Statistically Identifying Potential Triple-Double Hunters

Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports

In my previous article, I found evidence supporting the theory that NBA players might be hunting for triple-doubles when they’re close to achieving one. I found that the number of near miss triple-doubles was disproportionately lower than the number of instances in which a player ‘barely’ achieved a triple-double. Here’s an illustration:

When a player has double-digit points and assists, they just need double-digit rebounds to achieve a triple-double. In such situations over the past few years, players are less likely to record 9 rebounds than 12 rebounds. You would expect a 9 rebound game to be less likely than an 8 rebound game, but more likely than a 10 rebound game. In general, this is true — but not when a player is close to a triple-double.

So, my goal is to try to use the same technique to find the players that hunt for triple-doubles more than others.

One way to quantify this discrepancy is by calculating the ratio of the number of near miss triple-double games (PTS and AST >= 10, REB = 8 or 9) to the number of close triple-double games (PTS and AST >= 10, REB = 10 or 11). We can then calculate the ratio of the same conditions, but when we remove the AST component. So, the ratio of the number of games with double-digit points and 8 or 9 rebounds to the number of games with double-digit points and 10 or 11 rebounds.

The difference between the two ratios is how we quantify triple-double hunting. If the difference is close to zero, then that suggests that being close to a triple-double has an insignificant impact on a player’s rebound distribution. The greater the difference, the larger the impact.

Of course, when analyzing the rebound distributions of individual players, a lot of the variation can be due to chance. Therefore, I could only really include players with large enough sample sizes, which is not many. In total, I went with nine players who come to mind when you think of triple-doubles. Here are the results:

Remember, a greater difference suggests (definitive conclusions can’t be drawn from this, of course) more triple-double hunting. So, the player in this study who disproportionately avoids near miss triple-doubles the most is Jason Kidd, while Magic Johnson avoids near miss triple-doubles the least.

These results pass the eye test for the most part. More than I expected, honestly. Westbrook is often accused of triple-double hunting. People didn’t really talk much about the triple-double (it’s a completely arbitrary achievement, after all) in Magic and Bird’s era, so it’s not surprising to see them at the bottom.

The only surprise to me is how high up Oscar Robertson is. He primarily played in the 1960s. Most sources claim that the origin of the term ‘triple-double’ comes from the 1980s. Robertson himself claims the same: ” During my entire playing career, I wasn’t even aware that there was a triple-double statistic – double figures in points, rebounds and assists — because the term wasn’t in use.” If the accomplishment didn’t even really exist, why is Oscar’s rebound distribution so skewed? Maybe he just really liked double-digit numbers. I don’t know.

While Jason Kidd primarily recorded triple-doubles in the earlier 2000s instead of the current era like Harden and Westbrook, this actually might be a reason for the discrepancy in his stats. Triple-doubles were far more rare and therefore more noteworthy back then, so it makes sense for players like him to want to achieve them more.

Again, though, this evidence is not definitive. Conclusions about individual players can’t really be drawn from this. I just think this is an interesting way to use statistics to analyze a common theory in the NBA.

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