Those whom we criticize most often times possess the largest capacity for greatness.
The legendary find a way to rise above the animosity and define their careers by exceeding even the greatest of expectations.
As we rapidly approach the 2012-13 NBA regular season, a new name can be placed onto the list of the castigated stars. While one might be quick to anoint one of the more established veterans to continue this pattern of defying his critics, it will be one of the young guns in the game who takes the most significant leap to glory.
Through four tough years in the league, Westbrook has become one of the most polarizing figures the game has to offer. The 23-year-old has displayed elite scoring ability, as evidenced by his 23.6 points per game during the 2011-12 NBA season. He's also dazzled with his ability to distribute the basketball, averaging over eight assists per game during his 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns.
Unfortunately for Westbrook's reputation as a true point guard, that number dropped to just 5.5 dimes per game this past season. His point guard play is the first place we look to as we evaluate how the former UCLA Bruins star will become MVP for the upcoming season.
During the 2010-11 NBA regular season, Kevin Durant may have run away with his second consecutive scoring title, but it was Russell Westbrook—finishing the season with averages of 21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game—who garnered the most attention from analysts.
Thus making him the only player in the NBA that year to average at least 20 points and eight assists.
During the 2011-12 NBA season, Westbrook led all point guards in scoring by putting up 23.6 points per contest. Should Westbrook continue his career pattern of improving his scoring and field goal percentage with each passing year, it's hard to imagine his name being excluded from MVP conversations.
After all, a dip in assists meant very little as he was again named to the All-NBA Second Team in 2012.
Who will win NBA MVP?
Assuming Westbrook doesn't see a sudden drop below the 20-point-per-game mark, which seems highly unlikely, the OKC star seems set up for another standout season. Although Deron Williams and Chris Paul will be expected to put up equally magnificent numbers, it's feasible to believe that neither will match Westbrook in scoring.
All that leaves for Westbrook is to up his assists by one or two per game from his 2011-12 average, thus becoming a 24-and-10 guy—numbers that certainly seem to make the case for winning the MVP.
For those who doubt Westbrook's ability to achieve such a feat, keep in mind how slow some point guards start. For instance, it wasn't until Steve Nash's fifth season that he finally averaged upwards of seven assists per game.
Furthermore, it took eight years before Nash topped eight assists and another season after that before he averaged double digits in that category.
While this is not to compare the two as passers, the fact that Westbrook has averaged at least 8.0 dimes in two of his four NBA seasons speaks volumes as to what he's capable of accomplishing. Although he admittedly takes a score-first approach to the game, he is still a legitimate double-double threat.
The one thing he has not found, however, is consistency. Expect his fifth year in the league to provide just that.
The second reason the MVP award is on its way to Oklahoma City is rooted in the effects that international basketball has had on Westbrook's career.
Russell Westbrook spent the summer of 2010 with Team USA at the World Basketball Championship. The following NBA season, he averaged 21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game while swiping a career-best 1.9 steals per game.
This past summer, Westbrook again went international. This time around, however, he was surrounded with talent that exceeds the label of elite.
Russell Westbrook was one of the most important players during Team USA's memorable run to gold at the London Olympics. His defensive pressure and explosive athleticism helped set the pace for an American squad whose starters rarely came out of the gates firing on all cylinders.
If that's not momentum to build an MVP campaign on, I'm not sure what is.
Then combine this experience with what Westbrook does best: playing elite perimeter defense that features indescribable ball pressure. This will lead to his first season with at least 2.0 steals per game, thus providing him with much-deserved spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team.
Yet another honor that is often times found within an MVP's trophy case.
As we weigh elite defense with top tier scoring ability and double-digit assists, it has become difficult to argue against Russell Westbrook for MVP. However, his biggest hurdles remain teammate Kevin Durant and rival LeBron James.
Westbrook he is more than capable of overcoming both.
Kevin Durant will garner plenty of attention for his ability to score the ball and pad his stat sheet. As Westbrook rises as a go-to guy, however, the frustration with Durant's tendency to play passive basketball could lead to the understanding that the Oklahoma City Thunder has become "Westbrook's team."
Whether or not that label or perception will stick is debatable, but the potential is there for such an occurrence.
As for how Westbrook will dethrone LeBron James, consider this the latest chapter in the league's tendency to praise the fresh faces.
As evidenced by Derrick Rose taking home the MVP award in 2010-11, the NBA seems to have taken a liking to new names which appear in the voting system. Moreover, Westbrook's league-wide status heading into this season is greater than that of Rose's heading into his MVP season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder could finish atop the Western Conference despite the presence of a powerhouse in the Los Angeles Lakers. This would mirror the Chicago Bulls overtaking the Miami Heat during D-Rose's MVP campaign.
As a result, at least one member of the Oklahoma City Thunder will receive high praise and league MVP recognition. After weighing all the aforementioned factors, that man will be Russell Westbrook.