Trying to take stock of any one player’s season can be a dizzying challenge. 82 games is a hell of a stretch, a marathon arguably more arduous than any other stretch pro sports has to offer. (Yeah, I know baseball is 162 games — it’s just that 50% of the season is spent standing around.)
I say this because I have no idea where I should begin with Russell Westbrook, who has lit the league on fire, proved naysayers wrong time and time again, and grabbed a metric ton of uncontested rebounds — which is an affront to James Naismith himself if Redditors are to be believed.
The triple-double has come to represent Westbrook’s tornadic frenzy of activity on the basketball court, a measure of his overall worth to his team. You might even say that his overall skillset makes him more valuable than any other player to his respective team.
As a way of taking stock of Westbrook’s historic season, I’d like to take this time to discuss the best triple-doubles of Westbrook’s season. Considering he achieved the feat 42 times — and that the Thunder were much more successful when it happened — it was a difficult list to cull, and as such, very memorable performances had to be left on the cutting room floor. So it goes.
However, if you feel that I left an especially egregious one out, let me know on Twitter! You can follow me @mattravis.
Note: these are listed in chronological order.
Westbrook statline: 41 PTS, 12 REBS, 16 ASTS, 2 TOs; 14-21 FG (66%), 0-3 3 PT
This one was a rare loss for the Thunder when Russ achieved a triple-double. The Thunder might have won, too, if not for Serge Ibaka’s absurd game-winner in his return to Oklahoma City (Ibaka scored 31 and grabbed nine boards, by the way, as Thunder fans collectively thought ‘WHERE WAS THAT?’)
While this one feels less valuable because of the Thunder loss, it certainly wasn’t Westbrook’s fault. This game sticks out because of his efficient shooting, his large number of assists in spite of his teammate’s poor shooting, and his lack of turnovers.
We had an idea that Westbrook just might average a triple-double prior to the season. Russ was just getting warmed up.
Westbrook statline: 27 PTS, 17 REBS, 14 ASTS, 2 STLS, 6 TOS; 9-23 FG (66%), 2-3 3 PT (66%)
It’s one thing to triple-double (yeah, it’s a verb now) in front of the Oklahoma City media. It’s another entirely to do it in front of the New York media, who, though jaded, lauded Westbrook’s performance. It’s not like they’ve had much else to laud lately.
The most impressive part about his ultra-prolific statline (we forget that normal guards aren’t supposed to pull down 11 boards) is that he did it in a little over 36 minutes.
That would be a theme all season long, and head coach Billy Donovan need to be lauded for keeping Westbrook’s minutes down. Westbrook, obviously, should be lauded for accomplishing this while playing only the 18th most minutes in the league.
What makes this triple-double particularly notable was that it was the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history — a record he owned before he broke it again.
Westbrook statline: 45 PTS, 11 REBS, 11 ASTS, 1 STL, 4 TOS; 13-25 FG (52%), 5-7 3 PT (71%)
This was the the game that made people start thinking MVP. Down four with 3:37 left in the game, Westbrook engineered a 10-0 run that had Celtics fans agape in disbelief.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 24, 2016
“It’s important for me to know how to close games,” Westbrook said. “I watch film and figure out the best way to close games for my team. Tonight was a night where some shots fell and we got the shots we wanted.”
He was still learning how to close games as the alpha dog. He’s safely established himself as a clutch player by now, so it’s easy to forget that there were doubts he could do it. Just another instance of Westbrook shutting down naysayers. They haven’t gone anywhere, though — they’re just smart enough not to doubt him anymore.
Westbrook statline: 32 PTS, 17 REBS, 11 ASTS, 3 STLS, 5 TOS; 10-20 FG (50%), 7-12 3PT (58%)
Russell Westbrook terrorized the youthful Denver Nuggets all season long. Russ has struggled with his three-point shooting in his career, but he had a number of games where he hit five or more. During this particular stretch, Westbrook was 15-of-27 from beyond the arc in a span of just two games.
When Russ is affecting all facets of the game, his teammates are stepping up, and he’s shooting well, there’s very little stopping this team. They weren’t always able to put it together (as evidenced by their ugly road record), but this night was an example of the team’s potential.
Westbrook statline: 38 PTS, 14 REBS, 12 ASTS, 3 STLS, 6 TOS; 13-22 (59%), 3-5 3PT (60%)
Westbrook had this one secured in just 29 minutes, but it was only his third-fastest triple-double of the season to that point. This one also gave him the most triple-doubles before the All-Star Break since, well…Oscar Robertson’s historic ‘61-’62 season.
It also felt like a statement: the All-Star Break was just around the corner, and a lot of questions loomed about his reunion with Kevin Durant.
(Damn it. I thought I could go an entire piece without mentioning him.)
Westbrook clearly had his focus, though, and he cruised control’d the Thunder to an easy victory over the Knicks. In the media capitol of the world, it’s no small task to ignore that kind of narrative.
Westbrook statline: 33 PTS, 11 REBS, 14 ASTS, 2 STLS, 2 BLKS, 5 TOS; 9-26 FG (35%), 3-10 3PT (30%)
Although it ultimately didn’t matter in the playoff picture, OKC did hold a tiebreaker had they owned the same records. As it stands, Utah grabbed the fifth while the Thunder are just behind in sixth.
And, although it wasn’t a pretty (or effective) shooting performance from Russ, he rescued an offense that had stalled and allowed the Jazz to creep back into the game. Down the stretch, Westbrook took control, scoring 16 of the Thunder’s last 17 in the quarter.
Westbrook statline: 25 PTS, 19 ASTS, 12 REBS, 2 STLS, 1 BLK, 5 TOS; 6/18 FG (33%), 2-7 3PT (29%)
The game that spawned the road ‘MVP!’ chant for Westbrook. He wasn’t shooting particularly well, but his assist count — the second highest total of the season — shows just how surgical he was in slicing the Nets’ defense into ribbons.
Particularly impressive was that Nets fans knew exactly the tally needed for Westbrook to notch the triple-double:
Russell Westbrook gets raucous ovation from Nets “home” crowd after grabbing 10th rebound and securing 33rd triple-double of season pic.twitter.com/tbS8RZEHW2
— Sky Wob (@World_Wide_Wob) March 15, 2017
A combined points-rebounds-assists line of 56 is nothing to sneeze at, but the game felt entirely pedestrian. That’s the magic of Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook statline: 24 PTS, 16 ASTS, 10 REBS, 1 STL, 2 TOS; 8-17 FG (47%), 4-8 3PT (50%)
Just for perspective: the last three triple-doubles I’ve mentioned all happened in the span of six days. The man truly doesn’t get tired.
Part of that is because of Donovan’s excellent minutes management, and Westbrook only played 27 minutes in this game. No Thunder player besides Andre Roberson played over 30 minutes, which is quite impressive.
That was a function of playing arguably their best game all season, beating a contender on the road by 20-plus points. It was also Westbrook fourth-straight triple-double, and the Thunder’s fourth-straight victory.
Something tells me that’s not a coincidence.
The Thunder led from beginning to end, and Westbrook engineered an 18-6 run in the second quarter where he scored or assisted on every point. When looking back for MVP moments, games like this are just as important as dramatic comebacks.
Westbrook statline: 57 PTS, 13 REBS, 11 ASTS 3 STLS 7 TOS; 21-40 FGS (53%) 6-15 3PT (40%)
The Thunder, down by 21 points, had seemed out of it against a lottery bound team in Orlando.
That was until Russell Westbrook came back in the game. He took over the action in the fourth quarter, hit a three-pointer to send the game to overtime, and breezed through the extra period as Orlando’s fans showered him with MVP chants.
These ones were MUCH louder than the ones in Brooklyn:
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 30, 2017
Westbrook’s 57 points were the most in a triple-double ever, and the 21-point comeback was the largest in Thunder history. In a season where Westbrook was constantly making history, this night felt like one of the biggest postmarks of his transcendence.
Westbrook statline: 50 PTS, 16 REBS, 14 ASTS, 1 STL, 2 TOS; 17-32 FGS (53%) 5-12 3PT (42%)
How fitting that Russell make the game in which he stole the triple-double crown one of the most exciting of the season. He saved his — pardon the expression — MVP moment for last.
Although he’d achieved the record earlier in the game, it seemed as if a victory was out of the question.
Denver possessed the ball with a seven-point lead and 1:13 remaining. A series of Nuggets mistakes allowed Westbrook and company to claw back into the game. Westbrook scored the final 13 points for the Thunder.
The Thunder were down 105-103 with 2.9 ticks of the clock remaining. The inbound was frenzied, and Steven Adams handed Westbrook the ball with a no time to waste and a tough angle-left three from Boulder.
For myself and many others, the shot and the comeback sealed the MVP decision. For me especially, it was icing on a season that, if I’m lucky enough to have them, I’ll tell my grandchildren about.
If I don’t have any, you can catch me on the street corner, grey-haired and wide-eyed, screaming about Russell Westbrook to anyone who will listen.