The Triple-Double Era: The Surge, the History, and the Leaders

It’s summertime, and kids are in the midst of back-to-school season. Meanwhile, the WNBA is in the season of triple-doubles, and players are coming to work with stuffed stat sheets inside of their backpacks.

Over the last two seasons, the triple-double has become a growing trend in the league. But this year, the accumulation of this type of performance has taken an even bigger leap from 2022.

The most recent performance came from Chelsea Gray on Aug. 17, when she tallied 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists for the Las Vegas Aces in a win over the New York Liberty. Per Across the Timeline, this was the 10th triple-double of 2023, the most ever in a regular season, and the most all-time in an overall season (postseason included). Other players to record a triple-double this season include Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Williams, Satou Sabally, and Natasha Howard.

The WNBA has seen an all-time total of 30 triple-doubles. From the inaugural 1997 season to the end of the 2021 season, there were only 11 triple-doubles recorded; the league is now on the cusp of doubling that total from the WNBA’s first 25 years in only a two-season span.

The triple-double comet first hit the league courtesy of Sheryl Swoopes. She not only recorded the league’s first-ever triple-double in 1999 in a regular season game but also had the first postseason triple-double in 2005. After that, there was almost a decade-long gap between Swoopes’ 2005 triple-double and the league’s next recorded triple-double (Temeka Johnson in 2014).

All 30 triple-doubles included at least 10 points and at least 10 rebounds. 28 out of 30 included at least 10 assists. As for the other two, Margo Dydek (2001) and Lisa Leslie (2004) each achieved their respective triple-doubles with at least 10 blocks rather than assists.

Some triple-double performances that are yet to be seen in the WNBA include a triple-double with at least 10 steals, a triple-double from a player coming off the bench, and two players in the same game each recording a triple-double.

The league today has plenty of superstars that can add to the record books and make more history. In today’s game, it looks like Thomas and Ionescu are the leaders of this new wave of triple-doubles.

Thomas is the league’s primary standout player when it comes to the triple-double statistic. She is the WNBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles with nine, seven regular-season and two postseason (both in the 2022 Finals). She has the most regular-season triple-doubles in league history. Thomas has earned the right to be looked at as the face of the triple-double surge.

On Aug. 1, Thomas completed the first-ever triple-double that consisted of at least 20 points and at least 20 rebounds. Thomas, who leads the league in total rebounds and total assists, stands at 6’2” and possesses the toughness to battle with other bigs in the league. She’s adept at posting up and putting pressure on her defender to draw fouls. On the season, Thomas is averaging 15.9 points per game (PPG), 9.9 rebounds per game (RPG), and 8.1 assists per game (APG). Her performances and contributions to a Connecticut team that is currently standing in third place have put her into the conversation for this year’s MVP award.

Right behind Thomas in second place on the all-time triple-doubles list is Ionescu with four, all of which have come in regular-season action.

Last season, Ionescu scored the most points in a triple-double performance with 31, which is the league’s only 30-point triple-double game. Primarily wreaking havoc on the opposing defense from the perimeter, she is one of the best three-point shooters in the league, evidenced by her 44.2 percent shooting average from beyond the arc this season. In addition, she is on the verge of breaking the record for most made three-pointers in a single season, per Her Hoop Stats. Also, her historic performance in winning this year’s All-Star three-point contest speaks volumes. This season, Ionescu is averaging 17.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 5.5 APG.

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Thomas and Ionescu are the two most prolific triple-double performers in WNBA history. Despite one primarily displaying offensive prowess in the interior (Thomas) and the other on the perimeter (Ionescu), both can pass, rebound, run the floor, serve as facilitators, and put the ball down and drive to the basket. Above all else, both players compete with an overt fire that drives them and boosts their respective teammates’ determination to lock in and win games. Thomas and Ionescu personify what the triple-double represents: activity, versatility, adaptability, and commitment to doing what it takes to help the team win.

Thomas and Ionescu are not new to this. Their triple-double successes carried over from their college days. Thomas recorded an impressive six triple-doubles while playing at Maryland, but, the triple-double crown in collegiate competition solely belongs to Ionescu, who holds the record for most triple-doubles in NCAA Division I basketball history with 26.

Similar to Ionescu when she played at Oregon, there is currently one player in women’s college basketball who is electrifying fans with triple-double performances. Iowa star player and future first-round draft prospect Caitlin Clark, entering her fourth year of collegiate basketball, currently has 11 career triple-doubles (five of those occurred this past season). Also, Clark was one of only two players in Division I women’s basketball with at least two triple-doubles last season. Will she cement her mark and include her name in the WNBA legacy of the triple-double when she arrives?

It certainly seems like this would be the time for another triple-double superstar to emerge. According to Her Hoop Stats, the WNBA has seen a significant increase in PPG, APG, three-pointers made (3PM) per game, and pace from the early years of the league. Comparing the 2013 season to the 2023 season, the WNBA went from 75.6 PPG to 82.6 PPG, 16.0 APG to 19.8 APG, 4.7 3PM per game to 7.6 3PM per game, and 78.6 possessions per 40 minutes to 82.3 possessions per 40 minutes. More possessions mean more opportunities to score and pass the ball around, which is a reflection of today’s high-scoring and fast-paced league.

The WNBA has entered its triple-double era, and it is here to stay. The triple-double has evolved from a rare statistic to one that has more of a tangible presence. Who would be on your WNBA Mount Rushmore for triple-doubles?

Stats as of Aug. 25. Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of and Across the Timeline.

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