Russell Westbrook's Triple-Double Critics Won't Diminish Historic Accomplishment

Jon Hamm@@JonMHammOklahoma City Thunder Lead WriterApril 12, 2018

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) runs onto the court before an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Last season, Russell Westbrook became the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. On Wednesday night, he snagged a third-quarter rebound and became the first player to ever average a triple-double more than once.

The Thunder star notched 25 triple-doubles this season, seven more than runner-up LeBron James. He's accomplished the feat 104 times in his 10-year career. Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, who has three more than Westbrook, played 19 seasons. Robertson, the all-time leader with 181, played 14 seasons. The routine way in which Westbrook fills up stat sheets has normalized an amazing accomplishment.

The possibility of pulling off the achievement again flew under the radar most of the season in OKC. Unlike last season, there were more topics of discussion. Much of the attention centered on the meshing of co-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. George's upcoming free agency was always an open topic. A week earlier, there was a possibility the Thunder could miss the playoffs.

At the All-Star break, Westbrook was averaging 9.4 rebounds per game. It seemed unlikely he would repeat the accomplishment, nor did it seem as much of a necessity as it was last season.

Through it all, critics questioned and scrutinized his stat lines. Prior to the Thunder's game against the Grizzlies on Wednesday, Westbrook unloaded on critics who discredited his accomplishments as mere stat padding.

"A lot of people make jokes about stat padding or going to get rebounds," the All-Star guard said. "If people could get 20 rebounds every night, they would. The people that [are] talking or saying whatever they need to say, they should try to do it and see how hard it is."

With that statement, it's probably no coincidence that Westbrook grabbed 20 rebounds later that night.

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

His statistical feats are polarizing, as is his personality.

Westbrook is rarely warm and fuzzy with the media, and that image gets instantly projected to TV screens and smartphones across the planet. He's prone to playing out of control at times, and that can be carefully curated and easily presented without context. He's panned as an inefficient scorer in an era that obsesses about efficient scoring. He's labeled as selfish, even though he leads the NBA in assists per game.

Lately, people have focused on his rebounding stats. It's a little-known secret that part of OKC's strategy is to get the ball into Westbrook's hands as quickly as possible. Westbrook explained his strategy back in 2015, well before his rebounding fell under intense scrutinization.

"I learned over the summertime whenever I rebound and start the break, it's better for our team," Westbrook told ESPN's Royce Young. "It gives the opposing team problems when I'm able to do that and push the break and get us easy points."

He also happens to be an outstanding rebounder. What is often overlooked is how Westbrook pursues defensive rebounds from well outside the paint. Instead, people latch onto the idea of teammates boxing out for his statistical benefit.

That doesn't exempt Westbrook from all criticism. It's fair to wonder how much his desire for rebounds outweighs his desire to play defense. There have been occasions when Westbrook has played late into already-decided games in order to notch extra stats. Some may wonder if his teammates are really fine with the game plan.

"He steals rebounds sometimes," Anthony said Tuesday with a wry smile, "but anytime you have a guard like that, that can rebound the way he does, we want to push the break. When he gets it off the rebound, he's able to jump-start the break. And a lot of good things happen from that."

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Anthony was asked how the team feels about Westbrook "stealing" rebounds.

"We got a defensive rebound," Anthony answered. "I don't think nobody thinks twice about that. As long as we get the rebound, I don't think we worry about that."

Former NBA player Antonio Daniels, now a broadcaster for Fox Sports Oklahoma, shared his thoughts on an OKC Dream Team podcast.

"I have an issue with the 'stealing rebounds' part. I think it takes away from who he is. I think the wrong picture is being painted."

"The whole point of basketball is to get stats," Daniels added, "and if your stats equate to wins, you're doing your job."

What gets overlooked are the results. OKC finished the season 20-5 in games where Westbrook logged a triple-double and is 86-18 all time in the regular season. If the team's record isn't compromised, and his teammates aren't bothered, why all the fuss?

"I take pride in what I do," Westbrook said. "I get the ball faster than someone else can get to it. If you don't want it, I'm gonna get it."

Much of the criticism will fade over time.

There's little film available of Robertson's 1961-62 season, so we just accept that every rebound and assist the Big O made was on the up-and-up. There are hand-me-down tales of manipulation to get Wilt Chamberlain 100 points in a game, but most accept it's a historic achievement. More than 20 years later, we remember David Robinson with 71 points and may not care how the Spurs worked the system to help him get there.

What will remain is the fact that Westbrook has become a triple-double king, by hook or by crook. By the time his career is over, critics will be too consumed with the next great debate, whatever that may be.