Russell Westbrook posted a sixth straight triple-double Monday night in Atlanta. The NBA hasn’t seen such a streak since Michael Jordan ripped off seven in a row late during the 1988-89 season.
Coincidentally, the Oklahoma City Thunder have won six straight games. With Monday night’s victory, the Thunder are now 9-2 this season when Westbrook posts a triple-double.
While he has accumulated 11 such feats, the rest of the NBA has 12 combined.
Does the Thunder’s success rest solely in Westbrook’s hands? That’s not the case according to his coach and teammates.
“We’re not relying on it, looking at it like ‘oh we need his triple-double’,” Steven Adams said. “All we need from him is his energy and just…his normal self.”
31 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per night is apparently Westbrook’s “normal self.”
He’s managed to turn the extraordinary into ordinary.
But don’t catch yourself looking at Westbrook’s triple-doubles from the wrong vantage point: It’s not necessarily that the Thunder are winning because of what Westbrook is doing. It’s that he’s racking up stats in large part due to the work of his teammates. They are creating opportunities for him.
“Our front court guys help Russell rebound,” Billy Donovan said. “When Steven Adams is locked up with Dwight Howard, and neither one of them get the ball because of the wrestling match underneath the basket, it helps Russell.“
Some big men around the league might chafe at the idea of doing all the dirty work so another teammate can reap the benefits. The standard NBA box score doesn’t indicate the number of successful box outs, for example.
That kind of thankless work can easily go unnoticed, but Adams doesn’t mind. He says the rest of the Thunder squad doesn’t, either.
“No one cares. I like it because then I can actually box out my dude,” Adams said. “It’s good that he (Westbrook) gets to come in and take it. I don’t mind it. It doesn’t matter as long as our team gets the rebound.”
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Westbrook is averaging 13.9 rebounds per game during this triple-double streak, and even though the Thunder star is attempting 24 shots per game, he’s still getting his teammates involved offensively.
“When our guys run the floor really hard and he gets Andre Roberson a layup or he gets Victor Oladipo a layup or he finds Steven in a pick-and-roll, they’re all benefiting,” Donovan said. “They all have a job to do.”
“Russell wouldn’t be able to get those numbers unless guys were doing things to allow him to get those numbers. And our guys wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they were not receiving the ball from Russell in certain situations.“
It’s the sort of symbiotic brand of basketball Donovan has worked to implement: “I look at it more as a chemistry, a team, a group connected, in terms of everybody is trying to play off of each other.”
OKC’s coach also remains unconcerned about Westbrook possibly wearing down from running full throttle every game night.
“He’s right around the same minute number he was a year ago,” Donovan explained. “When you’re looking at the overall total of minutes, now you’re starting to get into changing the way he plays. And I don’t see him playing any differently than he played last year.”
“I don’t see it as a situation where he’s doing necessarily too much. He’s being who he is, and that’s what I’ve always wanted him to be.“
What Donovan doesn’t want is for Westbrook to assume the lion’s share of the offensive burden: “I think where it gets challenging is when you start getting into the shots, “ he said, “where if for some reason he’s up around 35, 36, 37 shots, I think you probably know that’s not well-balanced.“
Adams was asked if he ever marvels at what Westbrook does on a nightly basis. While it might leave fans and pundits in disbelief, the Thunder big man downplayed it. “For me it’s never been like an ‘oh my gosh’ sort of moment. It’s just standard. He just plays hard, which is good.“
That’s not to say that Adams is not impressed at all. It’s just not for the reasons you might think.
“His energy is consistent. That’s what’s amazing to me is that his motor is unbelievable. His passion and killer instinct is just… you don’t see that, you know? That’s what I’m amazed at.”
“It’s unbelievable,” veteran Anthony Morrow said. “He’s getting it within the game. It’s not like he’s forcing it. It’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s a blessing for all of us to be a part of that type of greatness.”
Even the league’s biggest star believes Westbrook can sustain this torrid pace naturally, as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James told Fox Sports Ohio:
THUNDER INSIDER’S NOTES
Oklahoma City Blue Prospect Impresses
Chris Covatta/Getty Images
The Thunder took Kentucky center Dakari Johnson with the 48th pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Like others that have entered the team’s talent pipeline, Johnson agreed to begin his professional career with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s D-League affiliate.
Now in his second season with the Blue, Johnson is showing promise, being recently named the D-League Player of the Week. Through 11 games he’s averaging over 20 points per game on 57.6% shooting from the field, along with 8.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Johnson just turned 21 years old and is still a work in progress. However, he could factor into the Thunder’s plans this season: If one of the bigs is traded, Johnson could get his first NBA contract. He might also be coveted by other teams and become an interesting trade piece.
Thunder Spread Holiday Cheer
The team held its 9th annual Thunder Holiday Assist Shopping Spree Wednesday night. As in years past, every player participated.
The event is presented by Cox Communications and provided a shopping spree for families from the Sunbeam Family Services Grandparents Raising Children program. Each family received $500 for the grandparents and $500 for the children. Each child also received $250 from Target.
The players, wearing Thunder blue Santa hats, roamed the Target store with children and helped them shop for toys, clothing, electronics, and books.
It also provided Oladipo an opportunity to sing, which is a treat for all.
??The golden tones of Mr. Victor Oladipo! #ThunderHolidayAssist. pic.twitter.com/JIZUpHi2QF
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 8, 2016
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are accurate as of December 7. Email Jon Hamm at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JonMHamm