It took only 27 minutes and three quarters, but Russell Westbrook tied Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles in a single season in the past 30 years with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 124-102 romp of the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.
Westbrook, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Month earlier in the day, has four games left to pass the mark Johnson set in 1988-89. If Westbrook does, then he'd tie Johnson's mark of 18 set in 1981-82. Westbrook posted seven triple-doubles alone in March -- the most in a calendar month since Michael Jordan had seven in 1989 -- and has had nine since the All-Star break.
It's not just that Westbrook tosses up triple-doubles like they're habit; it's the speed in which he does it. His one on Tuesday came in only 22 game minutes. Per Elias research, Westbrook has had seven triple-doubles in fewer than 30 minutes in his career, the most in the shot clock era (1954-55). Magic Johnson is second with four; five players are tied with three, including Stephen Curry, Larry Bird and Bob Cousy. This season alone, Westbrook has recorded four sub-30-minute triple-doubles. The rest of the NBA combined has one (Nicolas Batum).
How does he do it? It's not exactly the easiest thing to explain, but the anatomy of a Westbrook triple-double typically hinges on a fast start (shocking, I know). Westbrook explodes out of the gate with energy and uses that to attack the glass, both offensive and defensive, while other players are settling into the flow of the game. He piles up assists early, then lets his scoring come later.
Westbrook has taken another step as a creator this season, averaging a career-high 10.5 assists a game, but what separates him is his unique ability to rebound at his position. He's flat out the best rebounding guard in basketball. He does it mostly on effort, tapping into his other-worldly athleticism to chase rebounds on basically every possession. Plus, his intent to speed up the Thunder, who are dominant in transition, helps fuel that rebounding energy.
Against the Nuggets, Westbrook forced the issue a bit early, over-passing some in the second quarter, which led to five turnovers. But that's more of a gentle critique than a hard criticism. Westbrook has made it a focus this season to create more, and while he mostly passes to assist, the Thunder are better when Westbrook plays the role of creator first, scorer second.
The numbers are kind of overwhelming with Westbrook this season. If there's a historical context you want to look for, he stacks up. Whether it's the speed of the triple-doubles, their size or just the raw total, Westbrook's season has been one to appreciate.
Oh, and one more stat: The Thunder are now 17-0 when he records one.