We’ve been hearing Oscar Robertson’s name a lot this NBA season, mostly because his triple-double average is the standard to which Russell Westbrook’s remarkable feats have been measured. The Thunder guard is on track to become the first NBA player to average double-digits in points, rebounds and assists since the “Big O” did so in 1961-62, and he is threatening to break Robertson’s record of 41 triple-doubles in a single season.
Westbrook has 39 after Oklahoma City’s 75th game of the season, posting 32 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in a 100-95 loss Friday to the Spurs, putting him on pace to end the season with 42 or 43. So what does Robertson think about that? More power to the young man.
“I hope he does” break the single season record, Robertson said to ESPN’s Andy Katz Friday, while in Phoenix for the Final Four. “I’m rooting for him.”
“I always thought he was a great basketball player,” the 78-year-old Robertson said of Westbrook. “I was talking to some basketball people the other night, and I said, ‘I don’t think any of these guards can beat him on a one-on-one game.’ I think he’s been tremendous for the team, his fans and also for television.”
With averages of 31.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists this season (entering Friday), Westbrook can afford to post less-than-stellar numbers over the final seven games, assuming he plays in all of them (he has played in all 75 thus far). However, with the Thunder jockeying for playoff positioning and the two-time All-Star Game MVP known for his ferocious competitive temperament, it seems more likely that he will do all he can to ratchet up his statistics, if anything.
In Robertson’s triple-double season, his second in the NBA, he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The 12-time all-star could have repeated the feat in his MVP season of 1963-64 if he had grabbed just seven more rebounds over his 79 games, as he finished with an average of 9.9. In fact, Robertson nearly pulled it off in each of his first five seasons, falling just short with assist averages of 9.7 and 9.5 in 1960-61 and 1962-63, respectively, and a 9.0 rebounding average in 1964-65.
Robertson did not win the MVP in 1962 despite his huge numbers, and in fact, he didn’t even finish second. Wilt Chamberlain’s own eye-popping stats — 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds — that season were only good enough for runner-up status, as Bill Russell averaged 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists but had the most important number, at least in the eyes of voters of the time. At 59-21, Russell’s Boston Celtics posted the NBA’s best record, while Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) finished at 55-25 and Chamberlain’s Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors had a 48-32 mark.
Westbrook is widely regarded as being locked in an MVP battle this season with the Rockets’ James Harden, who is averaging a league-leading 11.2 assists to go with 29.3 points and 8.0 rebounds. At least as significant, in the opinion of some, is that Harden has led his squad to a better record than Westbrook’s (51-24 to 43-31).
However, Robertson’s pick for MVP is Westbrook. “That’s what I really think,” he said to Katz.
“Years ago, it was tough to win an MVP because it was based on winning championships — and Russell with the Celtics, they dominated,” he continued. “But one year, Wilt averaged 50 points a game and 29 rebounds and me a triple-double, but Bill won because his team advanced, and we did not.
“It’s changed now. A lot of people understand what an MVP means. They understand basketball better than they did years ago.”