Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are two of the most electrifying players to see on an NBA court. They’re both outstanding scoring guards who can keep up with the best the league has to offer. It’s not far-fetched to say that both of them are competing for the title of being the best point guard in the NBA.
These two play very similar games, so it’s easy to ask one certain question: which one is the better baller?
This piece will tackle multiple facets of their game and figure out which player among the two is better. While a lot of things can change moving forward, there’s more than enough of a sample size to at least make a good guess right now.
A quick look at the hard stats will tell you that both of these players play very similar games. They have similar stat lines, so it can be hard to distinguish between the two.
Lillard has career averages of 24.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game with shooting splits of 43.6%/37.1%/88.9%. Meanwhile, Irving is at 22.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game with splits of 46.6%/39.0%/87.7%. Irving’s shooting percentages look slightly better, but Lillard’s career true shooting percentage is a tick higher (57.8% to 57.2%) because he shoots more 3-pointer and free throws.
Lillard separated himself a bit this year in the numbers category, especially with Irving hurting and only playing 20 games. Dame was averaging 28.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game before the hiatus. His 61.9% true shooting mark would be a career best. Kyrie was at 27.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game before his season ended due to shoulder surgery. His true shooting percentage sat at a stellar 59.5% when he went down.
Both players have their share of moments where they pulled off crazy shots during a game’s waning seconds. They have built their careers on making big-time shots when it matters most.
Cavs fans will forever be thankful for Kyrie Irving making The Shot. During Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he stepped up to the plate and managed to sink a step-back 3-point shot against Stephen Curry’s defensive effort to help end Cleveland’s championship drought. Kyrie will forever be a part of Cavs lore just for that:
Meanwhile, Lillard has made several incredible buzzer-beaters in his career. He made the one against the Houston Rockets in 2014 to end their season in the playoffs, as well as the one that virtually ended Russell Westbrook’s time in Oklahoma City:
There are only a few men as ice cold as Lillard is down the stretch, which is why the fourth quarter is often referred to as “Dame Time.”
It would be easy to think that Kyrie has Dame handily beat in this category. After all, Irving has been in the spotlight for longer than Lillard has been. However, it’s closer than you may think.
Lillard has played in six playoff series, two more than Irving, who missed one Boston Celtics playoff run due to injury. Moreover, Dame did it without an overpowering teammate in LeBron James. Sure, Irving does have that ring on his finger, but Lillard has been named All-NBA (four) more times than the Nets guard (two). Dame also has a First-Team All-NBA honor to his name, something Kyrie has yet to achieve. Irving has been in six All-Star games, while Lillard has suited up for five.
Both players won Rookie of the Year, with Kyrie winning in 2012 and Dame winning it a year later.
There’s really not too much separating the two here.
Mentality and Leadership
While both are great players, this department is where Lillard clearly has Irving beat.
A quick look at Kyrie’s career will tell you he’s a lot to deal with. He left Cleveland because he wanted to lead his own team. However, the chemistry among the Boston Celtics took a sharp decline after Irving came into the picture. He often aired out the team’s dirty laundry, much to some of the players’ dismay. There have also been rumors about Kyrie’s role in Kenny Atkinson’s firing in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, Dame is a consummate professional. He’s at the forefront of recruiting drives by the team to star free agents. He has said that he will remain in Portland and retire a Blazer if it’s up to him. You rarely hear issues about his leadership from his teammates. His drive and hunger are also some of his greatest assets. If Lillard had the caliber of teammates Kyrie has enjoyed, there’s a good chance he would have a ring.
It’s Dame Time
It’s a tight race since both of them are great NBA players. However, basketball is a team sport. As great as Irving is as an individual baller, Lillard is a better leader and locker room fit than Irving. Dame has arguably passed Kyrie on the court as well, so the Blazers star gets the nod overall.