On Feb. 13, 2008, Carlos Boozer did something that he was pretty sure he’d never do again: He got a triple-double.
Boozer, still with 2.5 seasons left in a Jazz uniform, was smarting from not taking full advantage of an eight-assist night a few weeks prior. But on this night, as the Jazz faced rookie Kevin Durant and the Seattle SuperSonics, Boozer stayed in the game until the final minute despite a sizable Jazz cushion. Durant lost the ball, kicked it up to Ronnie Price at the old Key Arena, and Price let the ball bounce a couple of extra times to ensure the assist would count, before finishing the breakaway dunk with 35 seconds left on the clock.
Boozer took that ball home that night as a memento — and with it, the Jazz’s ability to get a regular-season triple-double ever again.
OK, maybe that’s journalistic malpractice. We have no proof Boozer stole the Jazz’s ability to get a triple-double. But what other explanation is there for the Jazz’s drought? Since that moment in an arena that’s no longer used for NBA basketball, against a franchise that’s now in Oklahoma City, the Jazz have had a grand total of zero triple-doubles in the regular season. Four thousand, seven hundred, and sixty-one days have passed since Boozer took that ball home with him.
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Yes, there has been one Jazz playoff triple-double since then, which serves to only further highlight the ridiculousness of the Jazz’s regular-season streak. In Game 3 of the Jazz’s 2018 battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ricky Rubio had a 26-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist performance, leading the Jazz to a 2-1 victory in front of a raucous Vivint Arena crowd.
In the Jazz’s hundreds upon hundreds of regular season games? No dice. 837 triple-doubles have happened since Boozer’s, and not one has been done by a Utah Jazz player.
The Jazz are the only team in the NBA to not have gotten a triple-double in regular-season play since 2008. In fact, 32 teams have gotten triple-doubles, including three teams that no longer exist: the New Jersey Nets, the Charlotte Bobcats, and the New Orleans Hornets. If you merge those teams with their extant franchises, the fewest any other team in the league has gotten is seven. The woeful New York Knicks have had seven triple-doubles in the last 13 years, and the Jazz can’t get a single one.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have far and away the most triple-doubles since then, with 148. Perhaps Boozer gifted the triple-double magic to the Supersonics, who took it with them to Oklahoma. Perhaps they then shared that gift with Russell Westbrook, who completed two whole seasons of averaging a triple-double.
But while Westbrook has a lot of triple-doubles (154), he isn’t alone in possessing the triple-double knowledge. In fact, he joins 137 players in the NBA who have picked up a triple-double since Boozer’s mystical 2008 performance. LeBron James has 83 of them since then, James Harden has 52, and Nikola Jokic has 48. NBA triple-doubles have exploded in the past decade, in fact.
That’s probably no surprise, but there have been some weird NBA players who have picked up triple-doubles in the interim. I’m sure you remember Ben Uzoh — oh, you don’t? He averaged four points, two rebounds, and two assists per game in 60 total NBA appearances and still managed to pick one up. Tony Wroten got one for the Process Sixers. Terrence Williams got one, as did T.J. McConnell. Mario Hezonja, Greivis Vazquez, even Chuck Hayes — Hayes averaged 3.7 points and 1.2 assists per game in his whole career! — got one.
And yet, the Jazz have had the very triple-double capable talents of Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Al Jefferson, Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mike Conley come through, and ended up with zero regular-season triple-doubles. There wasn’t ever a game where teams doubled Big Al on the block, and he ended up kicking it out 10 times? There hasn’t been a game where peak Deron didn’t have a missed shot bounce his way 10 times? It seems like magic.
OK, there’s definitely a certain logic to what’s going on. Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s system is very democratic with the ball, so it’s unusual to see one player garner very many assists. Just take a look at Rubio’s assist numbers before and after his Jazz career: He averaged 8.3 per game with Minnesota, then fell to 5.7 per game with the Jazz, then bounced back up to 8.8 per game with Phoenix last season.
And rebounding duties have been vacuumed up by the big men, usually Jefferson or Gobert. They both have had elite rebounding percentages in their time with the Jazz.
But despite that, the Jazz have gotten close over and over again. There have been 26 games since in which a Jazz player got at least eight points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Williams did it six times, Hayward seven. Ingles has three times, including one close brush on Autism Awareness Night. Jazz PGs Conley and Rubio both came close twice, and even Gobert had eight assists once. Just to show how wacky triple-doubles can be, even plug-in point guards Earl Watson and Shelvin Mack both have come very close. No dice for anyone in getting over the top.
The Jazz hadn’t yet had two triple-double scares in one night — before Wednesday’s win against the Lakers. That’s when both Conley (14/8/8) and Mitchell (13/10/8) came close before Snyder pulled them out due to the Jazz’s monstrous lead.
For what it’s worth, Mitchell thinks the drought will end soon, and that Conley or Ingles will be the one to end it.
“I think it’ll be Joe or Mike. If you asked me today, it’ll be Joe or Mike. I think those two are in a position to getting a rebound, making a pass, get a shot,” Mitchell said. “They see things that a lot of us don’t because they’ve been at that position — the ballhandling, creative position — for many years.”
Regardless of who gets it, it’ll be a bittersweet moment. Yes, it will be a nice accomplishment, but the end of an era: a decade-plus in which the Jazz somehow, despite all the odds, maintained triple-double freedom.