First, allow me to establish my credentials as an old stick in the mud who does not automatically agree that the latest thing is always the greatest thing.
Second, let me state that there will never be another Oscar Robertson, and that will be true even if Russell Westbrook matches the Big O’s landmark achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, the only player ever to do that.
Westbrook is a wonder, no doubt. He leads the NBA in scoring at 31.4 points per game, ranks third in assists at 10.4 and 10th in rebounding at 10.5. That comes out to a triple-double more nights than not, and on some nights the mere stats alone don’t really do justice to Russ’ dominance.
On Monday night, for instance, he rallied Oklahoma City to a victory over Dallas even though the Thunder trailed by 13 points with 3:30 to play. Twelve of OKC’s final 14 points were scored by Westbrook, including the game-winning jumper with seven seconds to play.
Can’t tell you if Robertson ever did anything like that. The stats weren’t as precise or as faithfully recorded during his NBA career, which stretched from 1961-74. On top of that, you couldn’t catch every Cincinnati Royals or Milwaukee Bucks game on television back then.
What I can tell you is that the Big O didn’t have the luxury of the three-point shot, which was not yet adopted by the league. He also played in a nine-team NBA during his banner season of 1961-62, when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, which means there would have been fewer players signed just to fill roster spots and thus tighter talent all around.
Here, though, is the real stunner. If you total up all the numbers, Robertson’s first five seasons in the league produced an overall triple-double average – 30.3 points, 10.4 rebound and 10.6 assists.
For Westbrook, on the other hand, it is only this season, his ninth in the league, that he is averaging double-digits in rebounds. The last two seasons he has averaged doubles in assists, but not before.
What’s more, it’s difficult for me to believe that a powerful and intimidating point guard like Robertson, so much stronger than his peers, would be a turnover machine. Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice and may do it again this year.
Again, I’m not saying that Westbrook is overrated or anything. The guy is great. It’s just a matter of emphasizing Robertson’s legendary ability to do it all, and to do it for so long. Just because we didn’t see it on television doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
As an addendum, this season is the closest that LeBron James has ever come to averaging a double-double for an entire year. Through Monday’s games he was averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds.
The closest Michael Jordan ever came to a full season triple-double was 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists. He was 25.