The Portland Trail Blazers finally got over the hump by knocking out the OKC Thunder via a 37-foot game winner from Damian Lillard who scored 50 points in the closeout game.
Lillard’s rivalry with Russell Westbrook was evident during the series as the two elite point guards went at it game after game for five games. Westbrook used to get the better of Lillard in their matchups but this season, Lillard had the last laugh. And the last shot.
When you take a look at both players, there are similarities. But there are also differences in their games. Now, having said those, let’s take a look at who is better between the two NBA stars as we break their games down one by one:
When we talk about scoring, both these guards are excellent scorers. Both are career 20-point scorers. Damian Lillard’s career scoring average is 23.5 points per game while Westbrook’s is 23.0 points per game. The difference in scoring average is very marginal but when you take a look back at history, Westbrook is a two-time NBA scoring champion and that speaks a lot about his ability to score.
Although these guards have almost identical career scoring averages, the way they score their points is very different. According to basketball reference, 80.% of Westbrook’s shots are two-pointers and 35.1% of those are taken from around the basket (0-3 feet). On the other hand, 41.5% of Lillard’s field goal attempts are three-pointers.
Russell Westbrook is one of the league’s best finishers and one of the most efficient scorers from close range as he makes 58.8% of his shots from 0-3 feet. Lillard isn’t a shabby scorer from the inside though. He makes 56.5 of his shots from the same distance. But Westbrook is more impressive from there as he takes more shots and shoots better too.
The farther they move away from the basket, the advantage changes. From 10-16 feet, Lillard makes 42% of his shots. Westbrook only shoots 39.1% from the same distance. Lillard also makes 43.9% of his long two-pointers, those above the foul line but before the three-point line. Westbrook is 38.4% from that area.
Behind the three-point area is where Lillard thrives. Dame is a career 36.8% three point shooter. Meanwhile, Westbrook shoots 30.8% from behind the three-point area in his entire career. Lillard has made a total of 1,506 career three-pointers and has made at least 200 three-pointers per season for the past four seasons. Westbrook has 922 career trifectas. He’s made 200 three-pointers in a single season just once in his career. He’s made more than 100 three-pointers in just three seasons.
When it comes to defense, this is where I think Russell Westbrook has a clear cut advantage over Damian Lillard. Westbrook’s career defensive rating is 105 points per 100 possessions. That’s five points per 100 possessions better than Lillard’s defensive rating of 110.
Westbrook’s career average is 1.8 steals per game or a total of 1,442 career steals. On the other hand, Lillard is averaging 1.0 steal per game for his career or a total of 533 steals for his career. Westbrook’s career high in steals is 8 steals per game while Lillard highest steals total in a single game was 6 steals.
When it comes to blocked shots, these two aren’t expected to produce much because they are both point guards. But for comparison, Westbrook has blocked a total of 250 shots in his entire NBA career. On the other hand, Dame has swatted away 171 shots during his NBA tenure.
Rebounding is a no-contest because Westbrook has averaged in a triple-double this past seasons. That means he’s grabbed at least 10 rebounds per game in the last three years. Lillard has a 4.2 career rebounding average and he’s not averaged more than 4.9 rebounds per game in an NBA season.
Just as in rebounding, Russell Westbrook has the clear cut edge over Damian Lillard when it comes to passing. Westbrook has averaged at least 10 assists per game in the past three seasons and he is a career 8.4 assists per game passer. Lillard meanwhile isn’t far behind with his career average of 6.3 assists per game.
Looking at advanced stats, the percentage that a play becomes an assist- this is called the assist percentage, for Russell Westbrook is 42.8% throughout his career. That number has not gone below 46.5% in the past five seasons. Lillard meanwhile has a career assist percentage of 29.5%. /in this department, Dame has not averaged more than 30.9% in any season.
When it comes to making plays, we should also consider how the players take care of the ball when in their possession. Having said that, Russell Westbrook has a career 5.9 turnovers per game average. On the other hand, Damian Lillard is averaging just 2.7 turnovers per game in his entire career, at least half of what Russ is averaging.
But then you have to compare the turnovers with the plays these players made so we go the assists to turnover ratio here. Lillard’s career A/TO ratio is 2.7 while Westbrook’s average in the same department is 2.1. Not bad at all considering Westbrook is a ball-dominant basketball player.
Leadership is one of the intangibles that you look out for in a point guard and a team superstar and without a question, both of these players are good leaders. But there must be a way to separate them. So we are going to take a look at their averages and win shares.
The on/off tells us how a team plays when the player is on or off the court. In this category, we’ll use the latest season for comparison. The Blazers are +9.5 points better when Lillard on the court. They are also -5.1 points better on defense with him on the floor. That means that the Blazers are a +14.6 when Lillard is playing.
As for the Thunder, OKC’s offense had a +9.3 better offensive rating with Westbrook on the court. Their defense, however, gave up +3.2 more points per 100 possessions when Westbrook is on the court. Overall, the Thunder have a net rating of +6.1 when Russell Westbrook is on the court.Good that it’s positive but Lillard’s numbers are twice better.
Talking about win shares, Damian Lillard has a career total of 70.3 including 12.1 this past season. Westbrook has 96.9 total win shares but just had 6.8 win shares last season. Looking at win shares per 48 minutes to eliminate the difference in playing time, Lillard’s is 1.65 while Westbrook’s is at 1.64. Slight edge for Dame but not much difference.
Game IQ is also another important intangible for a point guard and superstar. There are no stats to back this up. But we’ve seen plenty of instances where Westbrook forces the issue too much that it results in a missed basket, violation or turnover. On the other hand, Lillard makes big plays for the Blazers. He almost always makes the right decision and puts his team in the best position to win
That leads us to the clutch. We’ve seen Westbrook hit game-winners in the past, many of them. But when you talk about Damian Lillard, you talk about Dame Time. When the game is on the line, it’s usually Lillard who bails the Blazers out. We’ve seen this more times than we’ve seen Westbrook do it for the Thunder, especially this. Also, you need good shooting when you play in the clutch. No question that Lillard is hands on the better shooter here.
The Better Player
Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard are two of the best point guards of our era. They are two of the best point guards in the league right now. When you talk about numbers, there is no doubt that Mr. Triple beats Damian Lillard in the statistical department. But while Westbrook continues to produce out of this world numbers, they have not translated to wins. Let’s face it. OKC wouldn’t have finished where they did without Paul George. While I don’t agree that Westbrook pads his stats. I don’t think they’ve made the Thunder much better.
On the other hand, Damian Lillard is the heart and soul of Portland Where Dame goes, so do the Blazers. We can’t look too far than to take a look at how their 2019 first-round playoff matchup went. Lillard didn’t just put the Thunder away with that 37-foot game-winner in Game 5, he carried them in the games they won during the series. I think the turning point of the series was in Game 4 when Lillard scored 15 points in the third quarter and held Westbrook without a basket in the second half of that game.
Before the start of the series, many people were already writing the Blazers off, especially since they were playing an OKC team led by two superstars in George and Westbrook. But despite getting swept in the first round in previous two seasons, Lillard came out with fire as Portland erected a 2-0 lead. Sure OKC won the next game but usually, Game 3 is a token win. Lillard closed out the Thunder by going 14-26 from the three-point area in the last two games of the series.
People will always have their own opinion. But mine is this. There is no questioning Westbrook’s greatness. He’s a triple-double machine we’ve never seen before. But Damian Lillard is a special player in his own right. He isn’t as athletic and strong as Westbrook. He doesn’t put up the same numbers across the board. But he’s a scorer, a pure shooter who can shoot from anywhere on the basketball court. What makes him special is that he rises to the occasion when the game is on the line. And because he is an excellent shooter, he makes big shots down the stretch. And because the NBA is all about winning games and winning titles, I will pick Damian Lillard over Russell Westbrook in this comparison.