Alonzo Mourning has been on a tear lately. Last week, in a side-splitting interview on Highly Questionable, Zo confirmed our favorite urban legend of all time, aka “Who wants to sex Mutumbo?” and nearly made Bomani Jones and Dan Le Batard croak from laughter in the process.
He was at it again recently, joining a horde of his fellow cranky old coots who like to spend their twilight years not only sneering at the perceived wussification of the league today but making outlandish claims about how stars from their era – i.e. the best era, naturally – would dominate in today’s NBA.
Transposing past and present stars to different time periods seems to be a popular thought experiment these days, and ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh’s took that to a new level today with his argument that Oklahoma City Thunder star and NBA-Jam-character-come-to-life Russell Westbrook could ostensibly average a near 50-point triple double in Oscar Robertson’s era.
But before you start fitting him for a straight jacket, take into consideration that these aren’t your garden-variety lunatic ramblings. It’s a much more scientific exploration. Using Basketball-Reference data from the 1961-62 season – the season Robertson famously averaged a triple double – he argues that, when you adjust for pace, Robertson’s and everyone else’s stats were inflated during that period, given the caveat that his Royals’ team averaged an estimated 124.9 possessions per game that season.
To put this in perspective, that figure dwarfs the number of possessions Westbrook’s Thunder have averaged this season (95.5). But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to point out that Westbrook is currently averaging a full 10 minutes less per game (34) than Robertson did during his historic season (44.5).
“So, after accounting for pace and playing time, we can estimate what Westbrook’s numbers would look like in that era. It doesn’t seem like such a stretch once we figure that he’s already averaging about 28-9-7 in about 72 possessions per game, and he’d see about 40 more possessions if he played in Robertson’s era. That’s a ton of opportunities for Westbrook to go baseline-to-baseline in 3.3 seconds and dunk all over everybody.”
After crunching the numbers, the exact stat line Haberstroh arrived at is a positively pants-soiling 46.9 points, 14.6 assists, and 12.2 rebounds per game.
There’ll be plenty of groaning and eye-rolling in response to this, and perhaps rightfully so. Afterall, Haberstroh acknowledges the fact that a huge uptick in minutes per game like that would likely lead to considerable fatigue and/or injury (although lack of defense and athleticism during that period might cancel that out). In any case, it’s a much more interesting exercise than suffering old men as they indulge themselves in wistful nostalgia and revisionism without any empirical data to support their claims.