After two years, Westbrook has matured to where he is now fueling his own fire. Teammates see a third-year guard that is as self-motivated as ever, no longer in search of someone to prove wrong. Now, Westbrook wants to prove things to himself.
"He wants to be the best point guard in the league," said Kevin Durant. "That's one thing I admire about Russell. He brings it, and whoever is in front of him in the game he's going to try to destroy them. And that's motivating him."
"He wants to be an All-Star," he said. "He wants to average a double-double. He wants to average a triple-double. He's set those goals for himself and he's fighting every day to try to get there."
Durant noted how Westbrook's game has blossomed. How in his rookie season Westbrook relied solely on his athleticism to make his mark, but how last season Westbrook mixed things up by adding a pull-up jumper and a more controlled pace.
"You can tell he's been working," Durant said. "He's getting better every day."
But for all that Westbrook has proved, he still has one significant critic, someone so close to the situation that even the slightest slippage this season won't tolerated.
"I still question him," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "Russell and I are his toughest critics. Even when people were questioning him about what position he is and magnifying some of his mistakes and his flaws, Russell and I were harder on him than some of the critics."
Brooks said a focus on team-first goals gives him confidence that Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder players won't grow content with their clippings. And Westbrook said he hasn't seen anything that suggests any cocky attitudes will creep into this season.
"Everybody's come in competitive and looking to get better," Westbrook said. "And I think that's a big key for us making that next jump, especially when everybody's starting to notice us."
The increased publicity has hit no player harder than Westbrook, who still remembers how just four years ago he still was largely unknown.
"It's kind of like watching him grow up," Durant said. "Since his rookie year, he's grown so much to, I think, a top five point guard in the league."
As long as there is a debate over his ranking, you can bet Westbrook will have plenty to drive him.