Last season we touched on the topic of “swagger,”
specifically which members of the Trail Blazers had it. It’s an issue near and dear to my heart, maybe because of my own complete and utter absence of swagger. We obsess over that which we do not have.
Through my research, I found that many players pointed to Nicolas Batum, then a 20 year-old rookie, as someone who possessed the swag. That came as somewhat of a surprise considering Batum was easily the quietest member of the team, but part of Nico’s swag came from his laid-back persona, his je ne sais quoi, to use the parlance of his homeland.
“Nic is a cool cat, man,” said Channing Frye back in April ’09 while still a member of the Trail Blazers. “He’s a little young right now. I think you’re going to see Nic’s swag come out a little bit. With his little chains, his little watch and stuff. You know, Nic got a lot of swag to him, it’s just quiet swag.”
As Frye hypothesized, Batum’s swag has started to manifest itself in a more outward fashion. And it all comes down to the comfort level he’s found on and off the court.
The boy who was self-conscious in interviews, often repeating the phrase “I just play my game” regardless of the question, has been replaced with a confident man capable and willing of discussing any manor of topic at length. Part of that newfound ease comes from playing with a young roster short on ego.
“Last year was my first year,” said Batum. “Coming from France, I was shy a little bit. But (my teammates) are so cool. Not a bad guy. Cool guys, so I’m very comfortable with this team. I want to stay very long time in this team.”
The “coolness” of his teammates has certainly helped Batum come out of his shell, but some of it can simply be attributed to trust and familiarity, two things he’s found while working closely with assistant coach Monty Williams.
“Guys are coming here four, five thousand miles away from home. Everybody expects them to come right in and talk and be themselves,” said Williams. “I think he just had to get used to us.
“I think I saw more confidence when I went to go be with him this summer in Dallas when he was working out. He never talked to me that much all of last year. He was just talking about everything: life, his family, how excited he was about the national team. I think because we have a comfort level with each other he was able to just realize ‘I can trust this guy. He doesn’t have any motives.’ So I think that helps him with his swagger, if you want to call it that. I just think he’s more relaxed.”
Batum’s comfort on the court has coincided with his comfort with the Trail Blazers staff. Since rejoining the rotation six games ago, Batum is averaging 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just 21.7 minutes per game, sparking calls to award the second-year forward the starting spot he originally won in training camp.
But his numbers don’t tell the whole story. You have to look beyond the literal to get a true sense of how far Batum has come and why his presence in the rotation, be it as a starter or off the bench, gives the Blazers a much needed confidence boost.
“Nicolas Batum’s swag is through the roof right now, but it should be,” said Travis Outlaw, who himself is nearing a return from injury. “He’s playing really good. For him to come off that big shoulder injury and come back playing like he is, I’m very impressed with his work and everything.
“Nicolas always been smooth. Always been Smooth Batum, it’s just now people pay a little more attention to his personality. He’s still kind of quiet, but he’s talking a bit more, laughing and joking around a little bit.”
While everyone is glad to see The Real Nicolas, Batum admits that he had to go through a few growing pains to get where he is now. And surely there will be more bumps along the way, but with is swag intact, he’s ready to meet those challenges.
“I think I needed last year to figure things out,” said Batum. “But this is my second year! I’m not a rookie anymore. I’m in the business right now, so I just want to go play, go with the team and have fun.”