OAKLAND -- Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers second-year star, has the makings of the next great point guard from Oakland.
His numbers at this stage stack up with Hall of Famer Gary Payton and future inductee Jason Kidd. He has a Rookie of the Year trophy on his shelf and could end up with an All-Star selection this week. He already has a reputation as one of the most explosive and clutch guards in the NBA.
But it is too early to place him on the mantel with the Oakland legends. So says his father.
"He's got a long way to go," Houston Lillard said. "He's not there yet."
Lillard's going to get there. Not just because he has a smooth outside shot, with range that rivals anyone in the league. Not because on top of that he is aggressive and creative at getting to the basket.
But Lillard also has the mental makeup to pair with his talent. He has the rare ability to juggle confidence and humility.
The former drives him to impose his will, gives him the fortitude to take the respect he is sure he deserves. In yesteryear, it was simply known as pride. These days, they call it swag.
The latter keeps him working on his game. Keeps him appreciative of his burgeoning stardom. After Sunday's loss to the host Warriors, in which he needed 16 shots to get 16 points, he spent time with his usually large throng of family and friends. Lillard supporters are known for taking over an entire section when he comes home. Many of them got pictures and autographs and hugs.
They usually get a show as well, but Lillard was outshined this day by Stephen Curry. In the latest installment of what is sure to be an excellent rivalry, Curry went off for 38 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in less than 35 minutes.
Lillard struggled his last time here as well, back in November, but came alive in the third quarter with a couple of big 3-pointers as Portland took over the game and eventually won. He has yet to top his first performance at Oracle Arena as a pro, dropping 37 points on the Warriors, going on a second-half outburst to nearly steal one from Golden State.
Like Curry, Lillard is already known as one of the league's best closers. He is sixth in the NBA in total fourth-quarter points, punctuated by two game-winners this season.
He has a knack for performing best in the clutch. He's comfortable when the stakes are highest, a trait developed by the city whose name he has tattooed across his chest.
"He's been that way since about the eighth grade," Lillard's dad recalled. "I tell him all the time to just be natural and regular. There is nothing to be scared of on the basketball court."
Certainly, Lillard had a lot more to be afraid of growing up in Brookfield, a neighborhood close enough to the Coliseum to hear the roars. He's witnessed and experienced some things that make basketball -- even the pressure of it all -- a comforting escape.
One night as a junior in high school, he was near Eastmont Mall. The Oakland High basketball star was robbed while minding his own business. They took his smartphone and the cash he had in his pocket. And he was relieved.
"That's something to be scared of," his father said.
In hindsight, it's clear to see how Lillard has been groomed for this mantle as Oakland's next. He was just close enough to the drama and danger to experience its effects but still had the family structure to get through it.
He's had his talents honed since he started showing glimmers of a real future. The pressure of Oakland Athletic League basketball -- with only six schools, every opponent is a hated rival -- fostered the flair to Lillard's game. His AAU coach with the Oakland Rebels, sensing he had something special, never let Lillard coast.
Even as a kid, his toughness was crafted by playing against bigger, older types. Mostly against his older brother, Houston Jr., and cousins "Jonathan and Deuce" -- none of whom took it easy on him, whether they were on the blacktop or using a milk crate affixed to the telephone pole by his grandmother's house.
Still, despite his obvious talent, he remained unheralded. He wound up having to go to Utah to play college ball as Weber State was the only college pining to get him. Which worked out perfectly for Lillard as he got three full years of experience carrying the load and sculpting the chip on his shoulder.
He has the talent. But it's those things, the intangibles, that separate the good from the great, that put Lillard in line to join the likes of Payton, Kidd and Brian Shaw in Oakland lore. He will get there.
The first two NBA seasons for Damian Lillard (top) have been on par with fellow Oakland point guards and future Hall of Famers Gary Payton (middle) and Jason Kidd. Here are Kidd's and Payton's statistics through two seasons, and Lillard's career stats entering Sunday:
Jason Kidd 1994-95 1995-96
Points 11.7 16.6
Assists 7.7 9.7
Rebounds 5.4 6.8
Gary Payton 1990-91 1991-92
Points 7.2 9.4
Assists 6.4 6.2
Rebounds 3.0 3.6
Damian Lillard 2012-13 2013-14
Points 19.0 20.8
Assists 6.5 5.7
Rebounds 3.1 3.6