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Oscar Robertson: With triple-double average, Russell Westbrook should’ve won 2021 NBA MVP

Russell Westbrook after breaking the record held by Oscar Robertson for career triple-doubles

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 14: The Washington Wizards recognize Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards for passing Oscar Robertson for most triple doubles all time before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers before the game on May 14, 2021 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

I thought Russell Westbrook deserved 2017 NBA MVP. His singular ability lifted the Thunder to respectability despite a limited supporting cast. He took on a massive offensive role, tearing through tight spacing to create relatively efficient shots for himself and others. That allowed Oklahoma City to play better defenders around him. His clutch play was phenomenal, turning numerous games in the Thunder’s favor.

Missing from that explanation: Triple-doubles.

Of course, triple-doubles dominated the narrative of Westbrook’s successful MVP campaign (along with leading Oklahoma City sans Kevin Durant). Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson (1961-62) as the only players to average a triple-double for a season. It was an awesome feat.

But triple-doubles were also an overly simplistic and arbitrary way of defining Westbrook’s 2016-17 contributions. Which is why I had no problem bypassing Westbrook for major honors even as he averaged a triple-double three of the next four seasons. Last season – when he broke Robertson’s career triple-double record – Westbrook averaged a triple-double… but didn’t even make an All-NBA or All-Star team.

Which vexed Robertson.

Robertson, via Mike DePrisco of NBC Sports Washington:

“I look at Westbrook, and he got triple-doubles this year and no one even noticed it, they didn’t think it was such a big deal,” Robertson said on The Knuckleheads podcast. “I think that’s totally unfair. I think he should have won [MVP] again. If he [averaged] a triple-double again, and he didn’t win [MVP], so why keep stats then?”

“Why keep stats if not just giving MVP to the player who averaged a triple-double?” is certainly a take.

Yes, Westbrook has normalized the once-thought-to-be-special triple-double season average. To some degree, Westbrook shouldn’t suffer from his ability to make the extraordinary look ordinary.

But triple-doubles never told the whole story. The problem is the people who over-emphasized that statistical benchmark in the first place.

Westbrook’s shooting efficiency has slipped considerably. So has his defensive effectiveness. He works harder to chase triple-doubles. The NBA’s style of play makes it easier to accumulate statistics.

Simply, Westbrook isn’t nearly as good as he was in 2017.

That should be obvious to someone who knows basketball as well as Robertson.

Maybe he wants to enhance his own legacy by emphasizing triple-doubles. Maybe he’s one of those people who just relies on stats rather than watching games.

But Robertson is way off base here.