It became apparent this past summer that Batum didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with former Blazers coach Nate McMillan. When the Timberwolves aggressively courted Batum, he publically stated his desire to play under coach Rick Adelman, rustling more than a few feathers among the Blazers faithful. Batum cited his limited role in McMillan’s offense as a contributing factor in his request to flee the West Coast for Minneapolis (although he did praise McMillan for giving him a chance to play as rookie). Batum was often left prone in the corner while he watched Brandon Roy (and later Jamal Crawford) isolate and break down defenders off the dribble or LaMarcus Aldridge go to work on the block. McMillan’s offense did little for Batum’s strengths as a fluid cutter and excellent finisher.
This year, Stotts has Batum operating all over the court. Batum’s been successful drilling jumpers off the curl, hitting step back threes, and even backing down smaller opponents – something he rarely did the last few years under McMillan. While this can certainly be attributed to Stotts’ offensive sets, it would be a mistake to overlook the obvious boost in Batum’s confidence this season. Instead of disappearing during a bad shooting night, Batum will attack and get to the rim, showing that he has the tools and confidence to be a great scorer for this Blazers squad. Batum has continuously asked for more responsibility, and now that he has it, there is no question it’s well deserved.
Before the trade deadline deal that sent Gerald Wallace to the Nets last season, Batum battled every night with the veteran for minutes. McMillan was bringing Batum off the bench and clearly had more trust in the energetic Wallace than in the young and often inconsistent Batum. This season, Batum is averaging nearly 40 minutes a game, good for the second-highest average in the league. Yes it’s partly due to Portland’s extremely thin bench, but Batum is playing marathon minutes because it’s nearly impossible to take him off the court.
It’s far too early in the season to start discussing whether or not Batum has reached his lofty potential. Maybe it’s too early to even start contemplating Batum’s chances of making his first All-Star Game. But, so far, Batum’s stellar play is making the Blazers’ decision to match the Timberwolves’ offer sheet look like the no-brainer decision of the offseason.
Is Batum an All-Star this year?
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