LAS VEGAS – After getting the jitters out of the way on Day 1 of Team USA training camp on Monday, today we saw a much more aggressive and comfortable Damian Lillard.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ all-star point guard picked his spots on offense, capitalizing off of open looks while also setting up teammates. He had a far better shooting performance compared to yesterday’s session.
But the spike in his play wasn’t so much on the offensive end. It was his full-court defense that stood out. All afternoon he was picking up opposing point guards from one end of the court to the other. Poor Utah’s Trey Burke didn’t stand a chance with Lillard hounding him like that. It was a sight to see.
That style of play is reminiscent of another well-respected no-nonsense player being longtime defensive specialist Matt Barnes of the Los Angeles Clippers. Lillard’s defensive approach had to have come from somewhere.
Turns out, Barnes had something to do with it, calling Lillard last night and issuing some words of advice on ways to stand out from the rest of the 20-or-so prospects challenging for a spot. He spoke; Lillard listened and put it into action.
“He just called and told me that everybody knows that I can shoot the ball and make plays, but he said he knows that I can defend too,” Lillard recalled with CSNNW.com of their conversation. “He said just go out there and be a dog and pick up full-court.
“And he was right. I need to come out here and show that I can lock up full-court, which I can do with my responsibilities being less than what it would be with the Trail Blazers. That’s my mindset.”
And it showed. Lillard could have been arrested and charged for harassment today. He was that dominant defensively.
Every successful team needs that hound, someone willing to do the dirty work that won’t appear on highlight reels. Lillard is taking the necessary, unpopular, path towards cracking the 12-man roster that’s headed for Spain to compete in the World Cup.
The strong depth at point guard is well documented. But if there’s a will, there’s a way. Lillard might have discovered his way.
“I know defense is what’s going to give me a chance,” Lillard said. “I’m going to score because I’m going to have to score too, but I think the way I’m going to show that I should be a part of this team is picking guys up defensively.
“I’m trying to wear guys out. I doubt I would be on the floor for longer than five minutes at a time and I have to be able to go out there and D-up, make plays, make shots. This is what I have to do.”