In one of the final games of the World Basketball Festival in New York City, Nicolas Batum and the rest of the French national team managed to hang with Team USA for two quarters before depth and talent took over, resulting in an 86-55 victory for the United States. Neither team looked great, but both have time to improve before the World Championships in Turkey at the end of the month.
Batum, who has reportedly been battling a case of the flu that kept him out of France’s previous game against Canada, looked like the second best player on the French roster behind Boris Diaw (no jokes). He finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and one legit dunk over Tyson Chandler.
Nic also seemed like the only guy on the French squad who was even slightly interested in playing during a second half that saw the United States outscore France 47-25. I guess that it might be hard as a player to get thoroughly beaten up when you’re country’s best players are all watching from the stands, as was the case for the French with Tony Parker, Ronni Turiaf and Joakim Noah all watching from the stands of Madison Square Garden. With those three on the sidelines, along with Mickael Pietrus and Rodrigue Beaubois, both of whom are nursing injuries, the chance of the French medaling at the World Championships, let along winning the whole thing, are slim to none. While that might be a bummer to you Francophone’s out there, it’s not such bad news for the Trail Blazers and their fans.
Batum played a major role in France’s EuroBasket run last summer and it showed when he got back to Portland (at least after that three-month, surgery-induced hiatus). He was more confident, aggressive. His shot and swagger had improved, at that was playing alongside the best the French have to offer, including Parker and Turiaf. With most of France’s NBA talent staying at home, this summer might be the best opportunity for Batum to take another step forward. He’s not a captain – those honors went to Diaw and Florent Pietrus – but he is arguably the best player on the team and now has some solid senior national team competition under his belt.
If nothing else, Batum will get some practice during the World Championships playing shooting guard. He started at the two for Les Bleus during Sunday’s friendly and figures to do the same throughout the tournament. His ball handling looked improved (despite five turnovers), though it’s foolhardy to draw too many conclusions from one game against some of the best players in the world. Not logging a single assist is a bit alarming, but dimes can be a bit hard to come by when your team only makes 22 of 63 attempts.
Of course things could go south for Batum at the Worlds. He, along with Diaw, will most likely be the focus of every team’s game plan, which could be frustrating for a young player going up against the old men of international basketball. Other teams are going to try to play physical with the French, increasing the chance of injury for Batum, which is the worst-case scenario if you’re a Trail Blazer fan. But if he can stay healthy, having the opportunity to play extended minutes this summer against talented and varied international competition could yield huge dividends come training camp.