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Denver Nuggets

Far more than triple-doubles: How Nikola Jokic is a centre's Russell Westbrook

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Nikola Jokic, Russell Westbrook [NBA Getty Images]

The Denver Nuggets host the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight with a chance to win the season series on their home floor.

In a battle of the current second and third-place teams in the Western Conference, this game carries more weight than your average regular season affair.

Featured are the triple-double extradordinaires Russell Westbrook and Nikola Jokic - two players who are simultaneously polar opposites, yet strikingly similar.

How could that be?

Westbrook could be described as one of the most physically gifted athletes on the planet. He uses his 6-foot-3, 200 pound frame to fly up and down the court at 100 miles per hour punishing opponents who fail to match his intensity.

When describing Jokic, 'most physically gifted athlete on the planet' doesn't quite fit the bill.

The 7-foot, 250 pound centre is unlike Westbrook in both stature and style of play. There is a precision to Jokic's game: never too fast and always under control, proceeding at a tempo that allows for his unusually high basketball IQ to orchestrate everything.

'The Brodie', is aggressive, energetic and dynamic, perfectly pairing his explosiveness as a one-of-a-kind athlete.

'The Joker', is crafty, skilled and tactical, yet slow and goofy.

So how could any similarities be drawn between the two?

Westbrook is an outlier, an atypical player far from the traditional stereotype of how someone at his position should play. Sound familiar?

Jokic is a point-centre - he might already be the best passing centre in NBA history at a young age of 24 and his 7.7 assists per game this season ranks him in the top-five in the NBA. Should he finish in the top-five, he'd be the first centre to do so since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968.

He's one of the best passers in the entire league, not just for his position - does that sound familiar, too?

During his MVP season in 2016-17 Westbrook finished top-10 in the league in rebounds per game, something that has not been accomplished by a guard since Oscar Robertson in 1962. He did it again during the 2017-18 season and ranks 11th this season with 11.3 rebounds per game.

He's making his case as the best rebounding guard of all-time.

So you have a centre who can pass better than most guards and a guard who can rebound better than most bigs - it's no wonder how both could seemingly sleep walk to routine triple-doubles as the rest of the stats take care of themselves.

Westbrook has been a walking triple-double since averaging one over the course of the 2016-17 season, earning him the league's Most Valuable Player award.

He has 128 triple-doubles in his career, putting him at third all-time behind Magic Johnson (138) and Robertson (201). Then you have Jokic, who has 100 fewer triple-doubles than Westbrook, but has also played in a significantly less number of games.

Jokic has 285 NBA games under his belt - at that point in Westbrook's career, at the same age, he had just five triple-doubles.

Since Jokic recorded his first triple-double, he's averaging one every six-or-so games - nearly the exact same rate as Westbrook over the course of his career.

And all of these triple-doubles aren't for nothing. They pave the way for the two teams with perhaps the best shot of anyone out West hoping to take down the Golden State Warriors.

Over the course of Westbrook's career, the Thunder are 103-25 in games where he records a triple-double. That's a remarkable .805 winning percentage. With a much smaller sample size, the Nuggets are 24-4 when Jokic records a triple-double, an even more remarkable .857 winning percentage.

This season they're top two in the league in triple-doubles with Westbrook's 24 leading the NBA and Jokic's 12 trailing him.

OKC is 17-7 in games that Westbrook accomplishes said feat, good for a .708 winning percentage. Denver is 10-2 in games that Jokic hits the triple-double mark, good for an .833 winning percentage.

So the numbers point to Jokic's triple-double providing more value to the Nuggets than Westbrook's to the Thunder.

The frequency that Westbrook notches double-figures across three categories might hurt his case in this calculation, but regardless of who's triple-double is more valuable, those winning percentages are something to write home about.

The two will continue to stuff the stat sheet night-in and night-out in an effort to push their teams to the NBA Finals. They might use completely different styles of play to fill up the box score, but it's undeniable that they do it in a similar unique fashion for their positions.

So while they're different in every single aspect on the surface, when you take a deeper look their uncommon skillsets turn their differences into similarities.

They may as well be twins in that instance.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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