Over the past few NBA seasons, you may have heard about the term “triple-double” getting thrown around a lot.
It’s one of the most impressive feats a player can achieve in a single game. Interestingly enough, there are more of them than ever before. What is a triple-double in basketball? And what is its significance, and why is it more common today than in previous eras?
What is a Triple-double in Basketball?
The meaning of a triple-double is a statistical achievement where a player accumulates double-digits in three of the five statistical categories. Those five categories are points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. For instance, if a player has 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, that is a triple-double.
The “points + rebounds + assists” combination is the most common triple-double combo. However, you may also achieve a triple-double if you amass at least ten steals or ten blocks.
Harvey Pollack, a statistician for the Philadelphia 76ers, and Brue Jolesch, the Los Angeles Lakers public relations director, coined the triple-double concept.
Shaquille O’Neal once had 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks in his rookie season for the first triple-double of his career. The Hawks’ Clint Capela was the last player to achieve a triple-double with blocks. Capela notched 13 points, 19 rebounds, and ten blocks in January 2021.
Another unique triple-double combination is the one with at least ten steals. It’s so rare that it’s attained only 11 times in the history of the NBA. The last person to do it was T.J. McConnell of the Indiana Pacers. The pesky guard terrorized opposing teams with ten steals, 16 points and 13 assists on March 2021.
But it only gets more bizarre from there. Draymond Green etched his name in the history books as the only player to complete a triple-double with less than 10 points. On February 10, 2017, Green posted 12 rebounds, ten assists, and ten steals with only four points in a win over Memphis.
That said, a 10-steal or 10-block is an infrequent occurrence at any level of basketball, even in the NBA.
Significance of a Triple-double
The triple-double is merely a statistical method of assessing basketball players’ performance. It is more reflective of overall productivity and effectiveness rather than playing style. However, if you somehow managed to compile a triple-double, consider it a badge of honor. The feat shows how hard you worked to win the game and how well-rounded and versatile you are.
Let’s take, for example, the most common triple-double combination– points, rebounds, and assists. Two of the all-time triple-double leaders are Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson. They are primarily point guards who play on the perimeter a lot. The assists are understandable because they have the ball in their hands, but the rebounds indicate extra effort and hustle. For centers such as Nikola Jokic and Wilt Chamberlain, scoring and rebounding are essential. However, for these guys to reach ten assists shows unselfishness and high basketball IQ.
If you have a hand on the game’s three leading statistical categories and hit double-digits in any of them suggests that you have had a significant impact on your team’s success.
NBA’s All-Time Most Triple-double Leaders
In November 2022, there was a slight movement in the all-time NBA triple-double leaders list. Nikola Jokic has moved past the late great Wilt Chamberlain, so here are the updated rankings of the most notable triple-double performers in NBA history:
- Russell Westbrook, PG (194)
- Oscar Robertson, PG (181)
- Magic Johnson, PG (138)
- Jason Kidd, PG (107)
- LeBron James, SF/PF (105)
- Nikola Jokic, C (79)
- Wilt Chamberlain, C (78)
- James Harden, PG/SG (69)
- Larry Bird, SF/PF (59)
- Luka Doncic, PG (48)
Five of the top 10 career triple-double leaders are still active. We may see Russell Westbrook add a couple more down the line or LeBron James overtake Jason Kidd at No. 4. It’s also worth noting that Jokic and Doncic, ranked sixth and 10th, respectively, still have years of peak play ahead of them. Jokic is only 27 years old, coming off a back-to-back MVP campaign. On the other hand, Luka is 23 with three first-team All-NBA selections under his belt.
Why Achieving a Triple-double is Important?
The NBA has seen more triple-doubles recently than in the past. To compare, there have been 130 triple-doubles in the 2021-22 season, achieved by 39 players. Ten seasons ago, in 2012-13, there was only 46 spread among 26 players. Even so, the triple-double remains an important statistical achievement.
Why? Because of the level of difficulty in securing one. Again, let’s take a look at the triple-double scenario last year. Out of over 450 players on NBA rosters, every single one capable of putting stats, only 39 have achieved the feat. Out of the 39, only 20 did it more than once. That’s about as tough a statistical achievement as they come!
Triple doubles are also directly related to winning. Scoring points meant you were helping your team on offense, grabbing rebounds meant you were giving your team possessions, and dropping dimes meant you were setting your teammates up for offensive success. Those are all key ingredients to winning.
To further illustrate this point, let’s look at last year’s triple-double landscape again. Out of the 130 occurrences, 88 resulted in wins. That means the team with a player recording a triple-double won almost 68% of the time! That’s a tremendous impact on winning.
Luka Doncic’s Triple-double Video
Reasons Why Triple-doubles are More Common
As pointed out earlier, there are almost three times more triple-doubles in the 2021-22 season than in 2012-13. What led to the rise of this once-mythical statistical curiosity? There are the most probable reasons:
1.) Developing skills of players. The modern NBA preaches and requires versatility from players, so it’s no surprise that the best of them can literally do it all.
2.) The pace of the game. A faster pace leads to more possessions, attempted shots, missed shots, rebound opportunities, scoring opportunities, etc.
3.) Emphasis on three-point shooting. Three-point shots lead to longer rebounds, giving guards a better chance at the boards.
4.) Players chasing stats. It’s safe to say that NBA players actively seek a triple-double, especially if they are close to getting one.
5.) Big men skills. More NBA big men can not only rebound and shoot but also pass and block shots. See NBA Players: Height, Wingspan, and Vertical.
Here are some frequently asked questions about triple-doubles.
Russell Westbrook had 42 triple-doubles for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016-17 season.
Magic Johnson had 30 triple-doubles in his career in playoff games. LeBron James is second with 28 triple–doubles.
LaMelo Ball accomplished the feat at age 19.
Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Robertson was the first player that accomplished the feat in the 1961-62 season. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for four seasons, including three in a row.
Double-doubles, Quadruple-doubles, and Quintuple-doubles
It’s not just triple-doubles that folks are talking about.
What is a double-double?
A double-double is when a players register double digits – 10 or more – in two of the five statistical categories. For example, Moses Malone might have scored 24 points and gathered 15 rebounds to register a double-double.
What is a quadruple-double?
When a player registers double digits in four of the five statistical categories
What is a quintuple double?
When a player registers double figures (10 or more) in all five statistical categories – points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. This has never happened in an NBA game. This has never happened in an NBA game since stats have been officially recorded for blocks and steals. Many believe that Wilt Chamberlain accomplished the feat.
Two future WNBA players accomplished a quintuple-double in high school, Tamika Catchings and Alex Montgomery.
By Jan Rey with Mike O’Halloran
Jan is a writer and a sucker for all things basketball. He still yells, “Kobe!” every time he tosses a crumpled paper into a trash bin. Mike is the founder of Sports Feel Good Stories and has authored three books on basketball coaching.
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