Oscar Robertson became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double during the 1961-62 season, but as memorable as that accomplishment became in hindsight, at the time, it was largely overlooked. Robertson finished third in MVP voting that season behind Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, two players who tend to earn more credit for their historic accomplishments.
Now, another player has matched Robertson’s triple-double feat, and the Hall of Fame guard is trying to make sure he is appreciated for it. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in five years last season as a member of the Washington Wizards. The first time he did so, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook won the MVP award. This season? He received only one third-place vote. Robertson disagrees with that. He thinks Westbrook should have won the award again.
“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?”
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Robertson might be the only person to argue for Westbrook’s candidacy, but there’s an interesting conversation to be had here about voter apathy. When Westbrook won the award in 2017, his triple-double average was the central argument given in his favor. Nobody had accomplished it since Robertson, so the fact that Westbrook did so made him an obvious choice to some voters. Yet, after doing it two more times, Westbrook’s fourth triple-double season lacked novelty. Had he produced the same numbers this season, but without his triple-double history, might voters have taken his candidacy more seriously?
That’s ultimately unknowable, but for a variety of reasons, Westbrook was not nearly as productive last season as he was when he won MVP. His scoring dipped by 9.4 points per game, and he went from a No. 6 seed in the Western Conference to a No. 8 seed in the East despite playing with another All-Star in Bradley Beal. Had Westbrook led the NBA in scoring and taken a weak roster into the playoffs again, he might have been able to make a stronger case.