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Tony Wroten had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Sixers' win over the Rockets. (AP)
It wasn’t exactly a moment that could have decided the outcome of the game. But when Spencer Hawes pulled away a rebound that seemed headed for Tony Wroten’s hands with 2:37 remaining in overtime, one had to wonder if that was the guard’s last chance.
Nearly 90 seconds later, Wroten, a 6-foot-6 combo guard, grabbed his 10th rebound of the game with little difficulty. It was that nonchalant rebound that made Wroten’s stat line pulsate:
18 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds.
The triple-double was first by a Sixer since Jrue Holiday got one in Phoenix on Jan. 2, 2013 and the fifth in the NBA this season. But more notable, Wroten got his first career triple-double in his first NBA start.
“I never got a triple-double in my life,” Wroten said. “So this is crazy. Never.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wroten is the first player in NBA history to get a triple-double in his first career start since the company became the league’s official stats keeper in 1970-71. Earlier this season, rookie Michael Carter-Williams came one steal away from notching a triple-double in his first NBA start/game. Wroten actually got his in his 44th regular-season game and 50th official NBA game, counting the postseason.
To say Wroten is the first to get a triple-double in his first start is a bit dubious. According to newspaper articles from the era, Oscar Robertson got a triple-double in his first NBA game. Plus, NBA statistics are incomplete. Some teams don’t have complete data bases of box scores and the league only had official box scores going back to the mid-1980s. Many of the statistics and box scores from NBA games in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s were cobbled together from old newspaper archives.
Secondly, many of the statistics we understand and take for granted now were not official stats -- and therefore, not counted -- a decade or so ago. For instance, steals and blocks were not stats until 1973. That’s why players like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Robertson are absent from all-time lists.
According to the official NBA statistics, Chamberlain never blocked a shot or had a steal. Unofficially, Chamberlain is known for getting the first quadruple-double, but the league doesn’t recognize him for it. Chamberlain also got the only double triple-double in league history when he had 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists against Detroit at the Spectrum in 1968.
As for the triple-double, it wasn’t until long after he retired that people realized that Robertson averaged a triple-double in his first five combined seasons as well as during the 1961-62 campaign where he averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game, making him the only player ever to pull off the feat. He almost did it during his rookie season, too, going for 30.5 points, 10.1 boards and 9.7 assists per game in 1960-61 and again in 1962-63 when The Big O came seven rebounds away from the triple-double average.
The player to come the closest since Robertson was Magic Johnson, who fell short by 29 rebounds and 37 assists from doing it in 1981-82 and 107 rebounds away from pulling it off in 1982-83.
Regardless, it doesn’t diminish Wroten’s feat. After all, a triple-double is a true indicator of the all-around player. Typically, players don’t get them by accident. In other words, all of a sudden a player isn’t going to “get hot” and mess around and get a triple-double.
If it could be labeled as such, the triple-double is the most organic of all statistical phenomenon, yet they never sneak up on anyone. If someone is an assist or a rebound or two away from a triple-double, everyone in the gym knows it and they keep track. A triple-double is like a hand grenade in that when it is about to blow, it makes some noise. That's the way it seemed when Larry Bird and Johnson used to get them or the way LeBron James and Rajon Rondo get them now.
Plus, triple-doubles are often produced by certain types of players. A small guy will have difficulty getting 10 rebounds or blocks and a bigger player won’t get the assists as frequently. It’s those hybrid players like Wroten and Carter-Williams, another big guard at 6-6, who handle the ball and have the size to get rebounds.
Still, if a guy is going to get a triple-double, it’s going to have to be organic. As versatile big man Spencer Hawes pointed out, a player has to keep his head in the game. Hawes didn’t do that when he was a few assists short of a triple-double while playing for Sacramento.
“I remember being a lot more caught up in it and I had the assists count in my head," Hawes said. "I got the rebounds and the points early, and then I started on the assist count and I got too caught up in it. A guy missed a layup and a guy missed a three-pointer, and I was thinking, ‘No!’”
Hawes has gotten close, like when he was an assist away from a triple-double in Portland for the 2011-12 season opener. Interestingly, Hawes remembered a game in high school when he nearly got a quadruple-double until his coach benched him.
“I started taunting the crowd and the coach pulled me out,” Hawes said.
Wait ... what?
“I air balled a free throw and the crowd started chanting, 'Air ball’ at me,” he said. “I made the next one and I turned and started chanting, ‘Scoreboard’ and then he yanked me. I think I was two blocks and three assists away from a quadruple-double.”
After pulling off the feat on Wednesday, Wroten said he never had a triple-double at any level. Not even in high school, summer leagues or biddy ball.
“It’s a blessing. I’m just at a loss for words,” Wroten said.