Gary Payton challenges Damian Lillard to become a better defender

Gary Payton challenges Damian Lillard to become a better defender
June 13, 2014, 8:45 am
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Payton's advice to Lillard on D warranted?

MIAMI – If Damian Lillard wishes to take his game to extraordinary heights, Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton believes that in order to do so the Portland Trail Blazers’ franchise point guard must become serious about his defense.

And if he is serious about it, Payton suggests that he take the approach of one of Lillard’s rivals, one whom he has some history with, to say the least.

“He can be like Patrick Beverley [of the Houston Rockets] if he wants to, but that’s a mindset,” Payton told 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.”

The Glove is never shy about telling you what he thinks. To be fair, Lillard’s defense has improved and his development in that area is something that he takes very seriously. The team’s defensive scheme had a part to play, too.

Payton was supposed to work with Lillard on his defense last summer, but his obligations as an analyst for FOX Sports 1 along with Lillard’s busy offseason did not allow for each of their schedules to align. Who better to learn from than Payton on how to become a better defender? You would think that getting in the gym with a nine-time All-NBA Defensive First Teamer would do the trick.

However, Payton argues it’s not about going through defensive workout sessions. He says it’s about having a mindset that you’re going to stop your opponent from scoring each possession down.

“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.”

Lillard is getting challenged. There’s no other way to put it. Payton, being his candid and uncensored self, can do that. Both are from Oakland, Calif. and they share the same agents. He wants to see Lillard reach his maximum potential. He has nothing but love for the kid.

Maybe that’s why Payton is being so straightforward. He wants to see if Lillard will accept the challenge. But then again, when is G.P. not straightforward?

“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.

“Kids today are growing up on PlayStation and want to score. My mentality, when I played, if I had 25, I’m trying to figure a way to make my dude have 10 or 12 because then I’ll win the game. I’ll win by 15 or 16 more points. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s the mentality Damian has to have.”

Payton says Lillard is actually in the Bay Area working out with his son, Gary Payton II, who will suit up for the Oregon State Beavers next season. As soon as The NBA Finals concludes, Payton will join them and he expects to spend a few days with Lillard in the gym to tighten some things up.

No matter how Payton comes off, he’s in Lillard’s corner, and he believes the kid will eventually figure it out.

“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.”