ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 13: Paul George #13 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react during game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 13, 2018 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Century Mark: Westbrook Crashes Record Books Again with 100th Triple-Double

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

ATLANTA -- In the midst of a scratch-and-claw road win, Russell Westbrook made history. It was quintessential Westbrook, on the second night of a back to back, muscling away bigger players for defensive rebounds, attacking with fervor in transition to get to the rim and hunting trailing shooters along the wings. When his night was all rallied up against the Atlanta Hawks, he had racked up his 100th career triple-double, just one of four NBA players to ever reach that milestone. 

For Westbrook, the key to his ability to produce across the stat sheet, impacting the game in every way on a nightly basis, has less to do with naturally given talent. It’s all about determination, grit and hustle, and never giving in to fear, fatigue or negativity.

“When I was younger it was something that was taught - you’re never really given anything, you have to earn your way. To this day I feel like you have to keep constantly earning your way,” Westbrook explained. “For me to be able to do that, you have to play hard every night. That’s something I pride myself in. If you think you’re burned out, you’re burned out. I never think I’m burned out.”

Beyond the incredible, record-book level numbers, it’s that attitude, relentlessness and tenacity that stands out to teammates, including two perennial All-Stars on the Thunder. The triple-doubles are a byproduct of the effort and energy Westbrook empties out onto the floor each night.

“That’s workin’,” veteran forward Carmelo Anthony grinned, giving an astonished shake of the head. “That’s a testament of who he is as a player, his focus, his mindset, his work ethic and a testament to his teammates to make the shots when the ball gets to them and the confidence level he has in his teammates and that we have in him.”

“It’s hard to get one triple-double. The fact that he can do that on a nightly basis is an incredible skill,” forward Paul George added. “I think more than anything it’s just his approach to every possession to make a play and make something happen for a winning effort is what sets him apart at the point guard position.”

Triple-double

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With the force, skill, size and speed that Westbrook has, reaching double-digit points is nearly a given for Westbrook every night. In fact, only once in his career has he registered a rebound-assist double-double, missing out on the point column. Where Westbrook excels over his point guard peers is in the paint, as he is clearly the best rebounding guard in the league.

Part of the reason for all those boards that Head Coach Billy Donovan figures is that Westbrook is, in Donovan’s estimation, the best loose ball player he’s ever seen. The visual tracking of the angle of the ball, the instincts and the explosiveness all combine to help Westbrook get a beat on the flight path and direction of the carom before anyone else.

“He’s really smart in terms of he always kind of gets a jump. He watches the ball. He figures out where it’s coming off and then he gets his athleticism and speed and quickness involved,” Donovan explained. “He always gets a jumpstart on a lot of those things, and he’s always quicker to it.”

“A lot of times you see players reacting, and he’s already reacting a little bit before them,” Donovan continued. “And once he’s reacted, because of his strength, speed and athleticism, he’s great at that.”

Steven Adams has been a part of 88 of Westbrook’s 100  triple-doubles and has scored off of Westbrook’s triple-double assists more than any other player, by over 100 more baskets than the next player. The big Kiwi has been one of Westbrook’s favorite targets because right away, Adams adapted to the speed, pace and downhill attacking the Thunder point guard generates.

“The first couple practices you get a feel for how fast he is,” Adams said. “You have to be much faster with your decision making. The wings have to get down to the corner much faster in order to be in the best possible position. You don't have a choice but to be in great conditioning.”

The assist totals may in fact be the most impressive aspect of Westbrook’s two-year run of triple-double fun. After leading the NBA in scoring last season, Westbrook is on pace to lead the league in assists this year. If he pulls it off, he’ll become the only player besides Oscar Robertson to lead in points one season and assists the next.

100 is a nice round number, but it only tells part of the story. Westbrook is a statistical outlier, completely off the charts from what the league has seen in recent memory. Since 2008-09, when Westbrook began his career in Oklahoma City, he has over twice as many triple-doubles as any other franchise does in that time span. Beyond that, he has more triple-doubles than 23 of the 29 other franchises have in total over the course of their history.

Due in part because of the expanding league, Westbrook is the only player to record a triple-double against all 29 opposing teams, and now, after tonight, is the third-fastest player to reach 100 triple-doubles, in just his 736th  career game.

Every Westbrook triple-double is unique, many are meaningful and a large percentage led to a Thunder victory. In fact, Oklahoma City is 82-18 in Westbrook’s triple-doubles, a clear sign that when the floor general is rolling, things fall into place. Here’s a run-down of Westbrook’s most historic triple-doubles:

- Westbrook’s first triple-double came on March 2, 2009 as he picked up 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over the Mavericks. Jason Kidd, third on the all-time triple-double list with 107, was the starting point guard that night for Dallas.

- April 11, 2016 with 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, he recorded it in just 17 minutes and 35 seconds, becoming the first player in 20 years to record a triple-double in the first half.

- October 28, 2016, he recorded the NBA’s first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 51 points, 13 rebound and 10 assists.

- March 29, 2017, Westbrook registered a 57-point, 13 rebound and 11 assist triple-double, the most points in a triple-double in NBA history up to that point. He helped lead the Thunder recover from 21 points down for Oklahoma City’s largest come from behind win in history.

- April 9, 2017, Westbrook racked up 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists as he broke Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old record for his 42nd triple-double of the season while also hitting his first career game-winning buzzer-beater.

Since that final triple-double of the 2016-17 season, Westbrook has registered another 21 during the 2017-18 campaign, including tonight’s historic one in Atlanta. His 32 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists were a part of the Thunder’s 119-107 victory over the Hawks on Tuesday night, and the Thunder is now 16-5 this year when Westbrook completes a triple-double.

Amongst all the statistics laid out in honor of Westbrook’s feat, that final one is the most important to the Thunder point guard. From a correlation standpoint, triple-doubles help his team’s cause every night, but the hunt for Westbrook is the win, not the stat line. When he plays his game and gets his teammates in sync with him, the numbers and the victories often follow.

“I take a lot of pride on both sides of the ball,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, I feel like when I step on the floor I have to be the best defender, the best offensive player. To do that you have to be locked in, and that’s what I try to do every night.”

The Ultimate Athlete @russwest44

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