Batum fitting in just fine

Blazers veteran has received boost from deeper roster

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have rightfully received a lot of attention from how they have played.

The shooting of Wesley Matthews has been impossible to ignore as well as the defense and energy of Robin Lopez.

The player who connects the pieces together is Nicolas Batum.

This year, with a team much deeper in scoring prowess, the pressure on the six-year veteran from France to put the ball in the hoop has been alleviated some.

"It's different this year," Batum said. "I'm having fun right now with those guys and it's pretty cool. I know that if I pass the ball to somebody, they will create something and something good is going to happen."

Batum is playing how he wants to play. He's still a threat on the offensive end with his shooting and playmaking, but now is more able to do more things as well as continue to find his way in this league.

"We do have more scorers on the court. I think him as a facilitator is still important," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "But to be a good facilitator you have to look for your shot in rhythm and keep the defense honest."

Batum doesn't have any numbers goals, but just wants to impact the game in many different phases.

"The thing is, I just love to do a lot of things. That's who I am," he said.

Scottie Pippen, Andrei Kirilenko, Grant Hill and LeBron James are the types of guys who Batum idolizes. Not only did those players have the ability to score, they play the game unselfishly and do whatever the game commands.

Batum was that type of player growing up in Europe but under Nate McMillan's isolation heavy system, Batum was not able to showcase those skills despite the fact he still considers the 2009 Blazers to be the most talented he's ever been a part of.

It's not just the talent alongside Batum, but the style that the talent plays with under Stotts that may be the best fit of Batum's career.

"I like Terry's system since I played with him. I can find my way in this league, and I can do better than that," he said.

His ball handling specifically has been a point of emphasis as he has been working with Damian Lillard along with assistant David Vanterpool after practice.

When he's not working on his game, Batum is the general manager for the Caen Basket Calvados basketball team of the national second division in France.

Or he might be watching one of his favorite athletes like Zlatan Ibrahimovic knock in another spectacular goal for Paris Saint-Germain.

Or he's using Zlatan as he plays with PSG on FIFA against Joel Freeland's favorite Tottenham on the team plane.

Batum truly likes to do it all and says he has Ibrahimovic's autobiography "I Am Zlatan" on his reading list.

The man who wants to do everything is on a team that allows him to do it all, finally. So far this season, Batum is one of two players averaging over 13 points, five assists and six rebounds in the NBA. The other player on that short list is Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant.

"I think he's playing the overall game," Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He's a great all around player that doesn't force things. If we give him open shots, he'll probably drill it on us."

Whether it's leading the team in rebounds or assists as he has done a few times this year or draining threes off screens or when the ball gets swung to him to finish a game like he did Sunday in Toronto, Batum is going to have to continue to do what the game demands every night for this suddenly red-hot Blazers team.

In a system in which he's found his way in the NBA and a roster that allows him to play the whole game, Batum is confident in a team that's off to the franchise's best start since the 1999-2000 season.

"We have a special group and it can be a special year," he said.