What Is a Triple-Double In Basketball? 


Why Is it Called a Triple-Double?

A triple-double in basketball occurs when a player gets double digits in any three of the following five categories during a single game: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The term is derived from double digits across three (triple) categories. 

What Are The Five Categories? 

There are five categories of a triple-double: 

Points: Points include 2- and 3-point shots and free throws. Points are the easiest of the five categories to achieve in double digits, as many score double digits before halftime. 

Rebounds: A rebound is when a player gets the ball after a missed shot. Rebounds are probably the second most achievable category for double digits. However, rebounds are impacted by the opponent’s shot percentage. The higher the shot percentage, the fewer rebound opportunities there are. 

Assists: Assists are passes to a teammate that leads to a shot. Even if a player can make a great pass, his teammate still needs to make the shot. Successful assists depend on a teammate’s shot percentage. 

Steals: Steals are when one player takes the ball from the other team. They tend to occur more often during high school games, where the teams can be more unbalanced. In the NBA, it is rare for a player to get more than ten steals in a game.

Blocks: Blocks are when one player blocks an opponent’s shot. It is difficult to achieve a lot of blocks because top coaches will organize their offense to avoid known shot-blockers, and players will avoid challenging defenders that block a lot of shots. 

A triple-double is commonly made of a combination of points, rebounds, and assists. Other combinations are possible but rare. Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors) achieved the only occurrence of a triple-double without points in 2017 with 12 rebounds, ten assists, and ten steals. 

Hassan Whiteside (Utah Jazz) recorded four triple-doubles, all a combination of points, rebounds, and blocks. 

Is There Anything Greater Than a Triple-Double In Basketball? 

Quadruple doubles, where players get double digits in four categories, happened only four times: Nate Thurmond in 1974, Alvin Robertson in 1986, Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990, and David Robinson in 1994.

No official quintuple-double has been officially recorded in the NBA. However, Wilt Chamberlain unofficially achieved this feat in 1968 against the Philadelphia 76ers. This was before steals and blocks were recorded, but the consensus is that Chamberlain hit 53 points, 32 rebounds, 14 assists, 11 steals, and 24 blocks during the game. 

How Often Do Triple Doubles Occur In The NBA?

The number of triple-doubles achieved per season has increased over time. From 1990 to 2011, there were approximately 30 triple-doubles per year. During the 2021-2022 regular season, there were 130. Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) had the most with 19, and Dejounte Murray (San Antonio Spurs) was second with 13. Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles Lakers) has the record for the most triple-doubles, recording 194 triple-doubles in his career. 

He is the most recent player to average a triple-double for an entire season, with 42 triple-doubles in the 2016-2017 season while at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Only a handful of elite players have achieved more than one triple-double in a season. These are well-rounded players who excel in multiple aspects of the game. 

Players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant didn’t make the all-time top 10 list of triple-doubles even though they are leading point scorers and are considered two of the best NBA players of all time. This has led some sports experts to question whether the triple-double is an accurate measure of performance. 

How Often Do Triple Doubles Occur In The WNBA?

Compared to the NBA, triple-doubles in the WNBA are uncommon. One reason is WNBA games are shorter, as is the season. There have been 16 triple-doubles in the league’s regular seasons and two in the playoffs. 

All 18 triple-doubles came from only 11 players. Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) are the two who scored triple-doubles in the playoffs in 2005 and 2021, respectively. 

Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty) and Candace Parker (Chicago Sky) are tied for having three triple-doubles, the most in league history. Swoopes and Vandersloot each have two. 

Who Was the Youngest Player to Record a Triple-Double?

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets) was the youngest player to record a triple-double. At 19 years and 140 days, he recorded 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists on January 29, 2021.

Markelle Fultz (Orlando Magic) and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) also recorded their first triple-double before turning 20. 

Who Got the First Triple-Double In Basketball? 

The NBA did not officially track steals and blocks until 1973, and triple-doubles were not officially recorded until around 1980. It wasn’t until the Los Angeles media started using the term to describe Magic Johnson’s abilities that people began using the statistic. 

Nevertheless, Andy Phillip (Philadelphia Warriors) is credited with getting the first triple-double in 1950. Phillip had 17 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists. 

Who Has The Fastest Triple-Double In The NBA History? 

Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) needed only 14 minutes and 33 seconds to earn a triple-double, the fastest in the history of the NBA. He finished that game with 30 points, 17 assists, and 15 rebounds. 

Jokic broke the previous record held by Jim Tucker (Syracuse Nationals), who recorded a triple-double in 17 minutes against the New York Knicks in 1955. 

Additional NBA Triple-Double History 

Over time, the number of triple-doubles per season has increased. Analysts and fans have attributed this increase to an increased game pace measured by the number of possessions a team uses per game. The more possessions a team has, the more opportunities players have to achieve higher stats.

Furthermore, the league has become positionless, making it easier for players to build stats in areas not generally associated with one position. Whereas only the tallest players used to get the most rebounds, today, teams are shooting more three-pointers giving smaller players more rebound opportunities, and playing a five-out offense gives more opportunities for assists.

Similar Statistics To Triple Doubles

There were more than 2,000 double-doubles in the 2021-2022 season. In addition to quadruple-doubles and quintuple-doubles, the more achievable double-double occurs when a player gets double digits in two categories, which occurs at least once every NBA game.

Another statistic is the 5X5, where players achieve five or more in each category in one game. In 1987, Hakeem Olajuwon became the first NBA player to record a 5X6, earning at least 6 in all five stats. Subsequently, he went on to achieve a 5X5 five times.

Conclusion: What is a Triple-Double in Basketball 

To conclude, a triple-double in basketball is when a player achieves double-digit stats in three of five categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The most common triple-double is with points, rebounds, and assists. 

Given the increased pace of NBA games and stronger offensive teams, expect an increase in the number of players getting triple-doubles and quadruple-doubles. Who knows, maybe we will see another quintuple-double.