After turning 40, only one NBA player managed to complete a triple-double – Karl Malone
Despite the fact that we have recently witnessed a mild inflation of the value of the triple-double, courtesy of Russell Westbrook, there is no doubt it has remained one of the most respected and admired single game achievements in the NBA.
Not recording a triple-double doesn’t necessarily mean that a player didn’t have a monster performance. You might recall LeBron having “just” a double-double with 52 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds (Lebron was actually stripped of the final rebound), or a similar performance by Dwyane Wade from the 2008-2009 season when he had an amazing 50/9/10 performance in a triple OT affair against the Jazz. However, achieving a triple-double, even of the low-key 10/10/10 variety, virtually guarantees that a player had a substantial impact on the game.
Recording double-digits in at least three statistical categories during a game suggests that the player is either close to or at the peak of his game, has a well-rounded set of skills, and gets enough playing time to fill up the statsheet. Although Karl Malone’s triple double of 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists wasn’t extraordinary, it was very much awe-inspiring if you consider the following:
1. At 40 years, 127 days of age he was quite past his prime.
Even though he had won the MVP award just four years earlier at the age of 36, it’s hard to think that his body and game were even close to their prime at over 40 years of age. Last season, only five players older than 30 recorded a triple double, and only Lebron was older than 32.
2. He didn’t actually get much playing time, only 26 minutes.
When deteriorating athleticism and skillset become a limiting factor, one would expect that attaining a triple-double would be facilitated by longer time spent on the court. But the second leading scorer in the history of the NBA didn’t need that either; he got his in only 26 minutes played. These short span triple-doubles are usually associated with explosiveness (Russell Westbrook in 20 minutes) or moments of inspiration (Hassan Whiteside in 25 minutes, completed with blocks), not old-man, 40+ years, 18-year-veteran game. However, Malone remains one of only five players who recorded a triple-double (Fat Lever and Jimmy Butler being the remaining ones) in 26 minutes or less over the last 30 years.
Besides his triple-double, the Mailman was quite influential on the defensive end as well. He limited a prime Tim Duncan to 11 points on 30% shooting, which surely wasn’t an easy task for any player in the league, especially not for someone of that age. This grand performance, by what could then already be considered an NBA grandpa, helped in blowing-out the reigning NBA champs and paved the way to an NBA Finals appearance back in ’04.
As things stand, the upcoming season will feature not one, but two 40 year old players (Vince Carter and Manu Ginobili), which hasn’t happened since the 2012-2013 season. Considering the fact that both Carter and Ginobili are looking forward to important roles in their respective teams, we might just see another NBA legend joining Karl Malone’s exclusive triple-double club.