On February 17, 1994, David "The Admiral" Robinson rained holy hell on the heads of the Detroit Pistons, going for 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks, and 10 assists in a 115-96 win. It was the NBA's last quadruple-double, and it happened 18 years and some 20,000 games ago.
Going for a triple-double alone is hard — last year, only 15 players accomplished the feat, and only one of them, Rajon Rondo, did it more than once. (Although LeBron only had one in 2012, he had 27 in the preceding four seasons.) But the quadruple-double can happen. It has happened before; it will happen again. The question at hand is: if it were to happen in the 2012-13 season, who would be the guy to do it? Here's a look at the question using five common-sense guidelines.
Our candidates, selected on the basis of physical and statistical potential: Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Andrei Kirilenko, Lamar Odom, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook.
1. He Needs To Be A Consistent Triple-Double Threat
To get a quad, not only do you have to accomplish the formidable task of snaring 10 rebounds or 10 steals — you have to do it on the night of a regular triple-double. In 1993-94, David Robinson averaged 29.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. Hakeem Olajuwon, who quadrupled twice in March 1990, had 24.3, 14.0, and 4.6 blocks. Both guys had four non-quad triples in those respective seasons. (The only two other players to register quadruple-doubles were All-Star Alvin Robertson in 1986 and Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond in 1974.)
So, consistent double-digit points, rebounds, and assist nights are a must. This rules out a few players who are known as stat-sheet-fillers but, upon examination, don't have the 3-D knack for whatever reason. Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook — since 2009, both have consistently ranked in the league's top 10 in steal categories — and just seem like triple-double guys — but they also have only 10 triple-doubles between them in their careers, and only one last year, from AI. John Wall's also out; Wall has only had one triple-double so far in his career. As he gets older/better, the freakishly athletic Wall could be a quad threat, but for now he's a longshot.
The similarly multi-talented Josh Smith has recorded 7 blocks in a game in each of the last two seasons, but he's only tripled three times in the last five years. As much fun as it would be to see Smith take advantage of Joe Johnson's departure to become a transcendental box-score-stuffer, don't count on it.
Two others: Marc Gasol is still getting better, and he's twice posted 4x5s — topping 5 in four different stat categories — while Al Horford has been 1 rebound, 3 blocks, and 4 assists away from a quad. Problem is, neither player has ever tripled.
Eliminated: Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Josh Smith, Marc Gasol, Al Horford.
2. He Has To Be In The Prime Of His Career
Hakeem Olajuwon had two quadruple-doubles when he was 27 years old, each in 40 minutes of play. David Robinson was 28, and it took him 43 minutes. Both men were as good as they would ever be — and healthy enough to play huge portions of games.
In 2010, Pau Gasol came close to a quad, with 21 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 blocks. Since then, he's begun the age-decline that awaits every basketball player, and Dwight Howard will take away some of his rebounds and blocks in 2012-13. The situation is similar with Dwyane Wade, one of the best shot-blocking guards of all time; in 2011, he had a game with 39 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks, and 3 steals. But with his injury history, he probably won't be logging big minutes in the future (he averaged 32 last year) and, even though he remains an elite player, his numbers are probably going to keep trending downward.
Andrei Kirilenko is the only player other than Olajuwon to record multiple games with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 5 blocks since 1985. Tim Duncan was once only 2 blocks shy of the ol' Q-D (in the Finals!). As recently as 2008, Lamar Odom went for 23 points, 21 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks. But none of them are gonna be playing 40 minutes any time soon — and even if they do, perhaps in the playoffs, they're not going to be putting up the numbers they once did.
Eliminated: Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, Andrei Kirilenko, Tim Duncan, Lamar Odom. (Though D-Wade remains a dark horse given the right situation — in an overtime playoff game against Boston last season, he played 51 minutes.)
3. He Needs To Be Capable Of Filling That Beguiling Fourth Category
10-block or 10-steal games are rarities in and of themselves. In the case of Robinson and Hakeem, both guys averaged 3+ blocks per game and had multiple 10-block games during their quad seasons.
Rajon Rondo has the third-most triples in the NBA over the last five years, and last year alone he had 10. That part is not difficult for him. Rondo was 15th in the league in steals last year, averaging 1.8 a game (his high was 6). In 2011, he came closest to a quad, with 12 points, 23(!!!) assists, 10 rebounds, and 6 steals, so he's definitely got a shot. Same with Chris Paul. Paul is one of only nine players since 2000 with 9 steals or more in a single game, and in the last two seasons, he's topped 7 steals four times.
How much is stealing ability actually worth, though? In 2011-12, both Andrew Bynum and Serge Ibaka had 10 or more blocks in one game; 10 steals has only happened ONCE since 2001, when Brandon Roy did it against the Wizards in 2009. The most steals in a single game in NBA history? 11. The record for blocks is 17. In the quad-double competition, it looks like we have to give the edge to block-savants over steal-virtuosos, and history agrees: four of the five quads were done with blocks. Paul and Rondo might have sniffed 10 steals before, but the fact is, neither has ever done it, and to assume that they'll break that barrier on the same night they also triple would be silly.
Eliminated: Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul.
So we're left with two candidates: Dwight Howard and LeBron. In 2008, Howard pulled off a blocks triple — 30 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocks, lol — along with three assists. And though he's never been a statistically prolific passer, his Magic teams were at their best when he was able to draw defenders inside and then kick the ball out to three-point shooters; he'll have the opportunity in L.A. to pass to guys like Antawn Jamison, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash, who've all been known to hit an outside shot or two. Dwight has both the proven ability to block 10+ shots and the conceivable scenario, now that he's on the Lakers, of stringing together all four categories.
LeBron the last five seasons, James leads the NBA with 22 triple-doubles, and he's the only guy since Magic to seem like a somewhat plausible possibility to average a triple over the course of a season. The problem is, while he's capable of highlight-level blocks and steals, they mostly come unpredictably on help-D plays — his highs last season were 3 and 5, respectively, and the most steals or blocks he's ever had in a triple-double is 4.
The two players who have the best shot at the next quad are LeBron James and Dwight Howard. But who wins? Howard seems to have the edge, but rule four will help us out.
4. The Answer Is LeBron James.
The evidence says Howard, but the gut says nobody's more likely to do ANYTHING than LeBron James.