Russell Westbrook’s Historic Season

The Oklahoma City Thunder is a professional basketball team that faced much turbulence after the 2015–2016 NBA season. The face of the franchise for the past nine seasons, Kevin Durant, left for the Golden State Warriors. Because he won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) and four scoring titles with the Thunder, Durant is regarded by most basketball analysts, former players, and current fans to be one of the top five players in the NBA. Durant left arguably one of the most athletic point guards the NBA has ever seen, Russell Westbrook. With the departure of Durant, many began to write off the Thunder’s chances of making the playoffs in the 2016–2017 season. However, Westbrook kept the Thunder in the playoff picture, became a front runner for MVP, and achieved one of the most historical seasons in NBA history. In the Tableau Public link above, I analyzed how Westbrook’s incredible season.

Achieving double-digit totals in three of five statistical categories (points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals) during a single game is known as a triple double. In the 1961–62 NBA season, Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals became the first player to ever average a triple-double throughout the course of an entire season. Additionally, he recorded 41 triple-doubles throughout an 80-game season. Before the 2016–17 season, Wilt Chamberlain was the closest to breaking this record in the 1967–68 season. Through 81 games in the 2016–17 season, Westbrook achieved 42 triple doubles and became the all-time leader for triple doubles in a season. Further, he also became the second player ever to average a triple-double throughout an entire season.

However, despite the highly impressive numbers Westbrook accomplished, many former and current players, such as former Los Angeles Lakers great and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, have discussed the idea of Co-MVPS. James Harden, of the Houston Rockets, has also had an incredible season. The Rockets secured the number three seed in the Western Conference with James Harden leading the way. Other analysts have debated that the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard or the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James should win the MVP. Through exploratory analysis, I intended to compare Westbrook’s statistics to current players such as Harden, Leonard, James, and former players like Robertson and Chamberlain.

I. Exploratory Analysis

I used many data sets to explore both Westbrook and the Thunder’s season. To begin, I used data of player season averages from ESPN to understand how the rest of the NBA compares to Westbrook from the three big statistical categories — points, assists, and rebounds. From there, I compared these statistical categories from a triple-double standpoint. In my opinion, this was the best place to begin because it assisted me in understanding the difference between Westbrook and his rivals to a much further degree. This dataset needed a little cleaning to remove unnecessary information, such as minutes per game, games played, steals, blocks, and double-doubles.

Next, I used ESPN for Westbrook’s statistics of all the individual 82 games to determine if there was a correlation between Westbrook achieving a triple-double and the Thunder’s win/loss percentage. Exploring Westbrook’s numbers this season without Durant versus last season with Durant was a focus of mine as well. This data set required more cleaning than the others because I was only interested in the outcome of the game, individual points scored, shooting percentage, rebounds, and assists. Thus, I removed the opponent, final score of the game, and minutes played.

From there, I began looking at the historical aspect of Westbrook’s season. I used a dataset from to explore the most triple doubles ever achieved in the span of a season. Also, I researched where Westbrook currently is, from a career perspective, with data from Basketball Reference. For all the datasets mentioned above, I used Open Refine to clean my data and Excel to import the data from the websites I was using. Finally, I was easily able to display the data I was working with through Tableau.

II. Explanatory Analysis

Westbrook achieved something that has never been accomplished before. By ending the season averaging a triple double, and managing to break Robertson’s record of 41 triple-doubles in one season, he broke records that nobody has been able to for the last 55 years. Because of this, I am presenting this data to casual sports fans. The audience will need to know the basics of basketball and how a player achieves a triple double. Through data, I demonstrated the importance of triple-doubles to team performance. Even if they had not heard of Oscar Robertson or Russell Westbrook, through data visualization, I was able to make the case of how impressive their seasons were. Lastly, I am confident that I was able to convince the audience that Westbrook should be considered the front-runner for the MVP.

III. Final Thoughts

Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder opened the door for Russell Westbrook’s numbers to explode last season. What Westbrook accomplished last season was remarkable. He broke records that had not been touched for 55 years. However, many sports analysts are still debating if this type of performance truly deserves the MVP. I explored how Westbrook compared statistically to other MVP candidates last season. Additionally, I researched how the Thunder perform when Westbrook records a triple double. Finally, Westbrook’s data was compared to the all-time greats like Robertson and Chamberlain. To conclude, my goal was to demonstrate the importance and significance of Westbrook’s record breaking season.