sent his Oakland (Calif.)
High School coach Orlando Watkins a wish list of what he wanted from his sophomore NBA season with the Trailblazers.
Shoot higher percentages, rebound better, score a little more, be a better leader.
Lillard set the bar awfully high with his Rookie of the Year season when he ranked first among first-year players in points (19.0 per game), assists (6.5) and minutes (38.6).
But Watkins has checked everything off the list thus far.
"Everything he put on the list he's improved," Watkins said.
The most important one, however, has yet to be determined. But it appears a lock.
"Make the playoffs," Watkins said.
Due largely to Lillard's clutch point guard play, the Trailblazers are 26-9, one game out from the best record in the Western Conference.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound 23-year-old is averaging 21.9 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.
He's coming off a career-high 41 points in a 123-119 loss Tuesday to Sacramento when he scored a franchise-record 26 in the fourth quarter, including a remarkable 14-point spurt in less than a minute.
That's not a misprint.
Down 117-105 with 1:12 left, Lillard made three 3-pointers, a fast-break layup and three free throws to cut the lead to 121-119 with 16.5 ticks left. From there, the Kings held on.
"The clock was moving very, very slow," Kings coach Michael Malone told reporters afterward. "Damian just kept on coming."
Said Lillard: "Once I make a few, I can get going."
That's an understatement.
The last five games, he's really had it going, scoring at a 26.4 clip. For the season, he's second in the league in 3-pointers made (116), one behind the Warriors' Klay Thompson. Making more 3s was one of his big goals Watkins said.
"He's one of those kids who has always been very focused and very driven," Watkins said. "When other kids were out partying, Damian was working on his dribbling or jump shot."
Lillard averaged 22.4 points and 5.2 assists per game his senior season at Oakland after averaging 19.4 points as a junior. He transferred after his sophomore season from local private school St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda)
, the same school that produced Jason Kidd.
Back then Watkins wouldn't have predicted his prized pupil to be Rookie Player of the Year — not even a NBA player — but he knew "that he'd make money playing basketball."
More importantly, Watkins said: "He wanted to be an NBA player. And that gave him a chance. … He was built to want to be the best. Awards have never been important. But he always has played with a little chip like he wanted to be better than what most people thought."
He received only mid-major college offers, which Watkins said rarely bothered Lillard.
"He did tell me once when he was a senior he thought Cal should have recruited him," Watkins said. "I told him he wouldn't want to play for Ben Braun anyway, that he should go to a place where he felt wanted and could make him a better guard."
Oakland graduate Ayinde Ubaka played for Braun at Cal, and according to Watkins, didn't get better.
Lillard flourished with coach Randy Rahe at Weber State, where he led the nation most of his redshirt junior season in scoring and finished at 24.5 points per game. That vaulted him to the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
"In his freshman year in college, I told my assistant coaches he had a chance to get to the NBA," Watkins said. "When he was a sophomore, I said he had a shot to get drafted the first day. When he got hurt as a junior (sat out with a foot injury), I knew that would be the best thing for him. He had a chance to work on his game that year and get stronger.
"After his junior year and seeing what he was doing in the Pro-Ams, it was pretty obvious he was going to be a lottery pick."
The current Oakland squad hits the jackpot when it receives large shipments from Lillard. He hooks the team up with shoes, traveling bags, practice jerseys and warm-up suits. The entire Oakland Wildcats varsity team will attend the Trailblazers' game when they travel to Oakland later this season, as they did last year.
"He looks out for our kids and hasn't forgot where he came from," Watkins said. "He's a great role model."
Not just for high school kids, says Portland coach Terry Stotts.
"He's a competitor and at no time does he ever think he's out of a game," he told reporters after Tuesday's game. "He's done that a lot in the two years he's been here. He's a special player."
Oakland (6-6) likely doesn't have any players of Lillard's caliber on its current team. But Watkins has some potential college players.
The team's leading scorer is Keith Hunter
at 14.0 points per game, followed by Jamaliah Brown
(13.5) and Jeremi Hanks
(10.3), a 6-3 sophomore with plenty of upside. Joshua Tesfamariam
is another college prospect.
Without a player taller than 6-3, the Wildcats rely on quickness, defense and shooting.
"We need to play smarter and the guys are doing more of that," Watkins said. "We're 6-6, so predictably we've been up and down. The (Oakland Athletic League) has never been more even, so we definitely have a shot to win the title."