Apr 01

Batum Finds Peace, Perspective Off The Bench

By caseyholdahl Posted in: Blazers, NicolasBatum, Thunder
Nicolas Batum wasn't told by Nate McMillan that he would be coming off the bench against the Oklahoma City Thunder until Friday morning, but he already had a suspicion that the wheels which would put Marcus Camby back in the starting lineup were already in motion.

"I knew it was going to happen sometime," said Batum. "In my mind, I knew it was going to happen one time because sometimes teams are so big. The Lakers, (the Thunder), San Antonio, I know sometimes we can get beat inside, so I know maybe it is going to happen. I knew that."

Which is maybe why he didn't take the news all that hard. Then again, maybe it had more to do with this not being the first time Batum's starting spot has been sacrificed for the good of the team. Earlier in the season when Wesley Matthews was promoted to the starting five, Batum pulled an eight-game tour of duty off the bench before being called up to replace Brandon Roy, who would undergo double arthroscopic knee surgery. At the time, the third-year small forward refused to speak ill of the move in public, but privately, he was upset.

But while Batum might not have liked the decision at the time, he realizes in hindsight that it wasn't as important as he once thought.

"The last time I was mad because I used to start," said Batum. "I didn't want to be on the bench. But now I learn from it. I learn from that and now I'm ready because I know I'm going to play anyways. I'm going to be on the court and I'm going to feel the game."

Feel it he did. Batum, coming off what he called his worst game of the season Tuesday night against the Hornets in New Orleans, turned in one of his most aggressive offensive performances of '10-'11, scoring 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting while playing a large role in Portland's 98-91 victory, a victory that decreased the Trail Blazers' magic number to two with seven games to play in the regular season.

"I thought he looked relaxed," said McMillan. "He really came out. When I talked to him this morning, as I told him, we’re going to need you, whether you’re in that starting lineup or not, to play both ends of the floor. I thought he looked a little loose and played a good game tonight.”

That message might not have sunk in back in December when Batum was "demoted" to the bench the first time around, McMillan's words were heeded.

Said Batum: "Talking to Nate this morning said 'Because you come from the bench, you're going to still be the same player for us. You got to play. You've got to be aggresive. We need you on offense and defense.' So he told me 'Don't worry about starting or not, you're going to finish the game.' Like I say, I prefer finish the game. The best player on the court at the end of the game."

That mantra, that finishing the game is more important than starting it, has been a standard McMillan talking point since he got to Portland, and one that he repeated after Friday night's victory.

"Whether we start that lineup or we change it, we got to play," said McMillan. "We got to hoop. Eventually we're going to be small and our smalls got to play bigger, just because we don't have bulk. We have length but we don't have that bulk, those big guys to put out there. We're going to have to play that lineup regardless of whether we start it or bring it off the bench."

McMillan may very well go back to starting Batum before the season is said and done. After all, changes to the starting lineup over the past two years rank right up there with death and taxes as certainties in the Rose City, but Batum, after learning that you don't need to start to be an integral part of a winning effort, is only concerning himself with the big picture: playoffs.

"I want past the first round this year," said Batum. "If I come in the playoff off the bench, I won't think about myself. I think about the team. I want to win. I want to win, so if I come off the bench that's ok. I'm going to do everything I can on the court to win this game."


  1. Great piece Casey. I think a player is lying if they say they don't mind not starting, yet, it is part of the growing pains early in one's career, sometimes, starting, other times not. It's clear that Nic (my fav player and whose jersey I bought over the holidays, my first jersey ever in these 20+ years being a fan) is a key to this team and an important factor in each game - meaning that when he plays well, the team is in good shape in a general. Whether he comes off the bench or starts, his talents are needed on the court. Like he says, it's winning that matters. Whether it is a game-winning 'oop or a big 3 in the 4th, or other plays during the course of the game, he makes a difference. I hope he can finish the season strong and hopefully, once we clinch, he can get himself ready for whatever role Coach Nate has for him in the playoffs.
    -Anees, from Prague

    by Anees on 4/1/2011 11:15 PM
  2. Casey, great read, I agree with aneebaba, All players would love the honor of starting, but in some games Nate has to go with what he has. Coming off the bench, Nate can put him in when needed and against who is needed to be defended.

    You and Mike R discussed Batum being inserted in at the 2 from time to time would be a great line-up as well, because at the moment it seems as Wesley has hit the sophomore wall, and Rudy is only great at home games.

    The main thing is knowing that Nic is not taking this as a demotion, but giving in to experience that can give Nic a well needed spark.


    by Hg on 4/2/2011 5:43 AM
  3. It isn't mentioned in your post, but I am pretty sure Batum is fine with coming off the bench when Wallace is the 3. Just a BIT different than coming off the bench because Matthews is starting....the other time it felt more like "you aren't playing as well as you should be playing...and Matthews is.."
    This time it is more like..."Wallace is in his 10th year..has always started...has been an all star..."...felt like Batum DID know this was coming and may have been tense just looking over his shoulder or feeling guilty about Wallace having to play the 4...and not his natural position!!! Especially after the 40 pt game Wallace had..where I believe he played at the 3 for a good part of the game.

    by natsthecat on 4/2/2011 12:31 PM
  4. At first I didn't like Nic coming off the bench....but when I saw how agressive he was....i was ok with it! (Nic+Rudy+LA=UNSTOPPABLE!!!!!...haha) I agree with the people that are saying Nic should try playing 2 guard...i think it would be a good long as he still plays the 3 or 4 sometimes too! Great blog, Casey!

    by dancegirl on 4/2/2011 4:28 PM
  5. you wrote: Which is maybe why he didn't take the news all that hard. Then again, maybe it had more to do with this not being the first time Batum's starting spot was scarified for the good of the team. Earlier in the season when Wesley Matthews was promoted to the starting five, Batum pulled an eight-ga

    I bet you meant Sacrificed. RIGHT?

    by paulpease on 4/3/2011 9:05 PM
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