Blogtable: Historical significance of Russell Westbrook's 2016-17 season?
Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
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What’s the historic significance of Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 season?
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Steve Aschburner: When you accomplish something in a major professional sport that hasn’t been done in 55 years and, even then, just that one previous time (Oscar Robertson, 1961-62), that’s a big deal. He did it playing fewer minutes than Robertson, in an era of slower play with fewer opportunities for rebounds and assists. I’ve often felt the triple-double was a funky stat — getting 10 points is no big whoop, so a 20-10-10 bar would be a better achievement — and let’s not pretend any of us knew off the tops of our heads before this season that Robertson had 41 of them in ’61-62. But the “averaging” over a full season? Of all the greats to have played this game, only two players ever have done it. So yeah, big deal.
Fran Blinebury: It’s simply in the numbers. Averaging a triple-double for a season is a feat that has been done only once before in history, 55 years ago, and therefore probably not in the lifetime of the majority of present-day NBA fans. Once-in-a-lifetime events like Halley’s Comet are memorable and enduring. What’s more, Westbrook picked up a team that had lost its No. 1 star Kevin Durant and kept the Thunder not only from collapsing, but battling into the playoffs even thought his supporting cast has often been underwhelming. It has been a sight to behold and a singular event to remember. At least, until he does it again next season.
Scott Howard-Cooper: That people will have to mention Russell Westbrook when speaking of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. That’s pretty big. And that is undeniable whether he wins MVP or not. It was an all-timer, the kind of run that seemed improbable even as Westbrook was doing it. His 2016-17 is forever.
Shaun Powell: The significance is he and Oscar Robertson are the only ones to do it. And Oscar’s came in a different era, when shooting percentages were low and therefore more rebounds to be had — not cheapening what Oscar did, just pointing out fact. Westbrook averaged the triple and broke Oscar’s record number of triples while staying consistent and even playing at extremely high levels on any given night.
John Schuhmann: It was about the incredibly high usage rate, the numbers he put up, and that he never ran out of gas. He did something that we hadn’t seen in 55 years and when we look back at the 2016-17 regular season, Westbrook averaging a triple-double will be the first thing we remember. But we’ll also remember the highlights, the coast-to-coast blitzes, and how relentless he was in pursuit of both big numbers and team success.
Sekou Smith: If no one comes close to doing this again in the near future, I think the historical significance of what Westbrook has done this season will increase exponentially. Right now, it ranks right up there with the sort of statistical season most basketball fans will see once in a lifetime, if they’re lucky. It’s been done once before, more than five decades ago. Stunning as it was brilliant, Westbrook’s season for the ages should be appreciated for the energy and effort it takes to play at this level from November to April.
Ian Thomsen: The number of triple-doubles — impressive as it is — means less than his triple-double average for the season. It speaks to Westbrook’s unique blend of explosiveness and endurance, and clearly his stats have been good for his team. OKC is 33-9 when he has a triple-double, as opposed to 17-18 when he shoots at least 25 times. So this was a healthy achievement that enabled the franchise to instantly create a new identity after the departure of Kevin Durant.
It’s too early to nail down the historical significance because for some time now the NBA has been moving in the direction of higher-paced scoring and more triple-doubles. Have these trends peaked? Or will the style of play become more open, enabling more stars to pursue Westbrook’s style? A triple-double average was even harder to imagine 20 years ago when the NBA was stuck in a defensive rut – but in another decade we may yet realize that Westbrook wasn’t slamming the door shut behind him so much as he was opening it up for future generations to emulate him.
Lang Whitaker: Oh man, the Fun Police have been out in full force the last few weeks, trying their best to devalue the triple-double. “A triple-double is really just random round numbers…” “Well, no one really cared about getting triple-doubles until a few years ago…” “His teammates are letting him grab rebounds that they could get…” But to me, here’s the thing: Russell Westbrook has done something nobody else has done in over 50 years. Period. We can debate the greater meaning of triple-doubles, but Westbrook’s season-long triple-double average is more than just aggregating numbers, it’s a signifier of effort and constancy. And you can’t deny the amazing relentlessness and incredible consistency that Westbrook had to sustain all season long in order to get these numbers. Say what you will, but you can’t knock the hustle.