A triple-double is the signature of a truly great player.
To get double digits in three of the five major statistical columns (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks), or even close, requires a player to be versatile beyond measure and have a multi-faceted game.
You have to be one of the best to get a triple-double but they might be becoming more common.
Only a few select players can ever get close to putting up triple-double numbers on a nightly basis and we have two of them in these NBA Finals; LeBron James and Draymond Green.
Yes, Russell Westbrook is the best triple-double threat currently in the league, but let’s focus on the players that will be showcasing their talent on the NBA’s biggest stage.
What is it about them that lets them put up such all-around numbers? Are there more triple-double threats in the league today than ever before? Could LeBron and Draymond finish among the upper echelons of triple-double dominators?
Who are the all-time leaders?
Oscar Robertson is one of the most dominating and transcendent players in history, putting up 181 career triple-doubles, in an era where the judgement of an assist was much more stringent.
Robertson averaged a triple-double over the course of his first five years in the league, with 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists.
As the first big point guard, Robertson opened up the way for the next player on the list, Magic Johnson, who took the big point guard thing to the next level, as a 6’9” star in the positon. He averaged 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds over his career and managed 138 triple-doubles, the second-most of all time.
Another guard, Jason Kidd is the third best triple-double threat of all time with 107, ahead of the great Wilt Chamberlain, who played before blocks were counted, with 78, and the one and only Larry Bird, with 59.
The relatively-unknown Fat Lever is sixth with 43 but it is hard to escape the fact that this list so far includes some of the most complete players ever as well as three of the best passers. These guys are good company, so who is seventh?
If I had a pound, or even a penny for every time LeBron’s greatness has been written about, I’d be a millionaire. James has the seventh most triple-doubles of all time and it is easy to see why.
He is the very epitome of a complete player, averaging 27.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists for his career. LeBron has been honing his playmaking skill for a long time and his tremendous physique and athleticism enable him to grab rebounds aplenty.
Scoring is easy for him too. The King is an explosive dunker and penetrator, and his jumpshot, while not always consistent, is solid. Just ask the fans in New York. LeBron loves to put on a show for them and dominate the game because that’s what he does.
We saw that in game one of the Finals. ‘Bron’s 23 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists were ultimately not enough but they showcased perfectly what makes him the King.
Not only has LeBron scored the most three-pointers in Finals history, he became the only player ever to have rank in the top 10 in playoff wins, points, assists and rebounds, and he’s still climbing. He is the ultimate playoff player - that is why he has been to every NBA Finals since 2011.
Even though he is seventh in regular season triple-doubles, with 42, he could be higher. With Westbrook already just four triple-doubles behind, LeBron knows he could have had more.
"I've probably left about 20 on the table for sure, 20, 25 where I have one rebound short or one assist short, two assists short," James said, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.
But after a near miss against the Timberworlves, Vardon suggested that “he's come within two rebounds or assists of a triple-double on 94 other occasions.” So, LeBron could have had 137 triple-doubles at this point in his career, just one short of Magic. Wow.
James’ triple-doubles have slowed down, though, and Jeff Caplan of Fox Sports isn’t even sure he can catch Wilt or Bird.
“…at his current pace, about one triple-double every 54 games… catching Larry Bird at No. 5, the last non-guard on the list outside of No. 4 Wilt Chamberlain, might be entirely out of the question.
"In 13 seasons and 897 career games, Bird recorded 59 triple-doubles. James has already played in 961 career games,” Caplan wrote.
Even before he slowed down, these doubts existed, as here with Daniel Friedman of SI.com. By 2014, James was averaging 4.4 triple-doubles per season. In comparison, Robertson put up 13.5 and Magic 12.9 per season.
“Following James’ current pattern, it would take him another 30 seasons to surpass Robertson…” Friedman wrote.
But does the King care? It seems not.
"Triple-doubles doesn't define what you're able to do on the court," James said, via Vardon. "I'm a triple-threat every single night, able to score, able to rebound, able to pass…I know what I'm able to do out on the floor, helping my teammates."
LeBron may never catch up with the top triple-doublers of all time, but he will definitely be among the most complete players to have ever graced the hardwood.
Dray is an emerging threat on the triple-double scene and, for that reason, you won’t find him among the best triple-doublers.
Don’t underestimate him, though. After averaging only 3.7 last campaign, his assists doubled this season, while also contributing with 9.5 rebounds and 13.7 points. There can be no doubt that Green is a very versatile player but focussing on this shines no light on his gargantuan efforts on defence.
Unlike LeBron, Green is not the focus of his offense. He is not even second. He gives up the reins to the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and that not only makes him more effective, but it also makes his numbers all the more impressive. Green does literally everything for the team, within the team and does so with outstanding efficiency.
If it wasn’t for Russ, Green would have led the league with 13 triple-doubles this season. To put that in perspective, the ‘King’ had three.
How does he do it? Green uses his intelligence and strength to pull down way more rebounds than an undersized power forward has any right to and he passes really well. Coach Steve Kerr isn’t sure he can ever reach a season average of 10 assists but that shouldn’t be counted against him.
"I'm not sure he's going to do much better than he's doing now…but he's a great playmaker and passer and is perfect for us, I know that," Kerr said to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.
Like LeBron, Dray showed us all of his talents in game one. He put up 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but he is modest and insists that stats aren’t the be-all and end-all of the game.
"With my teammates and the way we can shoot the ball and score the ball and with this offense, I definitely think it's possible, just because of that reason," Green said to Howard-Cooper.
“If it happens, it happens. I have never been a numbers guy. What makes this team special is that we share the ball. We don't care about the stats,” he said to Everett Merrill of UPI.
And even though he is not yet among the top in triple-doubles, he has still made his mark. Green obliterated the triple-double records set by Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley with seven in a season as a power-forward and became one of only 15 players to achieve a triple-double in three consecutive games.
He is a tremendously talented and complete player and to cap it all, Dray cares more about the team than his individual numbers.
Will they finish among the leaders and are triple-doubles more common?
These two probably won’t finish among the top three in triple-doubles. LeBron might be able to challenge Wilt for fourth at best and, while it’s way too early to guess where Draymond might finish, it’s difficult to envisage him getting triple figures.
Are triple-doubles at their most frequent? Not all time, but we are definitely seeing a revival. Between 2004 and 2011, James averaged 4.5 triple-doubles per season, leading the league in that column three times, in what Caplan calls “noticeably lean years league-wide for triple-double.”
Compare that with the 18 that Russ put up this year or the 13 that Green put up. We hadn’t seen two players get 10 or more triple-doubles in the same season since Bird and Magic in 1989-90, so it is definitely fair to say triple-doubles and players who push close to double digits in all columns are becoming more common.
It is a “golden age” for triple-doubles. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.