There’s only one player in the history of the sport that you can compare Russell Westbrook to this season. That’s how it is when you’re the first player since the 1960s to be averaging a triple-double this late in the year.
Oscar Robertson is the only player to ever do it — average a triple-double for an entire season. We’re 19 games into the 2016-17 season, and for the first time in a long time it looks like he might have company in that exclusive club.
For many years it was unheard of to think a player could do what Oscar did during the 1961-62 season when he averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game. The game has changed so much. But that change is why what Westbrook is doing is even more special.
The games Robertson played in back then averaged nearly 25 more possessions a night than the 101.5 the Thunder are averaging this year. Meaning, if we adjusted Westbrook’s numbers to the increased pace for Robertson, Russ would be averaging 46.6 points, 17.0 assists and 15.6 rebounds per game.
Let that sink in.
It almost leaves you feeling that Westbrook and Robertson aren’t comparable at all. Robertson really wasn’t close to these gaudy Russ numbers. And he definitely didn’t try to do as much as Russ is this year, which is the biggest takeaway this season for Russ.
Love him or hate him, Westbrook is trying to do more than maybe any player ever. We all expected him to shoulder a heavier burden this year with Kevin Durant gone, and some might have expected numbers close to a triple-double, but no one knew for sure what it would look like.
Could Russ remain as efficient as he’s always been? Could the Thunder keep winning? Would the best version of Russell Westbrook be unleashed?
It’s getting to the point where we need to admit the last question is true. Westbrook is individually playing the best basketball of his career this season, and when the Thunder have needed it from him more than ever before.
The overall totals of the numbers are ridiculous but don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
For the most part, Westbrook has remained close to how efficient he has typically been. His field goal percentage is down two points from last season, but he’s upped his 3-point percentage (from 29.6 to 34.7 percent). He’s decreased his turnover ratio (16.8 to 16.2) and really increased his assist rate (from 49.6 to 59.1). All of this while seeing his usage rate go from 31.6 to an unfathomable 40.7.
That usage rate would be an NBA record for an entire season, surpassing Kobe Bryant’s 38.7 mark set in 2005-06, which was almost beaten by Westbrook in 2013-14 (the year Durant was injured so much). Michael Jordan is the only other player to top 38.0 in the 1986-87 season.
So what we’re finding out about Westbrook this season is more than anyone could have expected. We all knew he’d try and do more with Durant gone. We just didn’t know he’d be able to do so much more and not drop off in effectiveness.
There are still some questions surrounding the method to Westbrook’s madness. We’ve only seen 19 games and he literally might start running out of steam some time soon. Also, we’re not entirely sure if it’s “winning basketball” all the time as the Thunder sit at 11-8 and on a three-game winning streak.
But really, those are questions that get answered later. What right now is about is Westbrook doing something that’s essentially never been done before.
Oscar Robertson put up numbers we never thought we’d see again. And we were right, for a long time, but no one planned on ever seeing a player quite like Russell Westbrook, either.