This season in the NBA has led to one of the tightest MVP races in recent memory with four candidates and fierce debate over the two favorites, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
While there is certainly more to Westbrook’s résumé than just triple-doubles, it is that stat that is at the core of his MVP case. In addition to becoming the first player in more than 50 years to average a triple-double, he also set the record for most triple-doubles in a season with 42.
But while Westbrook is still the extreme, triple-doubles in general are just not as unique as they used to be. This season, there was a triple-double once every 10.5 games and the league as a whole had 117. That is 71 more than just two seasons ago, and 94 more than the 2009-10 season when there was a triple-double just once every 53.5 games.
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The sudden rise in triple-doubles seems to be tied to a shifting philosophy in the NBA. More teams are putting the ball in the hands of their best player more often, letting them control the game. If the best players are being used more, they are going to have more opportunities to accumulate counting stats.
In other words, there is no reason to think this trend will slow down in the near future. Triple-doubles are becoming the norm, and Westbrook is just the most extreme example.