Damian Lillard has become one of the fastest rising stars in the NBA. Lillard along with LaMarcus Aldridge have transformed the Blazers into a threat in the Western Conference.
Even though Lillard has shown that he is one of the better players in the league, former NBA All-Star, Hall of Famer and fellow Oakland native Gary Payton says that Lillard must become a better defender to make his team better and become an elite player.
“He can be like Patrick Beverley [of the Houston Rockets] if he wants to, but that’s a mindset,” Payton told Chris Haynes of 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 and Lillard were supposed to workout together last summer but their scheduled didn't vibe. Payton in dogging Lillard, he just wants to see him be one of the best and perhaps get his team to a championship level. Payton feels that being an elite level defender is a state of mind more than scheduling workouts.
“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.”
“Just like John Stockton, he was a two-way guard. He played defense and he played offense and he went into the Hall of Fame averaging 12 points and 12 assists. So that’s just the way people have to do it in my opinion. That’s the way I came up playing against basketball players like that."
If Lillard is going to get tips from anyone defensively why not from one of the better defenders that played the game. Payton has thrown down a challenge to Lillard but not in a negative way. Payton knows there are more ways to impact a game.
“I think Damian has the potential to be a dominant defender and I think he wants that because he’s a smart basketball player and he wants to get better every year,” he said. “I think he’s going to go in and see the way he’s not stopping guards that he should be stopping. There’s no way that you can stop guards in the NBA right now anyways with the rules. All you can do is contain them and if you can contain them, you’ll disrupt their rhythm. I’m hopeful he’ll get it.”
Lillard isn't terrible but the series against the San Antonio Spurs showed that he needs to be able to contain players like Tony Parker in order to become a championship team instead of facing first or second round playoff exits.