I have a New Year's resolution I would like the rest of the hoops press to join me in: Stop talking about triple doubles. It's far and away the most overvalued statistic in the game today.
Don't get me wrong I think 10 rebounds in a game is a feat. Of the 450 or so NBA players, only eight of them (David Lee is one) average in double digits per game. And yes, double figures in assists is a good thing; only Steve Nash averages more than ten dimes per contest, and only 11 other guards average more than seven.
But 10 points? C'mon! That isn't rare. There are 102 players who average double digits per game and probably 100 to 150 more who could average that much if they played starters minutes.
That's my first gripe with the triple double it equates points with rebounds and assists, and although the Wages of Wins folks may disagree, points are more important. At the end of each game, it isn't the team that outrebounded the other that wins, it's the team that outscored the other. A triple doubles equate games of 27 points, 11 boards, and 10 dimes with games of 12 points, 10, and 10.
Another problem with triple doubles is figuring just what makes 10 a magic number, anyway? Again, take our player with a 121010 line and compare him to one with 2798. Our second player has had the superior game but because of the way the tally is now valued, that player won't get the recognition.
A third issue is that assists are far too haphazard an occurrence to include in any definitive statistic. A passer often makes a great feed that leads to an extra pass and a hoop (most fans can readily imagine that sequence leading to a dunk). Only the extra passer gets an assist when it was the original pass that opened up the play. The reverse is also true. Consider this scenario: a team hastily rotates the ball looking for a player to beat the shot clock; a long jumper launched just ahead of the buzzer rattles in. The next-to-last player to handle the ball earns an assist when in fact the pass was more of the "here-you-take-it" hot potato approach than a pass that actually creates an opportunity.
Triple doubles also don't account for performance above a player's averages. Jason Kidd averages 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game. It's only natural that he will often exceed those rebound and assists averages. Frequently for Kidd, it's an eight and 21% increase bumps that are routine in the statistical distribution of production during an 82-game season. In other words, a triple double for Kidd isn't big news.
Lastly, triple doubles don't account for the efficiency of production. Sometimes big assist nights are accompanied by large turnovers and, in the case of Kidd, whose shooting percentage is below the league average, the scoring part of the triple double may have been an inefficient use of possessions. Here's a case in point: A week before Christmas, Kidd notched 11, 12, and 10 against Golden State, but the points came on 414 shooting. He was not only below (if only slightly) his season scoring average, but he also had a bad night shooting. Nevertheless, the second paragraph of the AP story on the game touted Kidd's well, you know what.
None of this is meant to demean Kidd, whose diverse skill set and well-rounded game make him a richly deserving future Hall of Famer, but we have to find better ways of gauging unique production.
Some of my complaints are unresolvable. It's not likely that in the shorthand of broadcast journalism points above or below average will ever be taken into account. However, the bar can be raised for triple doubles in the simplest way.
Let's go back to the father of the triple double, Oscar Robertson. Although everyone points to Robertson's 1962 season during which he averaged 30.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game as the gold standard of unreachable hoops feats, it might be useful to consider the two seasons on either side of that one. In 1961 Robertson's rookie campaign he averaged 30.5, 10.1, and 9.7. In '63 he notched 28.3, 10.4, and 9.5. Robertson has often said that if he knew triple doubles were going to become a valued stat, he'd have aimed for more assists in his early years. What's more, he shot 47.3%, 47.8%, and 51.8% during those years.
So why not honor him by bestowing games that recall his remarkable skill set with an "Oscar," so to speak? The criteria is simple: more than nine assists and rebounds, shooting above 47% and at least 25 points per game. Why 25? Well, it raises the bar to about the same percentile rank of a player with nine rebounds and nine assists, and it accounts for the slower pace of today's game versus the early '60s.
Aside from raising the bar on triple doubles, invoking Robertson's name would be the beginning of important historical work on the part of the NBA, uncovering the golden age of the early '60s. These days, basketball history tends to comprise the Jordan years, the Bird-Magic era, the end of the Bill Russell Celtics, and the Knicks title years. But there's plenty more, and the league needs to do more to highlight it. It was in 1962 that Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game; this stuff shouldn't remain buried.
"Oscar" is already often used in the basketball vernacular, but it's used in reference to floppers. Let's be fair: Those who feign taking contact are only worth a Golden Globe anyway. There's only one Big O, and the triple double doesn't come close to properly glorifying his achievements.