Triple-doubles are the latest fashion statement in basketball from the NBA to college. While Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook struts the runway in his attempt to become the first NBA player since Oscar Robertson 56 seasons ago to average a triple-double through an entire season, college players are showing off their bling in the form of gaudy statistics in record style.
The spike in triple-doubles across college basketball is best represented in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where players have reached double figures in three statistical categories during four games this season. No player had accomplished that feat in the previous five ACC seasons and never before in league play had there been more than two triple-doubles in a single season.
Nationally, triple-doubles in college basketball went from 11 during the 2013 season to 10 in 2014, followed by 18 in 2015, 31 a season ago and 21 so far this season, according to Ken Pomeroy who studies such things on his website, kenpom.com.
Yet even with the increased number of triple-doubles in the past couple of seasons, the achievement remains extremely rare. There have been 30 triple-doubles in the 64-year history of the ACC, although there are multiple factors that play into that low number, not the least of which is the lack of statistics in all categories during the league’s formative years.
“They are really, really difficult to do,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, whose program’s only triple-doubles were produced two weeks apart in December of 2000 by Brendan Haywood against Miami and Jason Capel against Buffalo. “It shows you have to be at the top of your game in a lot of different areas.”
There appear to be two overriding reasons behind the recent surge in triple-doubles. An emergence of more versatile players who no longer are slotted into a single position, which leads to their ability to handle the ball, score and rebound. Also, a reduction in the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds prior to the 2016 season led to increases in scoring and average number of possessions per game, thus directly resulting in more opportunities for points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc.
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State’s 15th-season head coach, said producing triple-doubles goes beyond skills and statistics.
“Those guys have that instinctive thing that’s sometimes not really taught,” Hamilton said. “It’s something that God’s blessed you with that allows you to see the game through a different set of eyes. Some guys just don’t have that pace, that vision, that initiative. It’s not that they’re not good players, it’s just that you put yourself in a special category when you do that.”
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State’s standout freshman, is the quintessential new-age player who fits into that special category because he brings multiple positions, skills and talents to the game as well as an “it factor” that coaches occasionally talk about.
Smith is listed as a 6-3 guard, but can play either at the point or shooting position and is capable of sliding into a small forward slot. He leads the Wolfpack in scoring (18.7 average), assists (6.8 per game), steals (two per game) and free throws made and attempted (124-of-172). He is second on the team in 3-pointers made with 46 and third in rebounding with 4.4 per game.
Dennis Smith Jr.
So it is not surprising that Smith is the fifth player in ACC history – first freshman and first to do it against two league opponents – to record a pair of triple-doubles in a single season, joining an all-time greats list of Clemson’s Tree Rollins, Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, Maryland’s Derrick Lewis and Clemson’s Sharone Wright. Smith first went for 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Virginia Tech in January, then a month later recorded 13 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists against Syracuse.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment for anybody, but for a freshman, it says a lot about how talented he is and how he can affect the game in so many different ways,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Dennis obviously can rebound the ball, he passes the ball, he was leading the league in steals at one time. His scoring has been, for a freshman, amazing. You’ve got to be good at a lot of different things, and he is that.”
College players over the past two seasons also have been aided by the rules change a season ago that reduced the shot clock. As a result, according to kenpom.com, possessions per a 40-minute game, have increased from 65.4 prior to the rule change to 69.5 a season ago to 70.4 this season.
Rules changes have had a direct impact on scoring in college basketball. Scoring had dipped to 69.4 points per game for a team during the 1986 season, then jumped to 72.8 points the following season with the introduction of the 3-point basket. It dropped again to 67.7 points during the 2015 season, then surged to 72.8 points a season ago with the reduction in the shot clock and to 73.0 this season.
“Maybe ... freedom of movement and higher scoring has allowed more possessions, shorter shot clock, maybe more possessions,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “So there’s more opportunities for guys to have triple-doubles.”
The game has come a long way from when Virginia’s Bill Miller recorded the ACC’s first triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 1955 against N.C. State. Heck, they were not even referred to as triple-doubles then, nor recognized in any way. Certainly, fans could not closely monitor a player’s quest for a triple-double like we do today via scoreboards and telecasts that provide that up-to-the-play information.
“I think with the triple-double thing going on in the NBA, it’s become real fashionable, and it’s something that’s really cool for kids now,” Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings said. “It used to be the double-double was a big deal.”
Now it is a fad.
Key: p (points), r (rebounds), a (assists), b (blocks), s (steals)
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