I watched a game last week between the Lakers and Nuggets when Lonzo Ball got the second triple-double of his young NBA career. Despite the lofty rebound and assist numbers, I was kind of surprised when the announcers confirmed his statistical achievement early in the fourth quarter. And it got me thinking…
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IT took Lonzo Ball just 16 games to chalk up two triple-doubles, while it took LeBron James 119. Pretty good achievement from Zo, but does it really mean anything? In today’s league, video game-like numbers seem to be put up every second night (with Westbrook and Harden the usual suspects). Triple-doubles (recording double digit’s in three categories: usually 10+ points, 10+ rebounds, 10+ assists) were once viewed as a sign of an amazing game or one player dominating and swinging the result in his team’s favour. However, they don’t seem as special anymore.
IN a 20 year period from 1990-2010 the triple-double (TD) numbers in the league were fairly consistent. The latter half of Michael Jordan’s career mixed in with Jason Kidd and LeBron James’ dominance accounted for a lot of the statistic dominance during that span, with the league averaging around 34.5 TD’s a season. That number has nearly doubled from 2011-12 to 2016-17 with the league recording over 57 triple doubles a season on average.
DON’T jump to conclusions and think that all those numbers were Russell Westbrook’s doing either. From 2011-14 he only managed three total triple-doubles before he found his true calling chasing stats like a dog chases a chew toy. In fact, that stat chasing from Westbrook is probably what helped him claim the MVP over James Harden last season.
IN 2016-17 Westbrook broke countless NBA records orientated around triple-doubles. He became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a TD over the entire season boasting a 31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG and 10.4 APG line. Harden wasn’t that far behind him though putting up 29.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 11.6 APG through 81 games and managed to help Houston win eight more games than Russ’ OKC Thunder.
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WE can argue for hours about who deserved the award more but there’s no denying that Westrbook’s box score swayed voter’s in his favour. He and Harden weren’t the only players who recorded triple-doubles last season with 21 other players going 10+ in three major stat categories. One of those others was LeBron James who managed 13 of his own nearly double the number of TD’s King James had recorded in a single season before.
THROWING in Westbrook’s 42 and Harden’s 22, the trio became the first three players to record 10+ triple-doubles in the same season with 77 between them. The most triple-doubles in an NBA season before 2016-17 was 78. The other 20 players in the league to record a triple-double added 39 of their own to take the season tally to an insane 117. Clearly the offensive orientated play in today’s league and the increased tempo and pace that teams play at mean there are more points, assists and rebounds on offer than ever before. Despite that though now more than ever, players seem to be hustling for that coveted 10th board or dime to have a TD on their career resume.
THE once glorious stat line of players putting up double digit’s in three categories has lost its gloss and isn’t as special as it once was. Already in 2017-18, there have been 17 triple doubles in 573 games (not taking into account today’s games) good for one every 33.7 games. 10 years ago (07-08) there were 40 total triple-doubles in the season, with one in every 61.5 games and 10 years before that there were 22 recorded, good for one every 108.1 games.
ALL stats, numbers and records aside there are simply more triple-doubles recorded in today’s NBA than ever before. The fact that Lonzo has two triple-doubles already has been blown up by the media and considered this lofty achievement, yet we can all see how he is struggling through his first few months as a pro. I’m kind of using him as a scapegoat, but take the Cavs game against Charlotte as another example. LeBron had his 57th triple-double ever, but despite his ‘stats’ Cleveland was down by a few buckets when the King snared his 10th board and gave him the TD.
Image from sportingnews.com
OF course, he and Cleveland hung on to record a win and usually a triple-double is followed by a W. The 17 times a player has recorded a triple-double this year their team has won 13 times. Last season 74 of the 117 triple-doubles recorded came in winning performances and there is no denying that if you have a player dominating the box score than you will usually win.
THE frequency that players record triple-doubles in today’s NBA though makes the feat seem like no big deal. We are spoilt offensively by the way that basketball is played today, but the once great triple-double should no longer be considered as great an achievement as it once was. A player recording 10/10/10 has never seemed so ordinary and boring.
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