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Who did it better: Westbrook or Robertson?

By: Chris Jeter

With one over the shoulder pass to Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook etched his name in history by doing something that only one all-time great ever before was able to do. Westbrook solidified himself as just the second man in NBA history to average a triple-double for the entire season, joining Oscar Robertson.

But why both seasons were remarkable in their own ways, the Westbrook feat brings up a new debate: who had the better season?

Going by both traditional and advanced number, both men had pretty similar seasons. In the 1961-62 season, Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. This year, Westbrook is averaging 31.9 points, 10.7 boards, and 10.4 assists.

Of course, Robertson played in a very different NBA than Westbrook. During ‘The Big O’s’ time, the league had a more free flowing style compared to today’s game. Back in Robertson’s year, the averages shots per game for an NBA team were 107.7. This year, it’s down to just 85.4 shots per game. Additionally, teams in Robertson’s tripe-double season piled up a breakneck 126.2 possessions per game, competed to the 96.4 per game now. In short, Robertson had more opportunities to score and rack up dimes with the up and down tempo of the early 1960s.

The quicker pace reflected itself in the scoring leaderboard. Robertson could have ranked second in the league in scoring if you transplanted his numbers to today. Conversely, Westbrook would rank fifth in the league in the 1961-62 season. While Westbrook stands alone in the 30 points per game club this year, Robertson was one of five to reach that plateau.

Most impressively, Westbrook averaged his triple-double in nearly 10 fewer minutes per game than Robertson did. Now, Russ did shoot the ball slightly more than Robertson did (24.1 to 22.9), but that is more of a product of the Thunder and less of their point guard. Oladipo took the second most shots per game at 14.6. the only other player over 10 attempts a game is Enes Kanter.

Five of Robertson’s 1961-62 Cincinnati teammates took at least 11.8 shots per game. The rapid pace of play in the early 1960s led into the smorgasbord of shots for the Royals, just as the mediocrity of the Oklahoma City roster leads to more shots for Westbrook (not that he was ever gun shy before).

Advanced number make the argument a bit murkier. Westbrook has a higher player efficiency rating (30.8 to 26) while Robertson has more win shared (15.6 to 13.2), although Westbrook has more win shares per 48 minutes (.228 to .214).

The numbers are so close that it probably comes down to personal choice. Robertson does get some points for scoring efficiently during an inefficient era (he shot 48-percent, the league averaged was 43-percent) compared to Westbrook shooting below the mean (43-percent, league average is 46-percent). Robertson might have had more chances for shots, boards, and assists, but everyone in those days didn’t average a triple double either. No player in today’s game has held the ball in his hands as much as Westbrook has this year as his 41.8 usage percentage is the highest single-season mark in league history. The team’s tepid-at-best roster required his insane numbers.

Fans and analyst can pick any stat they want to argue in favor of either Robertson or Westbrook. All fans and analyst can agree that both men produced incredible seasons that stand out above the rest. That said, Westbrook could attain one piece of hardware that puts him over the top: the NBA MVP trophy.

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Chris Jeter

Staff Writer
Chris has always had a love for sports. He inherited his affinity for them from his New York Yankees-loving dad and grandad, even if they gave his beloved Orioles a hard time during their 14 years of futility. Chis grew up an Orioles, Ravens, Maryland Terrapins and Chicago Bulls fan. His love for the local teams can from his mother. His love for the Bulls came from Michael Jordan and his favorite color being red. As a youth, Chris played basketball, baseball, and soccer with varying degrees of success. He always wanted to play for a team in one of those sports when he grew up, but once he quickly realized that, that was probably not going to happen, Chris wanted to be a part of sports in some other way. Eventually, Chris settled on becoming a sports writer. A year after transferring to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he took Media & Communications Studies with a Journalism Minor, he began writing for The Retriever, initially as a contributing writer and eventually as a staff writer for sports. After several months writing for The Retriever, he began writing for So Much Sports, covering various college sports and as a columnist, writing about a variety of national sports topics.

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