No regrets here
The Portland Trail Blazers had a big decision to make this past summer surrounding small forward Nicolas Batum. The Minnesota Timberwolves made him a four-year, $45 million offer, and Portland had to choose whether they wanted to risk overspending, or risk losing a great player by letting him walk.
The Blazers chose to take a chance and spend the money, and Nicolas Batum is proving to be worth every cent at this point in the season.
Before and After
The easiest way to evaluate any given player is by looking at the numbers. Last season, Batum averaged a lackluster 13.9 points per game. He was not a consistent starter at the time, but even playing as the starting small forward, he only boosted that number up to 14.4.
This season, the forward is averaging an impressive 17.1 points per contest. He has bumped himself up to third on the team in scoring, and he is a reliable shooter from almost anywhere on the floor.
But a player’s success is decided by more than just scoring, and Batum has finally started to round out his game like we all hoped he would.
Having played on the perimeter most of his career, Batum has never been known as much of a rebounder. This season, though, he has his rebounding numbers up to nearly six per game, and he’s showing that he can assert himself down low on both ends of the floor.
When it comes to being more involved in the offense, the old critique used to be that he simply stood in the corner and waited for someone to pass him the ball. Blame Nate McMillan and his offensive system if you want, but the 6’8” small forward simply didn’t play with the kind of aggression you want to see—at least on a regular basis.
Now, Batum looks like an entirely different player.
With the freedom to control the ball at the top, Batum is showing that he can run the pick-and-roll and that he can take control of the offense. He’s averaging an impressive 4.3 assists per game, which is among the best in the NBA for small forwards—he is second only to LeBron James.
The fear with any big contract is that once a player gets his money, he’s going to stop trying. But with Batum, it’s been quite the opposite.
The firing of coach McMillan took a lot of people by surprise last season, but it’s looking like that move is exactly what Batum needed to finally emerge. Terry Stotts has shown that he’s willing to give the forward a chance, and the 24-year-old appears to be taking full advantage.
When you give a player a big contract, you don’t pay him based on his past experience. You pay him based on his future expectations.
The Blazers expected great things out of Batum, and so far, he’s heading in the right direction.
Batum has been shuffled in and out of the starting lineup his entire career, but it’s safe to say that the small forward spot is his to claim as long as he remains in Rip City.