Damian Lillard versus Russell Westbrook will be argued about until the end of time. But for now, the Portland Trail Blazers guard is a long way ahead
Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. The quiet long-range shooter and the brash rim punisher. This rivalry only became a thing over the last two seasons, but since then, Dame has taken his game to a whole new level with the Portland Trail Blazers, and Westbrook is now in the rearview mirror.
Don’t let Dame’s walk-off shot be the only reason that you think he is a better basketball player than Westbrook. Dame has just taken his game to a level that Westbrook isn’t capable of.
Let’s break it down.
Scoring and Shooting
Now Westbrook may have a reputation as being a better scorer, but their career averages are very similar, both in the minutes they have played and in per 36 minutes. The big difference between the roles the two have had on their respective teams, is usage.
Westbrook has usage percentages of 32 and 34 percent in regular season and playoffs, while Dame is at 28 percent. Westbrook has a lot more of the ball.
In terms of breaking down their scoring, the casual NBA fan would say Russ has a distinct advantage over Dame at the rim with his athleticism. Interestingly their career splits aren’t actually that far apart.
Russ 59 percent – Dame 57 percent
When you go to the playoffs though, that actually switches, and Russ’ efficiency falls away.
Russ 53 percent – Dame 55 percent
Maybe Russ’ flashy dunks led fans to believe he was an insane finisher at the rim, but in the playoffs the last three years he has actually been one of the worst finishers at the rim.
Dame’s efficiency isn’t the best, but when you add playoffs in, this is a wash.
Dame is a better free throw shooter in the playoffs and regular season.
88 percent – 80 percent and 87 percent – 84 percent on both counts has him ahead.
Again, Russ has fallen away in the last few years in this regard.
When you get down to shooting from mid and long range, this is where the big disparity comes in.
Also, even though Russ is an inferior shooter, he takes a lot more midrange attempts and hits less of them.
Career splits for Dame – 42, 44 and 37 percent
Career splits for Russ – 39, 38, and 30 percent
These three distances are mid, long mind and three point range, though Russ’ percentages aren’t terrible from mid range, his issue is that takes the same amount of shots from there that someone like CJ McCollum or Kevin Durant would. This hurts his overall efficiency a lot.
In today’s game, hitting only 30 percent of your threes means you just don’t get guarded in the half-court. A massive problem in the playoffs.
Dame is a far superior scorer and shooter, the only part of their scoring and shooting games which is close, is finishing at the rim.
Russ is a better passer than Dame in terms of his overall reads and his ability to operate with bigs in the pick and roll. Focussing on assist totals probably doesn’t do justice to either player considering Russ has played with superior teammates through his whole career.
Russ averages more assists, and as an initiator in transition there probably aren’t too many other better passers around than him. It would be interesting to see Russ with a Kevin Durant or a Paul George, but for now, Russ is the superior passer.
Defense and Rebounding
Russ is a superior rebounder and one of the best rebounding guards in NBA history. Both offensively and defensively he is a great rebounder.
Does he pad his stats? Yes, as much as fans hate to admit it he does hunt rebounds and triple doubles. This is a side-note when looking at some of his inflated rebound totals, but it still shouldn’t take away from the fact that he is a great rebounder.
Defensively, Russ has had the edge on Dame as a man defender for a while, but his propensity to swipe at the ball and gamble for steals has always the hurt the teams he is on. He does make good reads for steals, but these gambles don’t mean he is a good defender.
He probably still has the edge over Dame on defense, but as we saw in the playoffs last year, Dame’s defense isn’t porous like it used to be. He is a smarter team defender than Russ, even if he can’t stop the one on one threats that Russ can when he’s locked in.
The advanced analytics tell a story that these two are pretty close on defense now days.
Lillard is an overall better player than Westbrook
Russ is a great rebounder and passer who can still initiate strongly on offense. As we highlighted above though, his perceived ability at the rim doesn’t translate and he gets worse in the playoffs. Dame doesn’t have a long history of being overly efficient in the playoffs, but we know he can hit big shots.
The last three years, even with All-NBA talent, Russ has shot under 40 percent from the field in the playoffs. As Dame has increased his efficiency and worked on his defense, Russ’ game has faded.
He is now a number two in Houston and maybe that suits him better, but for now he sits behind Dame. This is reflected in his All-NBA standing and MVP voting the last two years.
You could say ‘ Dame is only a better scorer and shooter ‘ but even if this is true, scoring and shooting are a massive part of the game. If you don’t get guarded in the playoffs like Russ likely won’t this season, then your passing ability is mitigated.
Both are great players, but right now, Dame is in a different ball park.