Last season was a grind for Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who led the NBA in minutes played.
Bringing in re-enforcements for last season’s rookie of the year was a top offseason priority for General Manager Neil Olshey.
As a result, Olshey brought in two veterans who will be relied upon for more than their on-court contributions.
Mo Williams, entering his 11th season, and Earl Watson, entering his 13th season, are sharing their wisdom with Lillard.
“It’s his second year in the league, I was still trying to find myself,” Williams said. “He’s beyond where I was at year two. So, the things I’ve learned from guys like CP (Chris Paul), LeBron, playing with those guys, I give him tips and things that I’ve learned personally.”
Lillard and Williams knew each other before Williams signed with the Blazers. After Lillard heard about the signing, they “started texting right away.”
Watson is known around the league as a good defender, team player and leader. Sharing is wisdom is nothing new for him.
“I’ve always helped players everywhere I’ve been, especially young players,” Watson said. “And over the years, the amazing coaches I’ve played for and the people I’ve been around my entire life. (I want to) teach him everything that they gave to me.”
Terry Stotts said that “experience is a hard thing to quantify.” Watson, Williams and forward Dorell Wright, entering his 10th season, can teach younger players because they’ve been through almost every situation before.
The veterans are teaching Lillard to be more physical on defense.
“They’ve been telling me how strong I am just from playing against me,” Lillard said. “So instead of guarding people and using that strength up top, just use it lower into their legs and try to wear them down over the course of a game. Send them in the direction or what part of the floor I want them to go to.”
To establish himself physically, Lillard isn’t worried if he picks up a few fouls. He got five fouls in the preseason opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, which saw him matched against Chris Paul.
“I wanted to have more of a presence defensively,” Lillard said. “So a couple of times, I reached for the ball they called a foul. I put my forearm on him, they called a foul. Some of them I disagreed with. If that means I’ll get a couple of fouls, so be it.”
Another reinforcement for Lillard, first-round draft pick CJ McCollum, is out indefinitely after breaking his foot this week. Therefore, Watson will be on the floor more than previously expected. The Blazers will likely need him as a third point guard to play spot minutes.
Williams, dealing with a sprained ankle, is not rushing the process of getting back to full health saying that his goal is the “end game,” which for the Trail Blazers is, making the playoffs. Watson says that the Trail Blazers are starting from scratch and both he and Williams stressed the importance of practice to get better.
However, Watson’s wisdom provides a cold truth for the young Trail Blazers.
“In this league no one cares about your process,” Watson said. “Everyone goes on the court and their job is to destroy you. So we have to keep that in mind, too, and come out and play with an edge as well.”