The use of assists has been a controversial topic for the NBA. Some argue that it is not an accurate statistic to track, while others say it should be used as a proxy measure for defensive effectiveness.
The “assist in basketball” is a questionable stat. It’s not clear if assists are an important part of the game, or if they’re just a way to make up for bad shooting.
Larry Bird is a well-known figure in the has 59 triple-doubles in regular season action, which ties him for sixth place in NBA history. He’s also one of just seven players in NBA Playoffs history to score at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in at least 10 games. Bird isn’t coming from a position of weakness when he thinks the triple-double is an overrated feat.
Instead, Bird believes the triple-double is deceptive because of statistical abnormalities. Russell Westbrook is the NBA’s triple-double king, with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Nov. 23 defeat to the New York Knicks, his 188th of his career. Bird was fourth on the all-time list when he retired following the 1991–92 season. Westbrook, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, and James Harden have all passed him since then. On Nov. 12, Nikola Joki equaled Bird’s 59 points.
Larry Bird had the ability to rack up triple-doubles at will.
Larry Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists a game throughout his 13-year NBA career, all with the Boston Celtics. These numbers were 23.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in 164 postseason games, respectively. He was a three-in-one player, capable of scoring, crashing the glass, and finding open teammates.
Despite his statistical prowess, Bird never gave his triple-double total much consideration. Bird said in his book Drive: The Story of My Life that he could have received a lot more than he did.
“People exaggerate triple-doubles,” Bird said, “which is commonly defined as a game in which a player has double digits in points, rebounds, and assists.” “I honestly feel I could achieve a triple-double in at least 41 of the 82 games played every year if that’s all anybody wanted me to accomplish.”
Bird said that he could guarantee the ten boards and ten assistants. However, he noted that for him to score an additional 30 points would be unreasonable.
“You could do it if other players are playing well, and it would be to the team’s advantage,” Bird said. “What does it imply if you get a triple-double and we lose if they aren’t?”
In the end, the only statistic that counts is the number of victories.
Part of the triple-double formula, according to Bird, is inherently wrong.
The Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird is no stranger to triple-doubles, but he feels the feat is overrated. | Getty Images/Bettmann Archive
In the current NBA, the triple-double has become, if not frequent, at least more prevalent. Oscar Robertson was the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season for more than 50 years. In 1961–62, he pulled it off. Since 2016–17, Westbrook has done it four times. For the first time, he was named NBA MVP.
However, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics argues that one component of the traditional triple-double calculation is suspect. Assists are a judgment call that favors the player for the home side much too often:
“Assists are a dubious condition to begin with. On the West Coast, I think it is typically simpler to get one. It’s simply that they perceive it differently. Assists, in my opinion, should be awarded whenever a player receives the ball and scores. He can create a convincing impersonation, but he can’t get the ball on the ground. You can’t additionally put it in after pumping it three or four times.
“There should be a limit to what can be deemed an assist.”
Bird was eager to thank those who deserve it. Magic Johnson, his main adversary, had 138 triple-doubles, and Bird considered that many of them were of the exceptional kind.
“While we’re on the topic,” Bird said, “there are triple-doubles and there are triple-doubles.” “It’s a triple-double for me when I watch Magic play a game with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 17 assists.”
Winning is the most important factor. Not that statistical superiority doesn’t have a role in triumphs. Westbrook’s club has a.745 winning percentage with 188 triple-doubles. That’s the same as a 61-win regular season spread out across 82 games.
Even among Larry Bird’s contemporaries, stat padding is as ancient as the NBA.
In the 1980s, Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics won three championships, and one of the game’s greatest statistical accumulators was at his peak. Moses Malone was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for both his offensive and defensive rebounding abilities. He was also well-known for padding his stats in that column.
Malone went out of his way to miss shots. He was certain that he could get back off the court and get the offensive rebound before anybody else. It’s a strategy that Andre Drummond admits to using when with the Detroit Pistons in 2015, according to The Detroit News.
Players may also pad in various ways. Jason Kapono of the Toronto Raptors, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting in 2007–08, put his career on hold following a bright start.
Kapono shot 51.7 percent from beyond the arc in 30 games, averaging 3.0 attempts per game. His efforts dropped to 0.6 per night for the remainder of the season. Despite shooting 37.9% throughout that 51-game span, his 48.3 percent overall percentage topped the league for the second straight season.
Kapono pulled the lock off his jumper in the playoffs after the individual achievement was completed. In a five-game defeat against the Orlando Magic, he shot 13-of-24.
When it comes to the definition of an assist, Larry Bird is accurate in that it varies. In 1989–90, John Stockton established the single-season record with 14.5 assists per game with the Utah Jazz. However, he slept an average of 15.4 hours at home and 13.6 hours on the road. Sometimes all you need is a little home cooking from the stat men.
Basketball Reference and Stathead provided the statistics.
Larry Bird was dubbed “the Best Player Ever” by a fellow Hall of Famer.
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