Explaining the Recent Spike in Triple-Doubles
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are posting triple-doubles like crazy this season, but they’re not alone. The NBA as a whole has seen an explosion of them in recent years, so in order to figure out why this is happening, Chad Shanks and Justin Kubatko look back at the stat’s history and how it has evolved alongside the game itself in Stat Stories Episode 18 — Triple Double Bubble.
Listen to the embedded audio and browse through the StatMuse stats mentioned in the episode (data accurate as of the date of publication).
Justin Kubatko has painstakingly catalogued as many triple-doubles as possible and made them available in StatMuse queries. Here’s more on what it takes to build one of the best statistical databases available to the public:
Russell Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the only players ever to post 30 triple-doubles in a season. At the time of this writing, he has roughly 20 more games to take a run at Robertson’s record for most in a season.
At the moment, Westbrook has maintained a triple-double average further along into a season than any player has since the Big O became the only player to do it in a full season in 1961–62.
One reason Westbrook has been able to put up the stats that he has this season is the amount of time he has the ball in his hands. He’s currently on pace to break the all-time record for usage rate in a season (h/t Brent Barry).
And even though Westbrook is notching triple-doubles at an insane pace, he still has quite a few to go before he catches Robertson’s career mark.
Meanwhile, James Harden has posted 15 triple-doubles, which would be the main story in any season that didn’t happen to have another player doubling that output, but Harden has posted triple-doubles the likes of which the NBA has hardly ever seen. He has two 50-point triple-doubles, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only player with two such games in a career, but the Beard is the first to ever have both in the same season.
He even posted a 53-point, 16-rebound, 17-assist game on New Year’s Eve, an overall output that ranks as the most fantasy points a player has accumulated in one game on DraftKings since the DFS site began.
A possible reason for the overall increase in triple-doubles could lie in the overall increase of three-point attempts by big men, who by spreading the floor allow for smaller players to get more rebounds. Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez by themselves give credence to this theory as their three-point attempts this season have gone through the roof.
Another possible reason for the increase could simply be that players are more keenly aware of when they’re close to getting a triple-double and will actively work toward it, as Dwyane Wade admitted after a teammate accidentally denied him what would’ve been his first triple-double since 2010–11.