Five years ago, to average a triple-double, like Oscar Robertson did in 1961-62, seemed unreplicable. In 2019, it’s been weaponized as an insult: Russell Westbrook shot 7-for-30 earlier this week in a loss, but, hey, at least he got that triple-double!
Such is life in the asterisk era.
Since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger -- we’re throwing the 1960s out the window -- it’s never been easier for stars to break records (hello, Westbrook and James Harden), and it’s never been easier for decent and undecorated players to put up statistics on par with lauded seasons of the past.
For example, compare these two seasons:
Player A: 18.9 PPG | 13.2 RPG | 5 APG
Player B: 18.4 PPG | 13 RPG | 3.7 APG
Player A is Bill Walton during his 1978-79 MVP season, when he briefly transcended early limitations before breaking his foot and never returning to All-Star form.
Player B is Domantas Sabonis, a solid but not remarkable player who no one would categorize with Walton, through 20 games this season.
Since the 1975 season, only 10 players have averaged 18-13-3.5: Shaq, Kevin Garnett, Kareem, Hakeem, Dave Cowens, Charles Barkley, Walton, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Sabonis (so far this season).
Three of those have come since the start of last season; Sabonis, if he sustains that production, will likely be the first non-Hall of Famer to do so.
Player A: 28.7 PPG | 8.4 APG | 39.3 3-PT percentage
Player B: 32.5 PPG | 8 AST | 27.6 3-PT percentage
Player A is Trae Young through 21 games this season.
Player B is Michael Jordan, in 1988-89, during one of his best statistical seasons ever. Anyone want to make the case Young has MJ-level potential?
Before this year, the highest Player Efficiency Rating season, post ABA-NBA merger (PER = all encompassing stat designed to measure overall impact), was Michael Jordan’s 31.71, in 1987-88.
This year, both Giannis (33.94) and Luka Dončić (31.88) are currently on pace to break that.
We’re living in the wild west of stat-breaking.
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