Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Russell Westbrook
Welcome to Russell Westworld, a meticulously crafted and artfully designed place where Russell Westbrook lives without limits. It’s an arena where Westbrook has the freedom to be what he’s always wanted to be: a triple-double machine.
Westbrook is playing Westworld to its fullest, averaging 30.9 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.3 rebounds per game. After his 27-point, 18-rebound, 14-assist performance in Monday’s 112–103 win over the Knicks, Westbrook has eight triple-doubles in his first 19 games. Only one player in the 70-year history of the NBA has ever finished a season averaging a triple-double: Oscar Robertson, who averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists in 1962.
The world has changed a lot since then, and so has basketball. In 1962, the NBA was a nine-team league that lacked the global talent that defines it today. The game’s stars also stayed on the court longer. Robertson played 44.3 minutes per game. Westbrook plays 8.9 fewer minutes per game. Teams also played rapidly — an up-and-down, fast-paced affair — averaging 107.7 shots per game. Teams take roughly 23 fewer shots per game today, meaning there’s less opportunity for Westbrook to accumulate these ridiculous averages. By averaging a triple-double in 2016, Westbrook is pushing the limits of what a modern player should be capable of.
On Westworld — which airs on initial Ringer investor HBO — a character named Maeve is a “host” who has awareness of the nature of her reality. As Maeve gains power and begins to achieve sentience, she says, “Time to write my own fucking story,” and embarks on a mission to build an army to revolt against her adversaries. With Kevin Durant’s departure for Golden State, Westbrook is on a similar path in his own Westworld, subjugating his enemies to deep and distant dreams. It’s so fun to watch, isn’t it?
Runner-up: DeMarcus Cousins
Since DeMarcus Cousins entered the NBA in 2010, there have been only 29 instances in which a player finished a game with at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, according to Basketball-Reference. On Monday, Cousins did it for the sixth time in his career, finishing with 36 points and 20 rebounds (along with four assists, two steals, and one block) in the Kings’ 101–95 loss to the Wizards. Sacramento lost the game, but Boogie was breathtaking. He willed his team to overtime with 12 points over the final five minutes of regulation. This was Good Boogie: at times, he showed Shaq-like strength inside the paint:
Cousins also danced his way from the perimeter to the paint:
The Kings aren’t good. Neither are the Wizards. But it was fun to watch this battle of two former Wildcats. Cousins and John Wall played together at Kentucky in 2009–10, where they went 35–3, lost in the Elite Eight, and both entered the draft. Neither player has achieved the level of team success in the NBA that they did in college. So watching the contest, it was hard not to think about what Boogie candidly said prior to the game, that he and Wall “talk constantly,” and the subject of playing together someday has come up. “You never know what will happen,” Cousins said. “It’s the NBA, so hopefully one day he’ll be in a Sacramento uniform.”
A Cousins-Wall partnership would make sense, but it’s a fantasy. The Kings (at this time) simply don’t have the ammo to complete a deal for Wall. Sacramento needs its young players to start showcasing their upside, otherwise its asset vault is empty. Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis have potential, but they haven’t shown it at the NBA level yet. They’ve logged a combined 21 minutes. The Kings can’t deal their picks, either. They don’t possess their 2019 first-round pick, and their 2017 first has protections (they could end up losing it if it’s not in the top 10), so the next first they can deal is for 2021. Even if the Wizards were open to dealing Wall, and even if the Kings offered everything they have other than Boogie, the Wizards could find a meatier trade package from another team.
For the Kings to acquire Wall, they would have to hope Boogie re-signs when he becomes a free agent in 2018 and then hope Wall decides to go from one dysfunctional organization to another when he hits free agency 2019. “It’s the NBA,” as Cousins said. Anything is possible.