DENVER | Sorry, Giannis, the NBA wanted back that rebound. Your fourth triple-double of the season, too.
Some might say nice try, others have an issue with what is known as stat padding.
When Milwaukee MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo tried to orchestrate his 10th rebound Sunday night in the final seconds of the Bucks’ win against Washington, it sent the world of social media into overdrive.
Along with it, dredged up conversations about the touchy topic of stat padding, which insinuates that someone, whether it be on the basketball court or even in the world of online video games, compiles results oblivious to what’s going on around them.
A rebound shy of the triple-double mark, Antetokounmpo was running out the clock when he stopped near the basket. He hesitated for a moment before lightly tossing the ball at the bottom of the rim and grabbing it for what appeared to be his 10th board.
Even the announcer was like, “Does that count?”
It did — until it didn’t. On Monday, and following a review by the league, his official line read: 23 points, 13 assists and nine boards.
While wiping away Antetokounmpo’s last rebound was probably an easy call for the league, it sometimes can be a fine line between padding one’s stats and just playing the game hard. Russell Westbrook no doubt heard the innuendos when he was a triple-double machine. Two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic recently heard aspersions, too.
Antetokounmpo’s rebound was on the blatant side (his name got added to a Wikipedia entry on “stat padding “).
“I just try to play the game smart and kind of stole one,” Antetokounmpo said in a postgame interview following a 117-111 win over Washington.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone doesn’t believe Jokic would ever try to steal one. Still, Jokic heard the noise directed his way after recording his 100th career triple-double on Feb. 28.
The Denver big man sarcastically addressed comments made by ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins, who intimated Jokic was guilty of stat padding.
“I mean, when you’re stat padding it’s easy, you know,” Jokic told the Nuggets’ TV network Altitude Sports of notching the milestone.
Asked if he heard the chatter, Jokic amusingly responded: “Yes, of course. I mean, it’s true.”
Concerning the late-game actions of Antetokounmpo, Perkins commented on Twitter: “Every player has padded their stats at some point during their career.”
Players in triple-double territory do often know when they’re closing in on the usually impressive stat line. Some even know exactly what’s required. They know when they need one rebound or one assist, and so do their teammates. They almost always defer in those moments for the benefit of someone else’s stats.
Teams get stat sheets delivered in every time-out. Scoreboards in the the arenas show every number imaginable. Everybody knows the deal in those moments.
There have been memorable, and strange, examples of the lengths players will go to get there. Cleveland’s Ricky Davis shot at the wrong basket in 2003 to try and get the one rebound he needed; it wasn’t awarded by the stat crew and Utah was highly annoyed at Davis’ antics with 6 seconds left in what was a 25-point game.
“He was trying to embarrass somebody. … I’d have knocked him on his” butt, the late Jerry Sloan, then the Utah coach, said that night.
When the obvious doesn’t happen, stat padding tends to become hilarious.
Take the game in 2017, when Dwyane Wade was with the Chicago Bulls and needed one rebound for a triple-double. Kay Felder took the game’s final shot for Cleveland, it missed and the ball was magically coming right to where Wade was standing with 1 second remaining — that is, until Bulls teammate Cristiano Felicio knocked the ball away.
Wade fell back in disbelief, then gave Felicio a look as if to ask, “Why?”
“My teammate didn’t want me to be great,” Wade said that night, smiling, though mildly bothered.
Wade did just fine without that triple-double; he’s almost certainly going into the Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. Andray Blatche, however, is not going to be enshrined in Springfield. He never got a triple-double. He almost did, once.
April 4, 2010, was the night of Blatche infamy. He finished with 20 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for Washington, and thought he had rebound No. 10 with 22.1 seconds left.
Small complication: He fouled New Jersey’s Brook Lopez on the play, and didn’t have another chance to get the board he needed.
In the case of Jokic, Malone doesn’t believe his center would ever chase individual glory — though the Nuggets’ coach has a theory why someone might.
“Maybe they’re just tired of this player, non-athletic player from Sombor, Serbia, continuing to kick everybody’s” butt, Malone told reporters after a recent practice. “Maybe people have a hard time with that. I don’t know. But for (Jokic) to say that, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’m padding my stats.’ Yeah, it probably signals that maybe something touched a nerve.
“He’s not doing anything to pump his own numbers up,” Malone added. “It’s just not in his nature. It’s silly to think otherwise.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.