Batum on roll as Thunder visit Blazers

Work on outside shooting pays off with 3-point burst

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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PORTLAND -- Practice, most certainly, does not make perfect. But it does make franchise-records and NBA season highs.

Just ask Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, who knocked down nine three pointers in Saturday’s win over the Nuggets, giving what Portland player development coach Dean Cooper called “a Reggie Miller-like” performance.

Batum actually gave much of the credit to his improved outside touch to his work with Cooper.

The Frenchman said that, during shooting drills last year, he simply had to make a certain number of shots from a certain spot on the floor before he was allowed to move on. The thing is, if that number was 10, he could go 10 for 40 and there would be no repercussions.

Now, however, he has to shoot a certain percentage. Maybe it’s three in a row. Maybe it’s 5 out of 7. Maybe it’s 10 out of 15. But if he fails to meet hit the required ratio, he’s forced to start over.

“I’ve tried to get him to shrink it down so you’re not just shooting for a number, but that you always have a goal that includes a penalty,” Cooper said. “I think you concentrate more. If you’re competitive, and Nic is, it’s going to bother you if you’re 4 for 6, and you gotta make 5 out of 7, and you miss the next one.”

These days, Batum is doing less missing than ever.

His 3-point percentage of 44.7 is 10 percent higher that it was last year and more than 7 percent better than his career mark.

The Blazers will need that kind of production from him Monday as they host Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who, at 18-5, own the best record in the NBA.

Of course, there will be games where the basketball seems allergic to the bottom of the net, such as Batum’s 1-for-7 performance from beyond the arc vs. Detroit last month.

But Cooper has implored the fourth-year guard not to worry about game-by-game statistics; that he should instead view his production through a broader lens to avoid “fluctuation of emotion.”

“Ted Williams said that the reason players go into slumps is because they look at hitting day-to-day. But he would look at it every 10 days, so he could go 1 for 4, then 2 for 4, then 1 for 4, then 2 for 5 and all of a sudden he’s hitting .360,” Cooper said. “Shooting and hitting are very similar.”

More like synonymous for Batum these days.

When he shoots -- he hits.