On the second day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me
And the debut of Mac McFisty
Two Digits Throughout History
Is it possible to fall victim to recency bias and still be watching something historically unprecedented? Let's find out.
Most NBA observers expected Russell Westbrook to put up large numbers in the absence of long-time running mate Kevin Durant, but I don't think very many of them thought he'd take a run at Oscar Robertson. Through 20 games, nearly a quarter of the way through the season, the Thunder guard is averaging 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 11.2 assists. Not since the Big O's second season in 1961-62 has anyone averaged a triple double for an entire year - and that's the only time it's ever happened.
Westbrook is in the top 10 in the league in all three categories (2nd in both points and assists/game and 10th in boards. He's a 6'3" guard. This isn't normal.). Despite the fact that his usage rate of 41.0 is off the charts, he's third in Basketball Prospectus' Player Efficiency Ratings.
It's not just the numbers that tell the story of Westbrook's absurd season, nor the fact that he's carried a Thunder team widely expected to struggle to a 12-8 record. No, the thing that's always made Westbrook a must-watch remains intact, and then some. He's the most athletic player in a league comprised of the most athletic people in the world. Watch what he does here to 7'0" Clint Capela:
That dunk, over a seven-footer, with his off hand, won that game for the Thunder. Westbrook is impossible.
People thought Oscar Robertson was impossible, too, in 1961-62. After one of the more remarkable rookie seasons in NBA history, the Big O was even better in his second campaign, recording 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game for the Cincinnati Royals. While the Royals wound up bowing out of the playoffs in the first round, Robertson's season echoes in history.
It says here that Westbrook's is better (or will be, if he sustains this pace). In 1961-62, Robertson's Royals averaged 124.9 possessions per game. The 2016-17 Oklahoma Thunder are averaging 98.7, fairly quick by current NBA standards. Basketball today is a very different game than it's predecessor. Robertson had 26 more opportunities per game to grab a board, drop a dime, or score a bucket than does Westbrook. The Big O's PER of 26 was fourth in the league, but it trails Westbrook's 30.1.
Russell Westbrook is on pace to have one of the most incredible seasons in NBA history, and stamp himself as the King of the Triple Doub...wait...that's...I hate to burst your bubble, but it's triple double trouble:
That's Magic Johnson's music!
While Westbrook is having a truly epic season, he's got work to do to track down the greatest triple double creator in league history outside of Robertson (who finished with 181). Magic recorded an amazing 138 in 905 career games (while Westbrook's up to 46 in 605 with the nine he's dropped this year - including four in a row).
Magic clearly wasn't the scorer, or devastating physical presence that Westbrook is, but his game remains the most unique blend of skills in the modern era.
I think I'd still rather watch Westbrook, though. I really just wanted a chance to post that song.