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Who Holds the Record for Triple-Doubles?

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), there are various statistical categories. The five main ones are points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The above-mentioned categories are yardsticks that are used to measure a player’s impact on the game. It is not uncommon for an average NBA player to average double digits in at least one of the categories in a game since most players tend to have a specialty be it offensively (scoring points, providing assists, and rebounding) or defensively (blocking shots and forcing turnovers/steals). While most top players often earn their status by averaging double digits in at least two of the categories – often referred to as a double-double – only an elite few are able to average double digits in three categories to attain triple-doubles.

Who holds the record for triple-doubles? Former MVP Point-Guard Russell Westbrook currently holds the record for triple-doubles in the NBA. The former OKC Thunder star has registered an impressive 198 career triple-doubles as of February 2023. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for 4 of the 15 seasons he has been in the league. Only one other player has ever averaged a triple-double for an entire season in the NBA – former Milwaukee Bucks ace Oscar Robertson.

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Westbrooks Early NBA Career

Westbrook entered the NBA via the 2008 NBA Draft as the fourth overall pick. At the time, the two-time NBA scoring champion had established himself as one of the top prospects in the country after an outstanding tenure with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins.

The Long Beach native was initially selected by the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics who moved to Oklahoma City less than a week later to become the Thunder. Westbrook joined an up-and-coming team that had already acquired Kevin Durant via the draft the previous year and was later joined by James Harden the following season to form a deadly trio that transformed the Thunder into perennial title contenders in the early 2010s.

Despite averaging just over 15 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, and just under 5 rebounds and playing all 82 games in his maiden season, the Thunder only managed to win a measly 23 games. Westbrook’s efforts nevertheless earned him an NBA All-Rookie First-Team selection and set the tempo for his ascension to All-Star status.

With a much-improved roster that featured a recently drafted James Harden the Thunder drastically improved and registered 50 wins the following season to earn OKC its first trip to the playoffs in the Westbrook – Durant – Harden era. The then young and inexperienced team was however eliminated in the first round by the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers, who went on to win the NBA title.

All-Star and More Triple-Doubles

After averaging career highs in points, assists, and steals in his 2010-11 season, Westbrook earned his first All-Star selection. He was also selected to that season’s All-NBA Second team and helped the Thunder reach the western conference finals where they lost out to eventual champions – the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks.

The following season was arguably Westbrook’s best in OKC as he averaged a career-high in points and helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals where they lost out to a formidable Miami Heat side that featured LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh in five games. Westbrook was arguably the better player in the OKC big three as both Durant and Harden struggled to match the Heat’s energy and intensity throughout the series.

In his 2012-13 season, Westbrook continued to impress and earned his third consecutive All-Star and All-NBA Second Team selections. The offseason departure of Harden to the Houston Rockets required the three-time NBA assists leader to share more of the offensive load with Durant which allowed him to showcase his whole bag of tricks.

OKC finished the season atop the western conference and appeared set for a deep playoff run. Their hopes were however cut short after Westbrook suffered a meniscus tear in his right knee in their first-round clash against the Rockets.

The injury proved troublesome for “the Brodie” as he had to undergo multiple surgeries thereafter, which ruled him out for the remainder of the playoffs and portions of the 2013-14 season. Westbrook nevertheless returned stronger and began racking up triple-doubles on a more consistent basis over the next two seasons including 11 in 2014-15 and 18 in 2015-16.

League MVP and Passing “the Big O”

In what was arguably one of the most unexpected offseason moves in recent NBA history, Durant opted to leave OKC for the Golden State Warriors ahead of their 2016-17 season. The move unleashed Westbrook on offense and allowed him to match or set multiple triple-double records – some of which had stood for four decades.

By midway through the season, Westbrook was averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per game. The two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP then made history in April 2017 by breaking Oscar Robertson’s single-season triple-double record by registering his 42nd in a road victory against the Denver Nuggets.

Westbrook ended the season in fourth place on the list of the NBA’s all-time triple-double leaders (ahead of Philadelphia 76ers legend Wilt Chamberlain) and became the only player other than Robertson (1961-62) to average a triple-double for a season. His stellar play earned him the 2017 NBA MVP award and earned OKC a playoff berth with a 47-35 regular season record.

Westbrook continued his triple-double onslaught in 2017-18 and 2018-19 with 25 and 34

respectively to become the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for more than one season.

Despite OKC’s attempts to build around Westbrook with the addition of stars like Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the team constantly underachieved and ultimately entered a rebuild by trading Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in July 2019 for All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The nine-time All-Stars reunion with Harden was short-lived as he was later traded to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a protected first-round draft pick in December 2020.

The two-time All-NBA First Team honoree had a resurgence in Washington and recorded an awe-inspiring 38 triple-doubles in his 2020-21 campaign to become the second player in NBA history (aside from Robertson) to average at least 15 triple-doubles in five seasons.

Westbrook tied Robertson’s record of 181 career triple-doubles in a 154-141 win against the Indiana Pacers on May 8, 2021, and went on to break it just two days later in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Westbrook has since recorded another 16 triple-doubles as part of the Wizards and the Lakers.

NBA Triple-Double Leaders

Below is the list of the six NBA players with the most career triple-doubles in NBA history. Kindly note that this list is as of February 2023. An asterisk* alongside a name highlights an active player.

  1. Russell Westbrook* – 198
  2. Oscar Robertson – 181
  3. Magic Johnson – 138
  4. Jason Kidd – 107
  5. LeBron James* – 106
  6. Nikola Jokic* – 99

While Westbrook and Lebron are nearing the twilight of their careers, Nicola Jokic is just getting started. The 28 year old has just entered his prime and will probably pass Lebron for 5th spot this season as the back to back MVP looks to make it 3 in a row. While Jokic will always be much more focused on winning basketball games than Westbrook, famous for chasing stats, ever was, the center with elite passing skills is in a prime position to pass Westbrook by the end of his career. Jokic is 7ft tall and spends a lot of time standing under the rim on collecting easy defensive rebounds; he already averages 10 a game for his career. He is the passing hub of the Nuggets offense and averages 3 made three pointers a game for his career. So getting 10 rebounds and 10 points should be almost a given each match he plays. Given that he is rated as one of the best passers the game has ever seen averaging 6.6 assists a game for his career, the chances of him getting another 100+ triple doubles in the next 6 or 7 seasons and passing Westbrook looks like a solid bet.