Russell Westbrook Might Average a Triple Double Again. So What?

Russell Westbrook might average a triple-double for the second consecutive year. Why are we not excited about it?

Russell Westbrook has single-handedly changed how we think about triple-doubles. Just one short year ago, it was almost unthinkable that Westbrook could average a triple-double over the course of an entire season since nobody had done it since Oscar Robertson did it in the 1961-62 season. Before last year, Roberston's achievement was one of those weird sports trivia facts about records that will never be broken. It was in the same folder as Wilt scoring 100 and Ted Williams batting .406. 

To commemorate his triumph over history, Westbrook was named MVP. It was the perfect storm, if you agree with the voting, of exactly the type of narrative and statistics to win the award. In a sense, the award was just as much about Kevin Durant leaving as it was about Westbrook being really good at basketball. This is important because, even in a season where Westbrook's triple-doubles dominated the MVP conversation, they still were almost not enough to convince voters. 

Now, with about a week left in March, Westbrook could do it again. Except this time, it's not enough to be the MVP. It's not even remotely enough. Expectations were much higher for this year's Thunder compared to last, and yet the results are about the same. Without the cushion of being considered an underdog, Westbrook and company are now held accountable for their shortcomings, which have amounted to numerous instances of playing down to lesser competition. But the minutia doesn't always matter, it's the big picture that wins awards, and the Thunder's picture has changed quite a bit. Fighting to make the playoffs and fighting to stay in them are two very different things. And the glamour of statistical records won't save them from criticism this time. 

Triple-doubles simply aren't what they used to be. They're still noteworthy, but less so without other unique circumstances. When an All-Star does it, it's nothing out of the ordinary, since we've seen Westbrook do it literally 100 times now. Oh, Terry Rozier put up a triple-double in his first ever start? That's something you don't see every day! (Nobody had done it since Tony Wroten in 2013) Before long, a triple-double in a loss will begin to feel commonplace. 

Imagine this headline popping up 20 years from now: "Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the second time in a row in the 2017-18 season and nobody seemed to care." That's the reality we're walking towards. This is not the fault of Westbrook, however, and more of the result of social media dominating sports headlines, or even culture in general. Everything we discuss falls into two distinct categories: 

Category 1: The best things ever

Category 2: The worst things ever

Nothing exists in between. Many things, however, can start in the first category and end in the second, as is the case with athletes and statistics. The prime example of this is undoubtedly Derrick Rose, who was a consensus top-five NBA player when he was the MVP and had people saying that he's not an NBA-level player after being waived this year. The reality is that Rose is still a skilled offensive player who has little ability or interest to play impactful difference. Every team in the league has a player like that. 

And I'm not just calling out Twitter users. There was a fairly uniform opinion across all forms of media when the Cavaliers overhauled their roster that role players don't matter. If the Cavs were winning most of their games, we would be celebrating their trades, just like we praise the work behind Houston's assembly line of shooters. I'm guilty of marginalizing role players too, so I've contributed to the problem. 

I don't have a solution. I just like to point out problems. Everything in the world is polarizing now, and the things that aren't will be in due time. Right now, we're seeing it happen to the NBA equivalent of a hat-trick. I don't know what's more absurd: averaging a triple-double for a season, or the basketball world not caring. 

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