An untethered Nicolas Batum, as opponents are learning, is dangerous. During 4 seasons playing for former Portland Trail Blazers Coach Nate McMillan, Batum made steady progress. Joining the Blazers as a 19-year-old, Batum increased his scoring from 5.4 ppg his rookie season to 13.9 ppg during the 2011-2012 season. As Batum’s game matured, Nate McMillan’s utilization of the budding star from France did not. McMillan’s death slog isolation offense often found Batum positioned in the corners of the court waiting for a spot up three. This role in the offense seemed to frustrate Batum and for good reason. McMillan was micro-managing him. This season in Terry Stotts’ free flowing motion offense, Batum is unleashed and his potential is being realized.
For his steady progress and loads of potential, the 23-year Batum was rewarded handsomely in the offseason. After a bidding war ensued between the Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Batum inked a 4 year, $45 million deal to remain in Portland. These types of contracts come with expectations and thus far Batum is meeting them. After 9 games, Batum is filling out the stat sheet on both offense and defense. On offense he is averaging 20.8 ppg, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. On defense, which he has long been known as a lock down defender, he is averaging 1.3 blocks, and 2.3 steals per game.
Statistics are impressive, but big numbers alone do not always translate into victories. What is most notable about Batum’s play in this young season is his developing leadership and his ability to take over games. Against the Houston Rockets at the Rose Garden on Friday, November 16th, Batum led a 3rd quarter comeback that was not only impressive but a lot of fun to watch. He did everything but sell popcorn. Batum drained deep three point shots with ease. At one point he scored 11 consecutive points in route to scoring 35, tying his career best. On defense he was amazing. Batum’s length and knack for timing blocks on opponent’s shots is impeccable. He tallied 5 blocks versus the Rockets, including a late game snub of a James Harden drive to the hoop. It is worth noting that he did all this with a bit of swagger. A humble confidence he reveals in sly jaunty smirks.
As a team, the Blazers have a core collection of young talented players. For Nicolas Batum, he is young, but this is his fifth year in the league. It is safe to say his career is ascending. It seems what Blazer fans are witnessing is a cross roads for a budding young team and a young star. With this a brand of basketball is ensuing that is exciting and electrifying. A maturing young team and a rising star in Nicolas Batum, Rip City should be abuzz for many years to come.
Patrick Hughes is on Twitter. Follow him at @phughespdx