NBA statistics have gone haywire.
It seems like every other night a player is notching a triple-double, which used to be a rare feat.
An NBA writer dove deep into the issue and found out why the stats are so inflated and fraudulent.
Last year Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for an entire season, something that hadn’t been done in over 50 years.
A writer investigated the reason why the NBA is seeing such lofty numbers, and the main reason is pace.
Last season, there were an average of 3.9 triple-doubles per team, far and away the highest average since the ABA-NBA merger. (There were an incredible 7.2 per team in 1961-62, when Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in a nine-team league.) The 2015-16 average of 2.5 triple-doubles per team ranked fourth since the merger, and the current average of 2.3 per team (through Thursday) would rank sixth.
As I noted in the spring of 2016 when triple-doubles first started to surge, a faster pace should lead to more triple-doubles. Here’s an updated version of the chart in that piece comparing triple-doubles per 82 games and pace by year since 1983-84.
The relationship between pace of play and triple-doubles is evident here. At the same time, we’ve still seen more triple-doubles than you’d expect given the current league pace, particularly in 2016-17. So something more is at play — especially when you factor in that players don’t typically log as heavy minutes now as they did in the 1980s and ’90s.
To quantify it, let’s consider the rebound and assist components of the versatility index I used to discuss Ben Simmons’ versatility earlier this week. (We can exclude points because double-figure points typically follow when a player has double-figure rebounds and assists.) A geometric mean of eight rebounds and assists per 100 plays is a pretty good proxy for players capable of recording triple-doubles on a regular basis. And there have been far more such players the past few years than at any point since the NBA added the 3-point line in 1979-80.
In fact, the 22 players who had a geometric mean of at least eight rebounds and assists per 100 plays in 2016-17 were more than from 1982-83 through 1986-87 combined (20). The number is down a little this season, with 19 players qualifying in at least 100 minutes (I used 500 as a cutoff for full seasons), but an influx of skilled big men and athletic guards seem as responsible for the increase in triple-doubles as faster pace.
While big men may be more skilled, the league has never had a shortage of athletic guards.
Pace of play appears to be the main culprit:
The Phoenix Suns “7 Seconds or Less” ’04-’05 team, which led the NBA in pace, would rank 25th this season.
In addition to pace, traditional rim-protecting big men who limit points in the paint have been replaced by Centers and Power Forwards who are shooters first and defenders second.
A triple-double used to mean something. Now it seems like one or two are happening every night.
The “pace and space” philosophy has changed the NBA, and many would argue it hasn’t been for the better.