Perhaps the closest category between Dame Dolla and Russ is on the defensive end, as Lillard has a legitimate argument in that department. It’s worth noting that there are multiple metrics we can utilize to measure a player’s overall defense.
For example, if we were to use the defensive field goal percentage statistic, that falls in favor of Lillard and it wouldn’t exactly be close. To add more color to that, Lillard has had a better defensive field goal percentage than Russ in each of the last seven seasons.
In fact, Lillard held opponents to 41.6 percent during the 2017-18 season and 43.6 percent during the 2018-19 season, which can’t go ignored. But again, that’s just one category.
If we were to look at each player’s individual defensive rating, which is a gauge of how the team fared as an aggregate with said player on the floor, the advantage goes heavily to Russ. In fact, Russ has had a better defensive rating than Dame in each of the last eight seasons.
Furthermore, the Blazers have never allowed fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the court, whereas Westbrook’s teams have allowed less than 105 points in seven of the last eight seasons. This season the Blazers are giving up 116 points with Lillard on the court, compared to the Rockets who are giving up 109 points on the floor.
Granted, neither of these defensive ratings reflect the defensive superiority of Gary Payton but it’s worth noting that Russ has consistently performed better than Lillard by this analysis.
Another metric we could use is defensive win shares, which represent an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. In this category, Westbrook’s defense has contributed to at least four wins in four of the last five seasons, compared to Lillard who has never averaged more than 3.3 defensive win shares.
During that span, the only time Russ averaged less than four defensive win shares was this season, and he’s lapped Lillard by the same data this year. To add color to that, Russ has averaged 2.3 defensive win shares this season, compared to Lillard who has averaged .7. Over the eight years in which Lillard has been in the NBA he’s had a total of 14.6 defensive win shares, compared to Russ who has had 29.8 during that same span.
We could even go further into the defensive box plus minus metric, which also sways heavily in Westbrook’s favor. In fact, Lillard has been in the negative in six of the eight years he’s been in the league, including each of the last two seasons.
By comparison, Russ has only been in the negative once in the last seven years, which was this season. And this season, Russ has still fared better than Lillard in the defensive box plus minus category.
Even if we key on the steals numbers, which isn’t exactly the best method of evaluating defense because it only reflects playing the passing lanes, Russ laps Lillard. Dating back to the 2012-13 season, which is when Lillard entered the league, Russ has had 1,045 steals compared to Lillard’s 592.
In each of those seasons, Russ had more steals than Lillard. Buy and large, the overwhelming defensive data sways in favor of the Houston Rockets’ guard.
Advantage: Russell Westbrook