What is a Triple Double in Basketball? (Definition and NBA Records)

what-is-a-triple-double

The triple-double.

If you’ve been following NBA basketball at all during the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard this term thrown around a lot.

It’s one of the most impressive things a player can accomplish in a single game and we’re seeing more of them than ever before.

I want to dedicate this post to the triple-double phenomenon, what it is exactly, and who are all-time NBA record holders when it comes to one of the hottest stat lines in basketball.

What is a Triple-Double?

There are five major individual stats in basketball:

  • Points
  • Assists
  • Rebounds
  • Steals
  • Blocks

All box scores will display these five stats for every player in the game.

A triple-double is achieved when a player has double-digit stats (at least 10) in any three of these five major statistical categories.

Example: 10 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned steals and blocks in the above example…

Even if our imaginary player had zero blocks and zero steals, this line would still be a triple-double because three categories met the requirement of 10.

By far the most common triple double you’ll find combines points, assists, and rebounds.

Other types of triple doubles are definitely possible -- for example, points + rebounds + blocks -- but they’re far more rare.

Other terms you should know?

Double-Double - When a player achieves at least 10 in TWO statistical categories.

Quadruple-Double - When a player achieves at least 10 in FOUR statistical categories.

Russell Westbrook

Why are Triple-Doubles More Common Now?

A triple-double used to be a rare sight in the NBA.

Nowadays, it feels like at least one player puts up this stat line every day.

“What’s the reason behind this sudden rise?”

Many people have chalked it up to the increased pace (the measure for the average number of possessions a team uses per game) of the modern NBA.

The reasoning is simple, and it makes some sense…

The average league pace for the last three seasons is the highest in the last 30 years. More possessions = more opportunities for putting up stats.

Sure, the league pace is high... but it’s far from the historical records.

That’s why I don’t consider pace to be the sole cause of the rise in triple-doubles.

The bigger reason for what we’re seeing has to do with the way the game is being played.

The modern NBA is positionless and this makes it much easier for players to put up stats not commonly associated with their position.

Back in the ‘90s, you’d have two towering bigs in the paint that would get the majority of the rebounds.

Nowadays, you see many teams playing five-out and shooting more three-pointers which means that the rebounds are much more accessible to the smaller players.

With five shooters on the team and plenty of ball and player movement, it’s also much easier to find open shots and generate assists.

NBA Triple-Double Leaders

Most Career Triple-Doubles?

Oscar Robertson.

With 181 total career triple-doubles, former NBA point guard Oscar Robertson has long been considered the undisputed king of putting up jaw-dropping stat lines.

Robertson was putting up multiple triple-doubles in college and if he could play like that in the NBA, he would be special.

Turns out, he could.

He wasted no time establishing himself as a force in the NBA as he almost averaged a triple-double in his very first NBA season.

Just one year later, in the 1961/62 NBA season, Robertson became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of a season with an insane 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game.

Most Seasons Averaging a Triple-Double?

Russell Westbrook.

For a long time, it looked like Oscar Robertson would remain the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of a season.

Enter Russell Westbrook.

When Kevin Durant left OKC in the summer of 2016, Westbrook was left as the lone superstar on a team many wrote off.

Westbrook went on an absolute tear the following season, averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game.

It was only natural to see Westbrook claim MVP honors that season as he became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double.

He was far from done, however...

Westbrook kept up this unreal level of play for longer than anyone thought possible as he went on to average a triple-double for a total of three consecutive seasons.

Youngest Player to Post a Triple-Double?

LaMelo Ball.

When you put supremely talented young players in an environment ripe for putting up triple-doubles, you’re bound to see them put up insane numbers sooner rather than later.

The record for the youngest player to put up a triple-double has been broken a couple of times over the last few years.

Former first overall pick Markelle Fultz got the party started when he became the first teenager to get a triple-double in an NBA game.

Slovenian superstar Luka Dončić became the second one, at only 10 days older than Fultz.

Their records were shattered when Hornets’ Rookie LaMelo Ball put up 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in a win against the Hawks.

On that day, Ball was 177 days younger than Fultz, so it’ll be very difficult for anyone to take Ball’s place any time soon.

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