Nicolas Batum is the final and most important international Blazer on the team. He has been with the Blazers since he was 18. Four games into his rookie year, Batum replaced Travis Outlaw as the starter and never looked back. Each year since coming to Portland he has improved in every facet of his game.
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His international resume is one of the most impressive of any player I’ve ever seen. Batum won the 2004 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship with France. Then he was the MVP for the gold medal French team from the 2006 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship. In 2011, he helped the French National team win a silver medal in FIBA EuroBasket. And then in 2013 he pushed France to a gold medal in FIBA EuroBasket.
After being a factor his first season with the Blazers Batum missed the first 45 games because of that bum shoulder. A little over a month after being back from the injury, Batum scored 30+ for the first time in his career; he had 31 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves remembered that performance when they tried to snag Batum two summers ago.
After signing his big deal to stay in Portland in the summer of 2012, Batum scored a career high 35 points in a win over the Rockets. In the tight win over New Orleans later that season, he became the 15th player EVER to have a “five-by-five”. Batum had 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks and 5 steals.
As I mentioned last year Batum had his best year in almost every offensive category. He averaged a career high 14.3 points a game. He pulled down 5.6 rebounds a game and dished out 4.9 assists a game. He also shot a career best 84.8% from the free throw line. He also played the most minutes he’s ever played in 38.5 a game.
Stats aside, Batum brings a different kind of leadership to the team. He isn’t the longest tenured Blazer, that title belongs to L.A. However, even at just 24, Batum has been a Blazer for five years. He is and will be the starting small forward for many years to come. As long as the team and ownership keeps paying him, he’ll be a Blazer for a long time.
Batum is the best defender the Blazers have and he will need to continue that trend as long as he is here. His long, lanky frame makes him perfect to cover anyone from point guard all the way to under-sized power forwards. He has also bulked up the last couple years so that he can’t be pushed around as much as he was in his first couple years with Portland.
His scoring has obviously improved. Although he had a lower percentage for three pointers made, he also shot more threes than he ever has with the Blazers. He also made more than he ever has with Portland. The defense from the wings is some of the best in the NBA, the Blazers just don’t get any credit nationally. However, with Batum and Wesley Matthews able to lock up on any player on the court, it makes the Blazers defensive strategy a little easier for coach Terry Stotts.
Batum has become one of the Blazers biggest all-around weapons. What makes him better than Matthews is Batum can still lock down an opponent and score 15-20 points a game. Batum can slide out to the wings for threes, bang down on the block for post ups, sling assists, battle for rebounds and run in the open floor. I didn’t even list all the things he can do, Batum is easily the most versatile player the Blazers have and they need to use him accordingly.
I expect Batum to do what he has done the past five years, improve. He can do better at hitting threes, he can rebound a little more, but the biggest thing is that he continues to and becomes even better at locking down opposing players. Stotts is preaching defense this year because the team seems to have a good grasp on the offense. Out of 30 NBA teams the Blazers were 21st in points allowed and 24th in rebounding a game. With a legitimate center in Robin Lopez, L.A. still occupying the block and Batum swarming in with his length, rebounds should be an easier albeit still difficult task.
The Blazers need solid and consistent play out of Batum because of how inconsistent Matthews has been over the last couple years. However, with a (somewhat) stacked starting five, the Blazers have the making of a deep team ready and excited to make a playoff run. Look for Batum to continue his improvement and look for that to increase the Blazers scoring, rebounding and win totals.