Originally posted on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 5/14/13
ROY + HOF = Good things for Rip City Damian Lillard is the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year. He’s a dynamic scorer, a solid floor general and a player who can impact the box score in a number of different categories. The one area where Damian Lillard has yet to establish himself for the Portland Trail Blazers is defense, and that’s where Gary Payton enters the picture.    According to The Oregonian’s Jason Quick, Lillard plans on working with the Sonics‘ Payton on his defensive game over the summer. The rookie point guard has heard the murmurs about his productivity on that side of the floor, and he’s ready to add a whole new dynamic to his already-impressive skill set. Gary Payton is arguably the best defensive point guard of all time. (Photo: Getty Images) Why Payton? It’s become a trend for NBA players to use their offseasons to train with former superstars. Most popularly, Hakeem Olajuwon has taken players such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Amar’e Stoudemire under his wing, and we’ve seen noticeable improvements in a number of cases. In the circumstance of Lillard, Payton should be the perfect mentor. The Blazers’ point guard needs a defensive-minded player to help mold his game, and who better to take charge than the player known as “The Glove” throughout his illustrious career? Aside from the on-the-court benefits, Payton has the potential to become something of a life coach for the youngster in Portland. The former point guard, who shares the same agents as Lillard, hails from the same city as Portland’s franchise player. As two East Oakland natives, they can relate to one another in ways that other coaches simply wouldn’t be able to at this stage in the game. Payton even spent the majority of his basketball career in the great Northwest, which is a place Lillard hopes to remain for years to come. What Can He Improve? For as good as Lillard’s vision is on offense, he often times found himself out of position when it came to defense. Payton needs to pick the point guard’s brain and teach him not only how to improve his defensive position, but how to get to the right spot on the floor in half-court sets. Lillard is someone who can play quickly with the ball in his hands, but he needs to learn to do the same on defense. The NBA has become a strict league when it comes to hand checking on the perimeter, and seeing as holding is no longer an option, he has to improve his lateral quickness. Damian Lillard use Gary Payton for a defensive tune-up this summer. (Photo: Noah Graham/Getty) One area where Lillard showed he can make a difference is in transition. The 6’3” guard wasn’t afraid to body up and use his quick hands to strip the ball free, and if there’s any point guard in history who can take those same characteristics and translate them to the half-court game, it’s Payton. What Can We Expect? When the Blazers drafted Lillard in 2012, they acquired a player who brought not just production, but swag to a team that desperately needed an edge. That confidence is clear on offense, and now it’s time to see that same kind of intensity on the defensive side of the court. According to Quick, Payton believes that Lillard can become “the best ever to come out of the California area.” That, of course, is if the youngster can become a better defender throughout his career. Should we expect Lillard to be a lock-down stopper in Game 1 of the 2013-14 season? Not likely. Defense takes time to learn at the most elite level, and not even Payton can make someone an All-NBA defender right away. That being said, learning the skills and gaining the mindset to be great can have an immediate impact. If Lillard can learn how to body up a player on the perimeter without using his hands, it will be a big step in the right direction. The confidence that comes with the new skill set will be a huge factor in his success, and if all goes according to plan, it will be positive sight for fans to see in Rip City. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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