Lillard's defense improving immensely during Team USA mini camp

Lillard's defense improving immensely during Team USA mini camp
July 23, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Team USA - Lillard recaps Day 2 plus coach's advice

LAS VEGAS – On Tuesday the media was allowed access to watch about 85 percent of Team USA's mini camp session, which was Day 2.

In that time, it was pretty clear who were the two best point guards of the day – Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.

Irving is simply on another planet right now and that isn't anything new to report. His ability to turn it on and off was a pleasure to watch.

Lillard is doing an excellent job of making his presence felt on both ends of the floor. Yes, he was consistently knocking down the outside shot and coming off the pick-and-rolls only to let it fly and watch it go through the net.

We knew he could do those things, but his defense is what stood out.

For the second consecutive day, Lillard was featured as his team's off-guard, meaning he had to guard players two to three inches taller than him. He did more than held his own today.

That's what I'm focusing on, my defense,” Lillard told CSNNW.com. “I want to show them that I can do it all. Not just score the basketball, but play on both sides. Whatever my team needs from me, I want to be able to provide that.”

There was a possession during one of the scrimmages where Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes felt like he had a “mouse in the house” in Lillard guarding him.

His teammates found him in the post. He tried to back Lillard back but was unable to gain ground towards the basket. Lillard ended up forcing Barnes into a tough turnaround jump-shot that clanked off the rim.

Fighting through multiple picks and and pressuring the ball were other improvements you could visibly see in Lillard's game. Lillard hasn't even begun working out with NBA Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton.

So far these improvements have all come from within.

I'm Just paying attention to details and learning how to use certain angles,” Lillard said. “Last season was a learning experience for me. Now I know what I need to work on and I'm just trying to improve at it everyday.”

Lillard says he's expecting to get with Payton for defensive workouts sometime early next month in Oakland, Calif.

Legendary coach John Thompson spoke with the team post-practice and applauded them for making the sacrifice to be here. The summers are vacation time for most NBA players, but these 28 players have volunteered to cut their off-time short for a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country by playing the sport that they love.

It is a sacrifice,” Thompson said. “Players have families and lives outside of basketball. We have to be aware of that. I just commended them for taking this first step to be here. It says a lot about these guys.”

Defense is a sacrifice. It's not the most popular job to do. It's often overlooked. There's really not a stat that can truly reveal its tremendous value, yet it is so important.

Lillard realizes the window that he has. There's a huge crop of talented point guards at this camp. All of them are “The Guy” on their prospective teams. But somebody is going to have to put their egos to the side and get down and dirty.

In the last two days, Lillard has been down...down in a defensive stance, that is, and he doesn't plan on getting out of it unless it's time to put the ball in the basket. He's got the right mindset.

A defensive mindset.

Everybody can score, but everybody can't defend,” he said. “I'm making a concerted effort to get better defensively and I can see it paying off. I want to make it impossible for them to leave me off this team. I'm going to do everything possible to give myself the best opportunity to make this team. And playing defense will help me here and help me during the regular season. I'm happy with my progress, but not content.”