Damian Lillard's rookie season was a revelation. The Portland Trail Blazers found their franchise point guard, someone who can put up points in a hurry, find open looks for others and manage a game like someone ten years his senior. He unanimously won the Rookie of the Year award and upon accepting it vowed to step up his game, become an all-star and lead the Blazers to the playoffs. The most obvious area that needed work? His defense.
Lillard recently revealed that he cringed when he watched tape of himself on the defensive end over the summer, via NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper:
"In my head, I was kind of embarrassed watching myself," Lillard told NBA.com.
"Just to see some of the plays that I could have done a better job on or showed more effort that I gave," he said. "I couldn't believe I was doing that."
"It fuels me, definitely," Lillard said Thursday night at Oracle Arena, where the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors in their exhibition finale, "because people were giving all this credit for what I can do offensively and then they say, ‘He takes a break on defense and he can't guard anybody.' And I know I can guard people. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to. I'm a good athlete, quick, I'm strong. So why wouldn't I be a good defender? It's just a matter of me wanting to do it.
It's a lot to ask a first-year point guard to be great on both sides of the ball, especially while carrying a large scoring load and leading the entire league in minutes. Lillard proved to be one of the league's most promising players last season and this year he has an opportunity to show that he can be more than an offensive dynamo. As well as his experience and film study, the reinforcements that arrived in Portland over the summer should make things easier for Lillard.
The Blazers are looking to improve dramatically after finishing 25th in the league in defensive efficiency last season, per Basketball-Reference. Lillard is planning to be a prominent part of that.