Damian Lillard is dynamic. Damian Lillard is clutch. Damian Lillard is one of the fast rising stars of the NBA.
Damian Lillard is not a good defender. Actually, that may be too kind.
If the Portland Trail Blazers are going to take a step forward next season from 54 wins and the second round of the playoffs, it’s going to be because their pedestrian defense becomes better.
That has to start with Lillard, according to Hall of Famer and former shut down defender Gary Payton, speaking with Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com.
“He can be like Patrick Beverley [of the Houston Rockets] if he wants to, but that’s a mindset,” Payton told CSNNW.com Thursday night at American AirlinesArena. “I think Damian has to be willing and ready to play that type of way. Right now, he’s scoring so easily and he’s so good at the offensive end, he doesn’t have to think about defense. He doesn’t have to think about it because he knows he can outscore somebody.
“He can have 35 [points] when he wants to and that’s where the game is going right now. But we have to get that out his mindset. If he wants to be a two-way guard and have his name in a legacy for being that way, he has to step it up on the defensive end.”
Payton says he and Lillard — both Oakland natives — talked about working out together and focusing on defense last summer, but their schedules never meshed.
However a workout is not the answer, according to The Glove. Defense at the NBA level is about effort and desire more than anything else, he said.
“It’s all about your mentality. You can’t teach nobody nothing about good defense,” Payton says. “All you can do is if you have good hands, good feet and you get the mindset that you’re going to sit down and lock somebody up. You have to want to learn how to do it and watch yourself do it. That’s when you become good. I can’t go out there and say, ‘Okay, move your feet, do this, move this, move your hands right there.’ No, you have to have instincts with the game. It’s a mentality. Defense just isn’t a part of our game nowadays.”
It’s needs to be for Lillard if Portland is going to take the next step and try to challenge the elite teams in a deep Western Conference.