Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard have been through a lot since they burst onto the NBA scene in 2008 and 2012. Picked fourth and sixth respectively, the two have since ensconced themselves quite firmly among the league’s best point guards. They’ve had the mantle of leading their respective franchises seemingly from day one, albeit to varying degrees of success.
Their seasons as of late have been disappointing, to say the least. Put bluntly, they’re not doing so well by way of team success. The Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards are seventh and tenth in their conferences, and their playoff appearances are still far from certain. They’re playing well individually, but their teams remain unthreatening and nondescript, while playoff success feels out of reach for their franchises.
With equally talented point guards like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are making much more noise with their seasons so far, it seems as though the two have faded into the background quite a bit.
But who’s the better player between them? Here’s a quick look at what the numbers say.
Lillard vs Westbrook: Scoring
Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard are no strangers to being the number one scoring option on their rosters. They’ve each had to go through seasons as the focal point of their offenses in a stacked Western Conference. And on paper, the two are neck-and-neck when it comes to getting buckets and putting up numbers for their teams. Westbrook is averaging 23.2 points per game for his career, while Lillard is posting 24.6 so far.
Though the overall production is close, their play styles could not be more different. Damian Lillard’s range from deep makes him a more versatile and elite offensive threat, and when it comes to shot-creation and isolation, he’s certainly the more accomplished and celebrated player.
Westbrook, certainly a celebrated scorer in his own right, simply doesn’t have as deep a bag as his counterpart. Owing to his size and skillset, he relies largely on his quick first step coupled with his elite athleticism, both of which allow him to finish with ease inside the paint, almost regardless of who’s guarding him at that position. His explosive and barrel-chested athleticism allows him to have his way with smaller and weaker players in most every matchup.
As in most offensive matchups, the difference is efficiency. Take a look at their shooting splits throughout their careers so far.
Their on-court presence is another major consideration. Per PBP Stats, the Blazers are scoring a 23rd-place 109.5 points per 100 possessions with Lillard off the floor. When he plays, they post a league-leading 120.04 offensive rating. They’re a scoring juggernaut with Lillard at the helm, plain and simple.
The same can’t be said for Westbrook, whose lack of any consistency from the perimeter has always led to misshapen offenses for his teams when the game slows down. His Washington Wizards are actually scoring more (111.6) with him off the floor than when he plays (110.8).
Westbrook’s athleticism keeps defenses on their toes and creates opportunities for his teammates, but he simply has never struck the same fear that Logo Lillard has into the opposition. Lillard isn’t that far behind as a playmaker, but can just as easily create offense out of nothing on his own. This one will have to go to Lillard.
LOGO LILLARD 🤯 pic.twitter.com/BZ25Mi1wFV
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 1, 2021
Lillard vs Westbrook: Defense
Defense has never been what the two point guards were known for in their careers. Neither of the two has put on excellent showings on defense this year. According to NBA.com matchup data, opposing guards are making 44.5% of their shots against Westbrook, and 42.4% on Lillard for the season so far.
Though Lillard has the slight edge over Westbrook this year, the advanced stats significantly favor Westbrook’s defense over his career. Per Basketball-Reference, Westbrook has allowed 105.0 points per 100 possessions since 2009, versus Lillard’s 112. Westbrook’s 43.8 career defensive win shares also completely knock Lillard’s 15.3 out of the water. As if that wasn’t enough, The Brodie also edges out Dame Time in steal percentage (2.5% vs 1.3%) and defensive box plus-minus (+0.6 vs. -0.8).
On the other hand, he isn’t always locked in on that end of the floor, and his defensive focus and motor have historically been called into question. With Russell Westbrook’s athleticism, though, choosing him as the better defender seems like a foregone conclusion. He’s always had the speed to keep up with any guard on the perimeter, and his size and strength allow him to switch onto forwards and even bigs for short stretches.
Lillard is a fine defender when he tries, but it’s tough to put him over Westbrook in this one.
Westbrook got UP for this block 🛑😤 pic.twitter.com/jcMNPQWQ3L
— ESPN (@espn) January 30, 2020
When it comes to leadership, there aren’t many in the league who can steer their ball clubs the way Westbrook and Lillard do on the court.
Westbrook’s leadership comes in his consistent on-court presence on both ends of the floor and production. His energy is infectious, and teams can rely on him game in and game out to pace his team. He’s called Mr. Triple Double for a reason: if playmaking is the main factor, given the two are point guards, then Russell Westbrook is easily the better leader.
As it currently stands, he leads the league in both assists per game and assist percentage. Lillard is 7th and 11th in those categories, respectively. Consider this: per Cleaning the Glass, Westbrook has been in the 92nd percentile and above in assist percentage every year since the 2013-14 season. He’s also been in the 100th percentile in five of those seasons. He’s just better at making his teammates better, plain and simple.
But leadership isn’t just making plays, and Lillard comes through in clutch situations and is able to carry his team when he needs to. You can’t deny the confidence that his offensive play can inspire, and the many ways that this contorts opposing defenses to create good shots for others. His team trusts him to come through for them on the offensive end, and more often than not, he does. 31.6% of the Blazers’ offensive plays involve Lillard in some way, and he’s 11th in the league in that category. As evidenced by the Blazers’ stats with him on and off the court, they need him more than the Wizards need Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook's 21st assist of the night, we're headed to the 4th on NBA League Pass! pic.twitter.com/BXGixALski
— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2021
Despite all this, the on-court play of either guard hasn’t translated to any significant playoff success as the two only have three conference finals appearances between them. To be sure, this is affected by a litany of factors including team depth and strength of schedule. At the end of the day, both guards have had their chances with good teams but have ultimately fallen short. Westbrook has earned the reputation of being a stat padder and a ball hog, while Lillard has been criticized for putting up empty stats on a losing team.
It’s tough to come up with a better leader between two focal point guards in the league. Westbrook wins the numbers battle with more assists and usage rate, but Lillard wins when it comes to his on-court impact. Considering where the two stand at this point in time, this one will have to be a toss-up.
Lillard vs Westbrook: The verdict
Ultimately, both guards seem evenly matched. Westbrook seems to be the more impactful player, but Lillard has been the more important player to his teams.
For this writer, the slight edge will have to go to Westbrook, whose playmaking and defense make his game more congruous to winning basketball in the league.
Damian Lillard hit one ridiculous shot after another against Westbrook & the Thunder! POR leads 2-0. pic.twitter.com/JnFUnD2os4
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) April 17, 2019
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