Who’s Better: Damian Lillard Or Deron Williams?

Point guard is the deepest position in the NBA. It’s not even close. Next week we’ll be rolling out our top 100 players, and if we really wanted to, if we didn’t want to divide it evenly (20 players for each position), we’re sure we could include nearly 30 on that list who man the lead guard spot.

Chris Paul. Jrue Holiday. Tony Parker. Damian Lillard. Russell Westbrook. The names go on and on. Then there’s Deron Williams, who since being traded from Utah to the now Brooklyn Nets, has lost some of his standing as one of the NBA’s elite players. That doesn’t make much sense, especially if you watched the way he played during last season’s second half. He’s a monster.

Compare that to Damian Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year who’s quickly established himself as one of those guys you have to circle on your calendar. Both are the leaders of their teams. Both are bigger point guards who love to score. But one is a vet and one is a youngster. In the end, too many office fights meant we had to ask which player is better: Damian Lillard or Deron Williams? We argue. You decide.

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On October 31, 2012, the most talked about team in the nation, the newly formed Los Angeles Lakers, were primed to start the season and show the NBA what they could do. Their opponent: the Portland Trail Blazers, an average franchise who put much of their hopes into their rookie point guard, Damian Lillard.

As the opening minutes rolled by, Lillard dropped a deep three that had everyone wondering if this kid was something special. But this was just the beginning. He finished that night with a stat line that made all the GMs who passed on him turn their heads. With 23 points and 11 assists, this rookie point guard carried his team to an opening night victory. From there, Lillard’s success continued and he eventually garnered enough attention to win Rookie of the Year.

Meanwhile, a point guard on the other side of the country is trying to run things with his team. Deron Williams brought a lot of success to the Utah Jazz but once he made the jump to become a Net, his numbers took a dip. After averaging around 10 assists his last three seasons in Utah, these numbers have declined every season since. The only time this ever intriguing point guard averaged less assists than his time in Brooklyn was his rookie season.

The once dominant point guard left many critics in doubt as to whether he could ever attain superstar status again, and the jury is still out on if he can still play at an elite level. Nonetheless, despite all that, Williams is still a solid player.

This debate between who’s better seems to be a tough one to answer, but most can agree that Lillard’s stock is much higher than Williams’ at the moment. Williams did lead his team to the playoffs last season and Lillard had to watch them from his couch, but the Nets are clearly the superior team to the Trail Blazers. (Speaking of the playoffs, the Nets should not have lost that series to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls last year.) And who receives much of that blame for an early playoff exit? None other than D-Will, who let Nate Robinson smoke him on several occasions during that series.

Lillard, on the other hand, had to put a young team on his back (with the help of LaMarcus Aldridge) and carried much of the scoring load as a rookie point guard. Lillard’s numbers were also more impressive than Williams’ during their rookie seasons. Lillard boasts a 16.45 PER, while scoring 19 points, collecting over six assists and pulling down three rebounds a night. Oh, did I mention he played and started all 82 games of the season? Williams only gathered 10.8 points, 4.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds his rookie year. Now while Williams did post a slightly better PER in the 2012-2013 season, Lillard had a tougher load to carry and a MUCH steeper learning curve. One can only dream how much he’s improved over the summer. Remember, Lillard is still only 23 years old, having had a birthday in early July.

The two point guards will be evaluated heavily this season, but for different reasons. Lillard will be evaluated on avoiding a sophomore slump and improving his team. Williams’ questions for 2013-2014 are a little more troubling. Outside of having a rookie coach in Jason Kidd, the biggest question mark for the Nets’ season is Williams. The team will only go as far as Williams takes it. He has the potential to be great again, but he will have to prove it first. The fact that’s even a question though makes me give the nod to Lillard as the better player.

Keep reading to see the argument for D-Will…

We have officially entered the Golden Age for point guards. Over the course of the last few years no position has received quite the influx of talent that the point guard position has. The question used to be Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams, but partly due to Chris Paul’s complete overtaking of the “Best Active PG Alive” award and the numerous crop of young, talented guards out there, we’ve forgotten just how good Deron Williams is.

Williams is in the midst of his prime; over the past few years he has admittedly hit a rough patch. Injuries to his wrist and then his ankle/foot robbed him of his quickness, and had him playing hurt more often than not. He still managed to average roughly 19.4 points and 8.5 assists a night since coming to the Nets. Think about that for a moment. He nearly averaged a double-double with a bum wrist and ankle. Most guards don’t average those numbers for their career.

The third pick in the 2005 Draft, Williams is a two-time All-NBA Selection, and a three-time All-Star… who somehow wasn’t named to the All-Star Game until his fifth season. Kobe had this to say about that: “It really makes no sense. It shouldn’t be his first time. He should have been here for awhile.” I, for one, have learned that the Black Mamba knows basketball.

Williams has the rare combination of size at 6-3 and 210 pounds, and speed. He has developed a post game so he can body up smaller guards, and at the same time he is quick enough to beat shooting guards, small forwards and slow-footed point guards (sorry Andre Miller, Derek Fisher, and the entire Timberwolves cast) to the hoop. All this athletic ability allows D-Will to do seemingly whatever he chooses against opposing defenders. To make matters worse, much like Chris Paul, he has the unique ability to use his threat as a scorer to get his teammates involved. Williams will spend three quarters dishing the rock to teammates before taking over, if needed, in the game’s final moments. Take a look at this chart courtesy of Bleacher Report:

This shows the top point guard’s point and assists numbers for last season. Williams falls right in the middle. As good as Lillard was last year, is his name anywhere on the list?

Oh, but Lillard is younger! He’ll end up better than Deron! Maybe, but remember Lillard is entering his second year and he’s turning 24 next summer. Williams is going to turn 30 around the same time, already in his ninth year.

Lillard and Williams are similar players in size and their score-first mentality. It’s just Williams is better. Compare Lillard’s statistics (38.6 mpg, 19.0 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.1 rpg, 42.9 shooting percentage, 36.8 3-point percentage) to Williams (36.4 mpg, 18.9 ppg, 7.7 apg, 3.0 rpg, 44.0 shooting percentage, 37.8 3-point percentage) and in the midst of a slumping down year, D-Will still reigns supreme. Williams scores at a higher and more efficient rate and averages more assists than Lillard.

Finally, we can let this season show us who is better. While Lillard is talented, he doesn’t have the overall talent of Deron Williams. With the addition of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (as well as Jason Kidd, who recently said he envisions Williams being among MVP talks this year) into the fold this year, Deron will be surrounded by the most talent of his career. Expect him to remind everyone, once and for all, why he was once in the conversation with the great Chris Paul.

What do you think?

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