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NBA - US Sports: Is Russell Westbrook underrated?

Of all the current superstars in the NBA, there is perhaps no player who divides opinions among fans and pundits quite as much as Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is coming off the back of a below-par season with Los Angeles Lakers and took a lot of flak over the course of the previous campaign, perhaps unfairly given the fact no one on the roster - aside from LeBron James - really managed to impress.

The 33-year-old is a former MVP and the only player of the modern era to have averaged a triple-double over the course of the season, but for some, those numbers appear to mean very little.

The start of Russell Westbrook's rise to stardom

However Westbrook's critics want to dress it up, there is simply no denying the fact that he has posted some incredible numbers over a sustained period throughout his career.

The Long Beach native helped UCLA reach the Final Four in each of his two seasons in college basketball before forgoing his final two years to declare for the NBA Draft in 2008.

He was selected with the fourth overall pick by the now defunct Seattle SuperSonics, who went on to become Oklahoma City Thunder just six days after picking Westbrook.

In his debut campaign, Westbrook became the first rookie since fellow point guard Chris Paul to record a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists - and setting records in that regard has become a theme of Westbrook's career.

Rise to MVP and triple-double records

Westbrook spent 11 seasons with OKC and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players in the franchise's history, including their time as the Sonics.

The UCLA product earned his first All-Star selection in 2011 and his ultimate achievement to date came six years later.

In 2017, Westbrook became just the second player in the league's history to average a triple-double for the season after Oscar Robertson way back in 1962.

He won the MVP award that year and repeated that feat in each of the next two seasons before doing so again with Washington Wizards in 2020/21 - his sole season in the capital.

For context, LeBron James' decision to join Miami Heat was, in part, motivated by a desire to average a triple-double in a season but he was unable to achieve it, while Westbrook then did it four times in five seasons with two different teams.

Of course, that doesn't make Westbrook a better player than his current Lakers teammate James - but it does demonstrate just how effective he can be and should mark him out as one of the truly great point guards.

There have been some critics who have suggested Westbrook has been chasing numbers and some of that may be fair, but largely his own individual aspirations haven't been to the detriment of any team he has been on. 

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What next for Russell Westbrook?

Westbrook has been the subject of trade rumours for almost the entirety of his Lakers career after joining from Washington Wizards last summer but he opted in for the final year of his deal in LA at the end of last month.

The former Oklahoma City Thunder star was regularly heckled last season and admitted the criticism was hard to take, but he has a chance to almost reset his Lakers career under a new coach in Darvin Ham and there are likely to be a few roster changes too.

Indeed, after arriving in LA, Ham stressed he was looking forward to working with Westbrook and revealed he wanted to work on the defensive side of his game - so he may have a different role to play in what will be a new system next season.

Championship goal

One thing that is missing from Westbrook's impressive CV is a championship and he will be desperate to claim at least one before he eventually decides to call time on his career. 

An issue coaches have had in recent years in regards to Westbrook is pairing him with other stars. He formed an excellent unit with Bradley Beal at Washington but prior to that struggled to make an impact at Houston Rockets with James Harden, despite the fact they had worked together at OKC.

The James and Westbrook experiment didn't work out last season, but with a new system and under the guidance of a new coach there is a real chance the Lakers could be contenders once again next term - particularly if Anthony Davis is able to stay fit for a sustained period.

The Lakers are 10/1 to win the NBA Championship outright, and Westbrook is 200/1 to be the regular season MVP.

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