When my mother and I first moved to Tampa, I was eleven years old. Baseball was my life.
I lived it, breathed it and could tell you every stat from every player on every team in the league.
To relieve me from some of my baseball mania (and to get me out of the house), mom enrolled me in a local little league: Skyway Park right near the Tampa airport. The fields still exist to this day.
I was a tweener at that age, too small for one age group and too big for another. Considering I had just moved into the neighborhood and they didn’t know anything about me or how well I played, they stuck me in the smaller group and planted me at shortstop.
In my very first game, I recorded an unassisted triple play. The batter lined out to me, I ran over to tag the runner off third, then chased down the runner from second.
The coaches were salivating. I immediately got called up to the other league, where I played well, but failed to log any more unassisted triple plays.
For a brief moment, I was a man among boys, or more appropriately a boy playing among toddlers.
That’s what Russell Westbrook is doing this year. He is a man among boys… or at least the ones on his own team.
Growing up a sports fan, numbers meant everything. 755 (Hank Aaron’s home run total) and 61 (Roger Maris’ single season home run record) were seen as unattainable. We all know how that turned out. Note: They were attained. Winning baseball’s Triple Crown (which Miguel Cabrera did only recently, the first since Yaz in ’67) and hitting .400 (which still hasn’t been done since Teddy Baseball) similarly were statistics of mythical proportions.
So was Oscar Robertson’s triple-double season, that is until now, because with every game it’s looking more and more like Russell Westbrook is about to join that elite company as the only man aside from Oscar to ever do so.
But how impressive is this season really? If you listen to ESPN tell the story, it’s as if Westbrook is having one of the greatest seasons ever. But is he? Hear me out as I’m about to take the road less traveled.
Let’s look at the facts that matter. Russell Westbrook is playing on a shitty team. When the second best player on your squad has a handle bar mustache, you know something is wrong. Don’t get me wrong. Oklahoma City is a playoff team in the West which means they’re at least competitive but all you really need to make the NBA post-season is one superstar which (sorry, Mark Cuban) Russell Westbrook most definitely is.
Let’s break down OKC’s statistics. It goes without saying that Russell Westbrook is leading his team in points, assists and rebounds, the three statistics that comprise the triple-double. We already knew he was going to be the leading scorer. Heck, he’s the leading scorer in the league! His backcourt mate, Victor Oladipo is second on the team, averaging 16 points a game, which isn’t horrible but not exactly what the Thunder expected out of him. If you’re making the Orlando Magic look like they got the better end of a trade, you’re failing as a general manager.
Steven Adams, he of the handle bar moustache, is second to Westbrook in rebounds (10.7 to 7.6) which is again, not horrible but I want my starting center to be pulling down double digit rebounds, I don’t care WHO else is on the team. And least impressive is the assists being handed out by anyone other than Mr. Westbrook. Oladipo is second on the team, averaging just shy of three dimes a game.
Now to the rest of the team’s defense (something they don’t really play considering they allow 104.5 ppg), it’s probably hard to pile up stats when Westbrook has the ball 90% of the time. But is he doing that because he needs to for this team to do well or because Billy Donovan is trying to flaunt his point guard as a one-man wrecking crew? Westbrook has played and started every game for the Thunder. Let’s say, hypothetically, he missed time with an injury and the Thunder went on a stretch of tough games. What would their record be? My guess is sub-optimal.
Furthermore, Oklahoma City is 3-5 against the Rockets, Clippers and Raptors, three of the best teams in the league. The other three, the Cavaliers, Spurs and Warriors, Westbrook has yet to face. That, my friends, should be interesting considering OKC travels to Oakland tonight. I fully expect Westbrook to put up numbers. But will his team get the W?
Had I stayed in that Skyway little league, I would have put up Ruthian or more appropriately for the sake of this post, Westbrookian numbers. They also would have been skewed.
Don’t get me wrong, Russell Westbrook finishing this season averaging a triple-double will be an impressive, even historical, accomplishment. And I do love me some Russell Westbrook. I hope he gets it and I think he will. I just think we need to keep things in their proper perspective. ESPN will tell you that what he’s doing is amazing, and it is. But it’s not the greatest season ever played by any stretch when you consider the talent gap between him and the next best player on his team. In other words, if not Westbrook, who?
Oscar Robertson recorded his triple-double in 1961-62 when he played for the Cincinnati Royals. He came screamingly close to doing so in other years but that is the year he’s credited as having one of the greatest basketball seasons ever (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 11.4 apg). That year Robertson’s Royals lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Expect Westbrook’s 2016-17 Thunder to do the same.