wrecking ball, or the crane carrying it, the ball was already gone, out of Westbrook’s hands. Then it was sailing out of Rui Hachimura’s for an easy, wide-open bucket. Picture perfect point guard play made effortless.

Westbrook dished another 20 assists over the course of the game and when the time came to claim his 10th rebound with 8:30 remaining in the fourth, the ball caromed not once but twice off the rim and dropped into his lap as if by divine intervention.

His forward Davis Bertans was also waiting to snag the loose shot but both fate, and the ball, had other ideas.

The Big O, Magic, and more congratulate Russ!#WES182OOK | @russswest44 pic.twitter.com/eObUZ3Pmv2

History in the bag, Westbrook sauntered up the court and into an ill-advised pull-up three that clanked off the front of the rim. Robin Lopez grabbed the board and the ball, once again, followed its path back to Westbrook, seemingly enchanted by this point.

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Quickly double-teamed into the corner, Russ feinted a drive to the basket and with his defenders flailing, threw the ball up over his head and out to the perimeter without looking.

Of course he hadn’t needed to. He knew Ish Smith was there, lurking, and that it would indeed end in an easy three for Washington, such is the unique, brute force clairvoyance of his particular brand of playmaking wizardry.

As passages of play go, it was hard to think of a more fitting distillation of Westbrook’s talents.

His shot selection and three-point shooting remain as, well, Westbrookian as they always were but the rest, his complete and total impact across any game of basketball he happens to be playing in, or should we say the game revolving around him like a planet orbits a sun, is indisputable.

On Monday night he became the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, with 182. Oscar Robertson’s record had stood in sole possession of the record since the 1961-62 season and for many, it had always been classified as unbreakable, permanently filed away alongside Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Bill Russell’s 11 championships and John Stockton’s 15,806 assists.

All-Time Leaders – Career Triple-Doubles

Since his 2016/17 MVP year, the first in which he averaged a triple-double across the season, Russell Westbrook has hurtled towards the record like he was driving towards the basket with five defenders in his path.

On his way he normalised the extraordinary and not only that, he did so in utterly electrifying fashion.

The Stats

  • 22 triple-doubles in his last 26 games
  • His 14 triple-doubles in April were the most in any calendar month in NBA history
  • Leads the league in assists with 11.6 per game (Trae Young is second with 9.5), which will be for the third time in four seasons
  • Ranks sixth in the league in rebounds with 11.6 per game, the only guard in the top 20

Westbrook’s seasons averaging a triple-double

    • His 21 assists weren’t even his highest assist tally over the past week – he recorded 24 against Indiana last Monday
    • Westbrook has also recorded 15+ assists for five straight games, the longest run since Steve Nash in 2006-07
    • In 12 seasons, Russell Westbrook has failed to make the playoffs only twice – his rookie season (2008-09) and the year his teammate Kevin Durant suffered a season-ending injury (2014-15)
    • Has averaged a triple-double in four of his past five seasons, while all other players in NBA history have only one: Oscar Robertson in 1961-62
    • Is the only player alongside LeBron James to record a triple-double against all 30 teams in the NBA
    • James is the only active player within even 100 triple-doubles of Westbrook

    Active Player Leaders – Career Triple-Doubles

    • His teams win 75 per cent of games in which he records a triple-double, better than Robertson (72 per cent), Jason Kidd (71 per cent) and behind only Magic Johnson (78 per cent) and James (77 per cent) in the top five all time list
    • Holds the NBA records for most consecutive triple-doubles (11 in 2019) and most in a season (42 in 2016-17)
    • Broke the Washington Wizards franchise record for triple-doubles less than halfway through his first season in the US capital
    • Over his career, only Westbrook and James rank within the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists
    • Westbrook is the only player other than Chamberlain to record a 20-point, 20-rebound and 20-assist game, doing so against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019

    The Reaction

    Mo Mooncey, Heatcheck Analyst

    “People need to stop disrespecting Russell Westbrook.

    “Because he’s averaged a triple double so many times now, people come to expect it and just think, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s averaging a triple double’. Well, why is there no-one else doing it then? Russell Westbrook is an all-time talent, especially being at the guard position to go out and collect 20-plus rebounds.

    “No other guards around the league going out collecting rebounds like that – and then making plays for his teammates. He’s going out and dropping 20-plus assists in games then.

    Mr. Triple Double !!! Congratulations big bro. It’s a pleasure to witness history!! First Ballot HOF @russwest44

    “I’ll tell you this, those teams in the Eastern Conference, they’re praying, they don’t have to see the Washington Wizards in that Play-In Tournament because no one wants to see Russell Westbrook when he’s locked in and Bradley Beal alongside him. That’s looking scary for the rest of the East right now.”

    2020-21 NBA Triple-Double Leaders

    BJ Armstrong, Three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls

    “I have great appreciation and great respect for Russell Westbrook, everything that he’s done his career. I mean, it’s been amazing to watch him. And remember, as a guard at UCLA, when he came out, he wasn’t even playing the point guard position.

    “So when he got to the NBA, there were still some concerns on whether he could handle the position, let alone do what he’s doing right now. When you talk about athleticism at the guard position today, with the way the game is being played with pace and space, you have to look at Russell Westbrook as being at the forefront right now.

    1 of 1. 🐐💯
    Congrats Big Bro ! @russwest44 pic.twitter.com/X6Yovh3rmY

    “He’s bigger than most point guards. He’s not really a traditional point guard, he’s more of a scoring guard than anything. And then when you combine that with the way the game is played, which is more freely, faster pace, this is what you get.

    “Russell Westbrook and the NBA came together at the perfect time. It’s been the perfect marriage. And you can see what this position has really turned into.”

    Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards head coach

    “There’s nobody in the history of the game that can do what he does throughout the stat sheet. I used to always say he’s gonna probably go down as the third best point guard ever but I think now he’s gonna go down as the second best (behind Magic).

    “Westbrook is poised to, like Oscar Robertson, have a record that seems impossible to catch. Forget players. Only three franchises have more triple doubles than Westbrook. The storied franchises of the Lakers and the Celtics, as well as Big O’s (Oscar Robertson) very own Kings.”

    Steve Smith, NBA GameTime

    “It’s just the energy he has to be able to play at that level. I’m looking at him and not only in basketball, he could do decathlon, he could play football, baseball, he could play soccer, he could win a gold medal in about three or four different events.

    “What I also love about him is we all know that he was banged up and injured at the beginning of the season and never talked about it, never said anything, never let it go to the media.

    “If you’re a basketball fan, and you’re watching him, you could see Russell was not right but you never heard him complain. And that’s why I take my hat off to him. He’s one of those guys that you look at and you say ‘he’s not gonna cheat the game’.”

    Just watched history being made!!! Congratulations @russwest44 on breaking a record NO ONE thought would be broken. Well deserved, keep it up killa! #MindBlowing #Unreal #Unbelievable #VideoGameNumbers #MrTripleDouble pic.twitter.com/t4QBKOQeWN

    Jim Jackson, NBA GameTime

    “That whole thing to me lends itself to why Russell is ultimately being as successful as he is and as a result, the Washington Wizards are now in a position in the playoff scenario that you don’t want to face them. But it’s amazing how the narrative has to change now on Russell.

    “They talked about the empty numbers, it didn’t mean anything, it didn’t equate to winning. But guess what? It does now. At an important time when the Wizards really need it, he’s the one stepping up big time and recording a triple-double.

    “He is giving you all that he has, that’s what leadership is all about. He’s matured a lot and I think that connection with Scott Brooks has been great for everybody involved with the Wizards organisation.”

    "I'm super grateful for Oscar. He paved the way for guys like myself."

    Hear from @russwest44 after tonight's game in Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/tGzSOpxhSU

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