Gary Payton is a legend in the Northwest. He is the last glowing image of Oregon State basketball success on the big stage. He’s half of the tandem – along with Shawn Kemp – that lives on as the torchbearers of a forlorn franchise.
Now, he has a chance to extend his influence to Portland Trail Blazer faithful.
According to The Oregonian’s Jason Quick, Payton wants to help Damian Lillard become a better defender. Nearly everyone – Lillard included – would agree the unanimous Rookie of the Year can improve on that end of the court. Undoubtedly learning tricks of the trade from the only point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year will pay dividends for the Blazers’ franchise point guard.
But just how much can offseason defensive sessions with Payton improve Lillard’s D?
The biggest adjustment Lillard will need to make will be between the ears. Rather than working on any specific drills, he needs to develop the mindset of a stopper. He needs Payton to convince him that on any given night, Lillard can make the opposing point guard’s life a living hell.
Anyone who has played high school or even middle school basketball has heard the coachspeak, “defense is desire.” And it’s true. In order to be a top-notch defender, you don’t need to possess much more than athleticism and the will to show your opponent that you’re better than him on every possession.
Lillard has the size. He has the quicks. He’s strong enough and he’s smart enough. There’s really no reason he can’t be an elite defender.
This year, one might argue, it would have been detrimental to the team for Lillard to expend all of his energy on the defensive end of the court. But that’s part of being an elite defender: Having the stamina to lock up your man on one end of the court and then break him down on the other end.
In the NBA’s glory days, you didn’t see guys like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird looking for soft assignments on defense so they could save their energy for the other half of the game. Instead they sought out the challenge of shutting down the other team’s biggest offensive weapon. They were able to do that because they worked tirelessly in the offseason to make sure they could handle those assignments for 82 regular season games and then several more games in the playoffs.
That’s what Lillard needs to do. Blazer fans hope that’s what Payton instills in Lillard. There are only so many tips about where your feet need to be or how to funnel a penetrator toward a shot blocker that The Glove can teach Lillard.
But if he can teach him how to prepare to be a great defender – both in the offseason and on a nightly basis during the season – then Payton will have made a major contribution to Portland.
Kyle Boggs is on Twitter. Follow him at @KyleKBoggs