Russell Westbrook: the man, the myth, the triple-double machine

Famously, Oscar Robertson is the only player to average a triple-double – it happened in 1962. The closest anybody has come to such a feat since then is just eight games in (Magic Johnson). Russell Westbrook, at a whopping 41 games into the season, is averaging a triple-double. It’s insane. Check these numbers out: 30.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 10.4 APG in 34.7 MPG. When the Big O accomplished the feat 55 years ago, he also posted 30.8 PPG, but amassed 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG, a couple figures ahead of Westbrook.

His shooting, although posting higher numbers, isn’t notably higher than in past seasons. Historically, he shoots at a 43.4% clip, and is actually a bit worse this year, at 42.4%. The difference is how many more shots he’s getting up: he’s on pace to hoist nearly 2,000 shots, compared to his career average of 1,430 (normalized over an 82 game season) – an increase of 36.6%.

A greater percentage of these shots are also from beyond the arc. Of his 977 attempted field goals, 257 have been three point shots (26%). For his career, he’s typically only looking for a three ball one out of every six times he puts up a shot, at 17%, and for a normalized season of 82 games, just 245 total, a number he’s already passed, on pace for 514 at the end of the 2016-2017 season, nearly 110% more than his career. Considering that recent history is a better indication of his shot distribution and volume, he’s still on pace for 42% more three point attempts than the past three seasons’ average.

Where his shooting has simply been an exercise in altering his shot distribution and increasing his volume, his work under the basket is more of a function of involvement: he’s demonstrated a significant increase in activity, averaging almost twice as many boards as a typical year, which is a testament to his own work and engagement.

Russ’s stats have always been impressive – for his career, his splits have been 22.1/5.9/7.8, which is a stellar line. But with Kevin Durant’s departure to Golden State, Westbrook has had more than his fair share of possessions, as offensive sets run right through him. Westbrook blows away the competition in usage rate, at 42%. The runners up: James Harden, Joel Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeMar DeRozan, ranging from 32.8%-35.2%. It’s really not even close.

What may be the coolest part about his offensive performance this year is his Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which is a measure of a player’s offensive performance compared to the rest of the league. For his career, he’s averaged a PER of 23.3, which is definite perennial all-star material. This year, his PER has skyrocketed to 29.7, which is almost as ridiculous as averaging a triple-double through 41 games. To put this in perspective, only 20 times has a player ended a season with a PER over 30.0 – the highest score ever was 31.84, which was Wilt Chamberlain. Michael Jordan and LeBron James lead the way with four 30+ seasons, with Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain having accomplished three each. The only other players to end a season with a PER over 30, and just once each: David Robinson, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Tracy McGrady, Anthony Davis, and Steph Curry. If he finishes the season with a PER over 30 to match his triple-double stat, he’ll join the ranks in all-time history in more ways than one.

He’s showing no indication that he’ll be slowing down any time soon, and if he doesn’t win the MVP award this year, it might be a travesty.

We’re witnessing greatness. History is happening right before our eyes. Don’t blink.

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