At this point in their careers, it feels as if both Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard have had regressions. Westbrook isn’t faring well playing with other superstars on the Lakers (as I predicted) and Dame has been off to a slow start, only dunking once during the season to-date. The debate of which star point guard is better has been raging for nearly half a decade now, but since they are both having down years, can we more easily compare who the better player is? Let’s attempt to do so by looking at their stats, teammates, offense, defensive, and playoff success.
“If I had to say I had an arch nemesis, it would probably be Russ, because when me and Russ play, we going after each other. It’s been that way every time we’ve played since I’ve been in the NBA. Eight straight years of just me and him going at each other.”Damian Lillard in an Instagram Live Post
Stats for this Season:
For the 2021-22 season, Lillard has been averaging 23.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists on 40.5% shooting from the field and 32.7% from three. Westbrook, on the other hand, is averaging 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 8.1 assists on 45.1% from the field and 30.4% from three. It’s clear that Lillard has the advantage in scoring, and I’m inclined to give him an edge in assists as well. While Westbrook is averaging 0.6 more assists per game, he has much better teammates then Lillard, so in my mind, Lillard gets credit for being the better passer. Westbrook is clearly the better rebounder, and when it comes to shots closer to the basket, Westbrook is better. But, when it comes to shooting from farther out, Lillard takes the crown.
Let’s take a look at the ten best teammates Westbrook and Lillard have every played with:
Westbrook’s Top Ten:
Dame’s Top Ten:
Gary Trent Jr
I think there’s a pretty distinct talent gap between the teammates Dame has had and the teammates Westbrook has had. Let’s also take a moment to mention that Lillard has had one All-Star teammate in his entire career, Aldridge. Meanwhile, nine of Westbrook’s ten best teammates are All-Stars, three have won MVPs, and two of them have been very close runner ups for the MVP award. So, hypothetically, Westbrook should have been able to go farther in the playoffs; right?
The Oklahoma City Thunder progressed all the way to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost in five games, but that was when Westbrook was playing alongside Durant and Harden. The team made the Western Conference Finals in three years aside from 2012, with the most infamous being the 2016 WCF in which the Thunder choked a 3-1 lead. Afterwards, Durant left for the Warriors, and Westbrook had the chance to show what he could do without another co-star. In 2017, Westbrook was named the MVP of the NBA after becoming the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double. However, his team would lose in the first round of that year’s playoffs. The next year, George and Anthony came to the Thunder, but Westbrook remained ball dominant, averaged a triple-double, and the team lost in the first round of the 2018 playoffs.
This brings us to Lillard’s side of the story. In 2014, his first time ever appearing in the playoffs, Lillard made it to the second round before being eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs, who would go on to win the NBA championship (he also made an insane buzzer beater in the first round). In 2015, the Blazers were eliminated in the first round and in 2016, the Blazers were again eliminated in the second round by the eventual champions; in this case, the Golden State Warriors. In 2017 and 2018 the Blazers were swept in the first round, but then, we reach 2019.
In 2019, the loaded Oklahoma City Thunder played the Portland Trail Blazers, and the rivalry between Westbrook and Lillard was imminent. However, despite the Thunder’s more talented lineup, the Blazers were able to outplay the Thunder and take a commanding 3-1 lead. Then, Lillard had his iconic logo shot that one the Blazers the series, capping off a 50-point Game Five and destroying the Thunder for years to come. In the next round, the Blazers would somehow beat the Denver Nuggets in seven games, setting up a Western Conference Finals of the Blazers against the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Seth Curry got to play against one another, and while their parents pretended that this was a real competition and it would be difficult to choose who to root for, we all knew who was going to win. The Warriors swept the Trail Blazers in four games, but not before Dame had this nasty ankle breaker against Alfonzo McKinnie.
This leads us to today. Westbrook was traded from the Thunder to the Houston Rockets, where he spent a year and made it to the second round of the playoffs in the 2020 NBA Bubble before being eliminated by LeBron James‘ Lakers. He was then traded to the Washington Wizards, where he would break the all time triple-double record and lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers. He has since been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where the team is working through some issues.
Lillard hasn’t budged from Portland, being credited as one of the most loyal players in the entire NBA. He’s lost in the first round of the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, and many are beginning to question how long Lillard will stay in Portland (he himself was doing the same thing this offseason).
Comparing Career Stats:
If we compare the stats for both player’s entire careers, some numbers look nearly identical. Dame’s averaged 24.6 points per game for his career, to Westbrook’s 23.1. They both average 5.5 free throws made per game, except Westbrook gets to the line slightly more often, worsening his percentage. Lillard has shot 43.7% from the field for his career; Westbrook 43.8%.
When it comes to generating offense, Lillard is clearly the better player. He has 79 offensive win shares for his career as compared to Westbrook’s 60.7, despite the fact Westbrook has a few extra seasons on him. Lillard also has an offensive box plus/minus of 5.5, as compared to Westbrook’s 3.9. Lillard’s true shooting percentage is also around 6% higher then Westbrook’s. Importantly, Westbrook averages 4.1 turnovers per game, which can lead to a negative impact for his team as this generates points for the other team. Lillard on the other hand averages 2.8 turnovers per game for his career, which isn’t great, but also isn’t nearly as bad as Westbrook.
Defensively, Westbrook is much better than Lillard. Westbrook is taller and physically stronger than Lillard, which gives him an edge. His athleticism helps him contain other guards, and it shows through his 0.6 defensive box plus/minus and 45.4 career defensive win shares, far superior to Lillard’s 15.6 career defensive win shares. His defensive rebound percentage is 7.2% higher then Lillard’s.
Both of these players are all-time greats without a championship ring. They are wonderful point guards, but in the end, I would point to Lillard as the better player over Westbrook. I know Westbrook has an MVP and two scoring titles under his belt (not to mention his good defense), but here’s the thing: most contending teams wouldn’t trade for Westbrook if they had the chance. He’s a statistical monster, but he takes inefficient shots, turns the ball over way too much, and can sometimes be a head case. Westbrook may be a better player in the regular season, but when it comes down to the playoffs, the place where legends are made and legacies defined, Dame’s who I’d go with. If you had one shot that your entire season depended on, and you only had one chance to make it, which player would you have shoot the ball? The player nicknamed Russell Westbrick or the one known as “Dame Time?” For me, that’s a no-brainer, and throw in the quality of Lillard’s teammates with what he’s been able to accomplish, and Lillard is for sure the better player in my eyes.
Who do you think is the better player? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!