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Russell Westbrook is surpassing Oscar Robertson - again

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Like those from Lebron James before him, Russell Westbrook's insane numbers become downright impossible when projected back to Oscar's era.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, Russell Westbrook scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to claim his league-leading 15th triple double of the season. By now, everyone is aware of the historical implications of such a number, but it’s as good an excuse as any for the now-annual public service reminder that Russell Westbrook’s current season is more statistically robust than Oscar Robertson’s historic 1961-62 campaign during which he famously averaged a triple double.

Yes, Westbrook is currently averaging only 7.7 rebounds per game, but when his current numbers are projected to the pace at which 1961-62 NBA teams played, and then up to the number of minutes per game logged by The Big O himself, Westbrook’s rebounding average shoots up to over a dozen.

The math is fairly simple.

In 1961-62, NBA teams played at an average pace that allowed for 126.2 possessions per 48 minutes. On average, Oscar Robertson played 44.3 minutes that season. Basketball-reference.com, the source of these and all other stats contained in this article, calculates Per-100 possession stats for all NBA players. By multiplying Westbrook’s Per-100 Possession stats by 1.262, we are able to find what these stats might translate to if Westbrook played 48 minutes per game back in 1961-62. Because 2015-16 Westbrook is only averaging 34.6 minutes per game, we multiply these Per-126.2 Possession stats by 0.72 (34. 6 minutes / 48 minutes) to calculate 2015-16 Westbrook stats at the 1961-62 pace.

Finally, to achieve completely like scenarios, we project Westbrook’s 34.6 minutes up to the 44.3 played by Oscar. Here are the results:

Russell Westbrook, 2015/16 (34.6 MP/G)
Points Rebounds Assists
Per 100 Possessions 34.0 11.1 15.0
Per 126.2 Possessions 42.9 14.0 18.9
126.2 Possesions x 0.72 30.9 10.1 13.6
Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G 39.6 12.9 17.5
Oscar Robertson, 1961-62 30.8 12.5 11.4

"But what about last year, when Westbrook led the league in scoring and racked up a ton of triple doubles without Kevin Durant?" you might be asking. Well, it turns out that Westbrook’s adjusted 2014-15 statistics were also more impressive than Robertson’s in 1961-62.

Russell Westbrook, 2014/15 (34.4 MP/G)
Points Rebounds Assists
Per 100 Possessions 41.0 10.4 12.5
Per 126.2 Possessions 51.7 13.1 15.8
126.2 Possessions x 0.72 37.3 9.4 11.4
Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G 48.0 12.2 14.6
Oscar Robertson, 1961-62 30.8 12.5 11.4

Before Russ, there was Lebron.

Russell Westbrook wasn’t even the first player to surpass Oscar Roberton’s statistics. Jordan, Bird, Magic, and even Jason Kidd played in relatively different eras, but in 2008-09, Lebron James put together what will go down as his statistical masterpiece. His adjusted numbers absolutely demolish Robertson’s.

Lebron James, 2008/09 (37.7 MP/G)
Points Rebounds Assists
Per 100 Possessions 40.8 10.9 10.4
Per 126.2 Possessions 51.5 13.8 13.1
126.2 Possessions x 0.785 40.4 10.8 10.3
Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G 47.5 12.7 12.1
Oscar Robertson, 1961-62 30.8 12.5 11.4

Two other players have come close to adjusted triple double averages in recent years. Kevin Durant’s 2013-14 MVP campaign saw him put up a ton of points and rebounds, but he came up a bit short in the assist column.

Kevin Durant, 2013/14 (38.5 MP/G)
Points Rebounds Assists
Per 100 Possessions 41.8 9.6 7.2
Per 126.2 Possessions 52.8 12.1 9.1
126.2 Possessions x 0.8 42.2 9.7 7.3
Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G 48.6 11.2 8.4
Oscar Robertson, 1961-62 30.8 12.5 11.4

Even Stephen Curry’s current season – one of the greatest by any player ever – lacks the rebound totals required to reach Oscar Territory.

Stephen Curry, 2015/16 (33.9 MP/G)
Points Rebounds Assists
Per 100 Possessions 42.8 7.6 9.3
Per 126.2 Possessions 54.0 9.6 11.7
126.2 Possessions x 0.71 38.3 6.8 8.3
Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G 50.1 8.9 10.9
Oscar Robertson, 1961-62 30.8 12.5 11.4

In summary:

Recent Historic Seasons, Adjusted to 44.3 MP/G at 126.2 Pace
Points Rebounds Assists
Oscar Robertson, 1962-62 30.8 12.5 11.4
Russell Westbrook, 2014-15 48.0 12.2 14.6
Russell Westbrook, 2015-16 39.9 12.9 17.5
Lebron James, 2008-09 47.5 12.7 12.1
Kevin Durant, 2013-14 48.6 11.2 8.4
Stephen Curry, 2015-16 50.1 8.9 10.9


But back to Westbrook

There are, of course, many factors to take into consideration when projecting statistics. To start, there is a huge difference in putting up huge stats and putting up big stats that project to huge stats. Oscar's feelings won't be hurt when he sees that we acknowledge one major, major point: he actually did it. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double over an entire NBA season without any projections or number crunching. There - that's out of the way.

One might also assume a free throw disparity, which could undermine the entire concept of pace and possessions. But stats from the line actually make Westbrook look even better.

Over the course of the entire 1961-62 season, The Big O went to the line 872 times, hitting 700 of them to make up 28.7% of his total points scored. Through 71 games in 2015-16, Russell Westbrook has taken only 510 free throws, which projects to about 589 over 82 games. Of the 510 free throws Westbrook has taken, he has connected on 415, good for 24.6% of his overall points scored. Remove the points scored on free throws altogether – not even paying back the opportunity cost they inherently present in the box score – and Westbrook is still scoring 29.8 points per 44.3 minutes at a 126.2 pace, while Oscar’s average dips to just under 22 points per game under the same circumstances.

This isn’t to say that we should rush to diminish the historical importance or greatness of Oscar Robertson’s 1961-62 season - or his career as a whole. It’s not to say that today’s players could be instantly inserted in to the 1961-62 season and actually achieve these numbers, or have a larger impact on the game than Oscar. For one, the 3-point shot element that was introduced long after Robertson’s historic season. Additionally, fouls would be a major issue for today’s players playing at yesterday’s pace. Westbrook’s current 3.7 fouls per 100 possessions would translate to roughly 4.3 fouls per game if he played 44.3 minutes at a 126.2 pace, but it would be very difficult to play any player 44.3 minutes if his 4 fouls weren’t evenly distributed throughout the game. It would be downright Thibodeauvian. Finally, Westbrook’s turnovers at a 126.2 pace looks something like this on a calculator: "Error."

Then again, who can be sure? Yes, more possessions in a game means faster, more inherently chaotic possessions. Westbrook’s turnovers would probably go up. But on the other hand, has there ever been a player more suited for chaos? On the break, there is no offense to run. The shot clock isn’t winding down. It’s just one man with the ball, teammates filling the lanes, and hapless defenders trying to avoid giving up an open look or a 3-point play.

Or, in the case of Russell Westbrook, it’s just one man with the ball.

Just as these stats should not dismiss the accomplishments of past players, they also tell us that we should no longer fear the notion of Russell Westbrook as a legitimate all-time great. That mere phrase has traditionalists shuddering, but it’s alright to surrender and just stop wondering if a player averaging 10.5 assists in the modern NBA will ever be a "true point guard." We'll simply have to sit back and settle for so much more.