The New And Improved Nicolas Batum: Expectations Abound
By sarahhecht Posted in: NicolasBatum
This summer was an exciting one for Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum. He played in the Olympics, tested the waters of free agency and ultimately landed right back where he belonged, in Portland with the team with which he’s spent his entire NBA career.
Batum’s journey hasn’t been perfect. He’s been plagued by a bit of inconsistency and openly admits he wasn’t fully himself during his rookie contract in Rip City, instead a more quiet and docile version. A Batum who knew his role and deferred to the leaders of the team in LaMarcus Aldridge and former Trail Blazer Brandon Roy, while improving all the while.
That Nicolas Batum is gone.
And tonight, in game one of that shiny new contract, he showed us the Batum who’s been waiting to step into the spotlight. Scoring 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting on opening night in Portland, Batum thrilled the crowd of more than 20,400 with acrobatic slams and clutch 3-pointers. Add to that six rebounds, four of them offensive, and it’s easy so deduce he’s got a bit of new swag. A “fire” he’s been waiting to show Trail Blazers fans since the team unofficially gathered in September.
“Now my status is different on this team,” Batum said. “Before I was waiting for B-Roy or all those guys to take the shot, now I have to take the shot. I know if I miss my teammate is gonna be like ‘don’t worry, shoot the next one.’”
You’d think with all the chatter around his inconsistency and the demands to “live up to the contract,” Batum would be a bit nervous. That couldn’t be further from the truth, Batum has gracefully stepped into a role he’s been waiting for. Add to that the responsibilities of taking a leadership role on this young Portland team and it’s easy to see this in a different Nic.
Post-game, Batum raved about how his teammates played but shied away from his own numbers. “What happen is balance tonight,” he said. “Three guys, almost four guys cause LA got 19, J.J. got double-double. The starter, we have to bring this energy every single night. And a guy like Sasha who come off the bench, he did great job. Nolan did an excellent job, Meyers did an excellent job too tonight, so the bench gotta be ready.”
Nudged to talk about his individual game he gave a little grin, knowing he’d played well, but not willing to claim victory over the doubters quite yet. “This is a long season, I have to bring it every night like I did,” he said. “I had a good shooting night tonight, it could be better, but I just try to bring it and lead the way and win games and play on defense. I know people are talking.They’re going to keep talking even if I play good.
“Consistency. It’s a huge part of my game this year and right now. I play a good game here, it’s gonna be huge game against OKC, I guard Kevin Durant, he’s not a bad player [laughs.] I gotta bring it on defense next game and then got another game in Houston, so we see what happen. All I can control is me on the court and try to bring it every night and that’s it.”
Well Nic, I’d say you’re off to a great start.