Aug 17, 2023 | Blog

What Is a Triple Double and a Double Double in Basketball?

LeBron James. Russell Westbrook. Magic Johnson. 

What do all of these individuals have in common, besides being some of the best basketball players in NBA history? The answer is that they’ve all achieved a unique distinction known as a triple double. 

What is a triple double in basketball and what makes it so special? Today, we’re taking a closer look and sharing everything that players and fans alike need to know. We’ll also share what a double double means, and why both feats are so extraordinary!

Understanding Statistical Categories

To understand the difference between a triple double vs double double in basketball, it’s important to start with some baseline knowledge on how basketball stats work. 

Put simply, there are five different individual stats in this sport. They include:

  • Points
  • Rebounds
  • Assists
  • Steals 
  • Blocks

Those stats are tracked for every player, in each game. They’re displayed in the box score section. When a player makes it to double-digit stats in any of these statistical categories, it’s considered a double. 

While that accomplishment is impressive enough on its own, there are some players who go above and beyond. This is where a triple double and a double double come in.

What Is a Double Double in Basketball? 

What is a double double in basketball? Put simply, this occurs when a player has scored in the double digits in two of the main five statistical categories listed above, all in a single game. For instance, they might score 10 rebounds and 10 assists. 

What about steals and blocks? Even if the player didn’t score at all in those categories, they would still have enough to be considered a double double. The only requirement is to make it to the double digits in two categories — it doesn’t matter which categories those are. 

For players in power forward and center positions, the most common double double combinations are points and rebounds. For guards, the two categories are usually points and assists. It’s rare for a player to reach double digits in steals or blocks. 

What Is a Triple Double in Basketball?

As you might expect, a triple double occurs when a basketball player scores in the double digits in three out of the five statistical categories. For instance, they may score 18 points, make 12 rebounds, and assist 10 shots. 

As with a double double, a player can still achieve a triple double even if they don’t score in the other two statistical categories (steals and blocks). Most triple doubles feature some combination of points, rebounds, and assists. However, this doesn’t mean that the other combinations aren’t possible. 

A player could technically achieve a triple double by racking up at least 10 points, blocks, and rebounds, for instance. Yet, this combination is relatively rare. 

What Is a Quadruple Double?

As a little bonus round, let’s also take a look at what happens when a basketball player scores at least 10 in four of the statistical categories. Yes, you guessed it: This is known as a quadruple double!

This is a rare feat, usurped only by a quintuple double, in which a player scores in the double digits for all five statistical categories in a single game. 

Are Double Doubles and Triple Doubles Common?

For aspiring basketball players, the idea of reaching a double double or triple double may seem out of reach. Years ago, that might have been the case.

However, you may have noticed that players are achieving this stat line on a more frequent basis. Have the game or the criteria changed? Not exactly, but there are two possible explanations for why this is occurring. 

Increased Game Pace

Some experts explain that doubles are more common now because the pace of the standard NBA game has increased. In basketball terms, pace refers to the average number of possessions each team uses per game. Over the past few seasons, the standard league pace has been higher than it’s been in the past few decades. 

Understanding this helps us see why there are more doubles per game. The more possessions a team has, the greater number of opportunities it has to achieve stats. 

Positionless Game

Other analysts explain that the uptick in double doubles and triple doubles is due to the positionless nature of the modern NBA game. 

Today, it’s easier for basketball players in all positions to put up stats, even ones that aren’t usually associated with their specific position. Take rebounds, for instance. 

Decades ago, there would be towering power forwards putting up a majority of a team’s rebounds, along with some scoring in the paint. Now, even the smallest players have a chance to score a rebound, as more and more teams utilize team-oriented offenses like five-outs, shooting three-pointers that leave the rebound open. 

With an increase in ball and player movement and five designated shooters on the team, it’s more common for players to score in statistical categories, especially points and assists. 

Prolific Players to Know

Are you inspired to go for a double double or a triple double at your next game? Take a look at some of the greatest in the game for inspiration!

Most Career Triple Doubles: Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook currently holds the NBA record for the most career regular season triple doubles, coming in at a staggering 198. If that weren’t enough, this point guard is also the only player in the history of the league to average a triple double over four distinct seasons!

In his career, Westbrook has played a total of 1,094 games. He started with the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2008 to 2019, then moved to the Washington Wizards from 2020 to 2021 and the Los Angeles Lakers from 2021 to 2023. Since 2023, he’s played for the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Before Westbrook took the title, it belonged to Oscar Robertson, who played for the Cincinnati Royals from 1960 to 1970 and the Milwaukee Bucks from 1970 to 1974. In all, Robertson scored 181 career regular season triple doubles. 

Youngest Player to Score Triple Double: Josh Giddey

On January 2, 2022, Josh Giddey, the Australian shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, made NBA history. Though the Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks 86 to 95, Giddey became the youngest player in the league’s history to record a triple double. 

In that game, Giddey scored an impressive 17 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds. At the time, he was just 19 years and 84 days old. His age put Giddey just ahead of the previous record-holder, Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball. When he was 19 years and 140 days old, Ball scored his first triple double in January 2021. 

First Recorded Quadruple Double: Hakeem Olajuwon

In March 1990, Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon scored the first recorded quadruple double as the Rockets faced off against the Golden State Warriors. In that game, Olajuwon achieved 29 points, 18 rebounds, 11 blocks, and 10 assists. However, there was some contention from the NBA over the stats recorded, and the totals were later adjusted to  29 points, 18 rebounds, 11 blocks, and 9 assists. 

Not to be defeated, Olajuwon hit another quadruple double less than one month later when the Rockets played against the Milwaukee Bucks. In that game, he managed 18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks, and 10 assists, making him only the third player in NBA history to earn the title. 

First (and Only) Recorded Quintuple Double: Wilt Chamberlain

What about that elusive quintuple double? Allegedly, the only player in the NBA to ever rank that high was Wilt Chamberlain, when he played as a center for the Philadelphia 76ers back in March of 1968. On March 12, Chamberlain dropped 53 points, 32 rebounds, 14 assists, 24 blocks, and 11 steals in a showoff against the LA Lakers, leading the 76ers to a 158-128 win.

However, the NBA didn’t officially record steals and blocks, so the report remains unofficial. 

Tips for Scoring a Double Double or Triple Double

Do you want to increase your odds of scoring a double double or triple double the next time you hit the court? To get there, it’s important to be as versatile and multi-skilled as possible. 

If you’re a single-facet player, you’ll naturally have fewer opportunities to impact the game. Instead of laser-focusing on one skill, such as shooting, look to become as useful in the paint as possible.

For instance, expert shooters should spend some time learning how to properly dribble and pass. If you’re used to landing all the rebounds, start fine-tuning your scoring techniques. The wider your breadth of skill and knowledge becomes, the more game time you’ll see from your coaches and the easier it will be to build your stats. 

Learn From and Be Inspired by the Greats

What is a triple double in basketball? Now that you know the answer, are you ready to try your hand at achieving this impressive accomplishment? Whether you have your sights set on a double double or you want to go Chamberlain-style and shoot for the stars, we’ve got you covered.

At the Basketball Museum of Illinois, you’ll find plenty of inspiration to help you reach your goals. Visit us to learn all about our state’s rich basketball history, from the grade-school levels to the pro ranks. As you plan your in-person trip, feel free to explore our virtual website today!

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