One day after Stephen A. Smith called the Oklahoma City Thunder “very, very predictable,” Russell Westbrook logged his league-leading 17th triple-double. In a way — though not in the way he likely intended — Smith was absolutely correct: It took all of 26.4 minutes for Westbrook to craft his latest triple-double, which ties him with Magic Johnson for the most single-season triple-doubles in the past 30 years. Billy Donovan even sat his oft-roaring, lightning rod of a point guard the entire fourth quarter.
“It’s a great honor,” Westbrook told the Associated Press after the game. “Whenever you’re mentioned in the same sentence as Magic, it’s always great. That’s something you never take for granted.”
Westbrook is one triple-double shy of the three-point era record, but his triple-double production this season is already more impressive than Johnson’s 1988-89 campaign. Here’s why.
Los Angeles’s pace in 1988-89, an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes that a team has, was 100.1; Oklahoma City’s is 96.7 this season, meaning that the Lakers, on average, operated with more possessions on a nightly basis. Additionally, the Lakers attempted more shots per contest than Oklahoma City does, leading to more opportunities for rebounds.
Worth noting, then, is how much time each player spent on the court during their triple-doubles: Johnson averaged 39.9 minutes, Westbrook 33.9, a six-minute difference, 12.5 percent of the entire game. More impressive, though, is that Westbrook’s season average in minutes is 34.5, meaning that he’s putting in less time on court during games in which he racks up triple-doubles than he does for run-of-the-mill games.
Put another way, 12 of Johnson’s triple-doubles (70.5 percent) came in 40-plus minutes; Westbrook has yet to play 40 minutes in game this season while tallying a triple-double, and three have come in fewer than 30 minutes. Moreover, as the Associated Press noted, seven (41.2 percent) have come by the end of the third quarter.
Below are the players’ respective box-score averages for their triple-doubles:
Westbrook is averaging fewer points (19.1 compared with 23.9) and assists (12.9 vs. 14.5), and a lower two-point field-goal percentage (52.8 vs. 54.5) than Johnson during his triple-doubles, but is corralling more rebounds (12.2 compared to 11.9) and shooting better from beyond the arc (29.6 percent vs. 22.1). The Lakers attempted 667 three-pointers during Johnson’s historic campaign, and Westbrook has already taken more than 330 this season.
The number of possessions and minutes played were crucial in allowing Johnson to rack up 17, as is often the case when it comes to triple-doubles. Here’s what the two players’ respective seasons look like when adjusted to a per-100-possessions scale:
As shown, Westbrook sees more points (34 compared with 28.7) and rebounds (11.3 vs. 10.1) than Johnson when the figures are weighted, while Johnson sees more assists (16.4 vs. 14.9).
With three games remaining, Westbrook can pass Johnson’s 1988-89 triple-double campaign. He’s produced more than 50 percent of his triple-doubles this season since the all-star break, so there’s a reasonable chance he’ll pass the mark. But even if he doesn’t, Westbrook has already done more than Johnson did, considering how few minutes he’s played.
“Just play my game,” Westbrook told ESPN.com’s Royce Young. “The game will tell you what to do. Like I said all season, if it’s scoring, then I’ll score, if it’s rebounding, that’s what it is, passing, whatever it is. The game will tell you what to do, and that’s what I try to do.”