The triple-double is just a stat. It’s a test of your strength and stamina and playing ability, really.Oscar Robertson
The former MVP Russell Westbrook had some explosive outings recently, boasting a three game triple-double streak, with two of those games being held on the road. This has put him on track to average another triple-double for the entire season – for the third time in a row. In the 2017-2018 NBA Season we saw 31 different players notch 108 triple-doubles in total. Russell Westbrook racked up 25 of those triple-doubles for himself, as his explosive play has led to him getting a large number. Compare this to the 2011-2012 NBA Season; a few years ago from the 2017-2018 explosion, only 13 players managed to play enough for 18 total TD’s. The only player to have multiple that season was Rajon Rondo, who finished 8th in MVP voting that season,
However, those numbers do not do the hard working superstar of Rajon Rondo justice. His last triple-double of the regular season came against the Atlanta Hawks with a final score of the overtime thriller at 86-88 with the Boston Celtics taking the win, led by Rondo. In this game he came up with 10 points on poor shooting (a usual for Rondo) , 10 rebounds (2 of them being offensive rebounds) and 20 assists. You could see just how much Rajon Rondo wanted to win by watching the game tape, and by the fact that he poured in 47 minutes for a game that seemed irrelevant at the time; they were already making the playoffs. What wasn’t realized at the time was that the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks were fighting for the best of the Atlantic Division, and in turn the 5th seed to go against the Hawks come Playoffs. Rondo’s triple-double worthy success to close out the season came much needed, as they ended up taking the 5th seed and best in the Atlantic.
Back then, the term stat-padding wasn’t needed, because everyone who received a triple-double played out of their minds, and were talked about by the league for many weeks after. New York was still going crazy about Carmelo Anthony’s 35-10-12 in a win over the Boston Celtics even after they were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the first round.
So nowadays, why do we brush off triple-doubles by players such as LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden? It’s simple; the league is evolving. Most teams are playing fast paced action (save teams like the Nuggets and Spurs), meaning there are more opportunities to gather statistics for the board. Teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets are shooting more 3 pointers than ever before, a trend that has seen the rest of the league trying to catch up. This means that the defenders are always spread out trying to cover the open shooter, which leaves the paint open for any player to grab the open and long rebound.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing is that most teams have a “player” that they heavily rely on. With the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s Anthony Davis, with the Charlotte Hornets it’s Kemba Walker. Back in the NBA 00’s we saw teams trying to create all around threats (Spurs, Pistons), whereas today we see teams building around superstar players to ensure they get the best efficiency out of them for the market, and for the fans. This leads to more and more triple-doubles occurring. This is a large reason why the San Antonio Spurs are unlikely to see a spike in triple-doubles, as they always play their roster to fit each other, and not have one person do all of the work.
The last Spurs player to notch a triple-double besides Pau Gasol’s performance was Tim Duncan in 2014, with a similar stat line to Pau’s. This proves that the system that the Spurs play in is an outdated team sharing style of play, yet it still somehow continues to work.
To close, I don’t think we’ll ever see the return of the impact the words triple-double had on the league as it seems trivial to point one out in modern times. It’s always been an impressive statistical feat, but with the way the league is evolving it’ll become less impressive as the years go on. This isn’t to say that it is a bad evolution of the league; it’s just a pure note on where the league is headed in concern with triple-doubles.