Here’s a question for you, from the totally-random, because-we-can’t-talk-about-the-Blazers-enough file: Which current Blazer has the best career ahead of him?
OK, that’s easy. The obvious choice is Brandon Roy, because three All-Star selections by the age of 25 are a strong indication of good things to come.
But that brings us to the intriguing portion of the query: Who is next on the list? If you could draft any player from the current roster, knowing that you will have him for the rest of his career, which player would you select?
LaMarcus Aldridge has $65 million reasons that suggest it should be him. Greg Oden has the rebounding and defensive presence that suggests it should be him. Considering that Aldridge was the No. 2 pick in the draft and that Oden was the No. 1 pick, they arrived in the NBA with pedigrees that screamed, “Future All-Star!”
But Aldridge is currently mired in the waiting-to-make-the-leap category. His scoring averages over the past three seasons: 17.8, 18.1, 16.6. His rebounding averages: 7.6, 7.5, 8.2. His field-goal percentages: .484, .484, .490.
He has an old man’s consistency in a young man’s body, and one of this year’s recurring themes among Blazer pundits has been frustration over Aldridge’s stagnation.
Oden, on the other hand, is injured. But even when he’s healthy his penchant for fouling conspires to keep him off the floor. Last season, his first in the NBA, he averaged 8.7 fouls per 48 minutes. This year, that number was 8.0 before he was lost for the season.
Per minute, Oden is an effective player. But we have no evidence that he’ll ever be able to average 30 minutes a game.
Which brings us to the correct answer for today’s question. If you could have any Blazer for the rest of their career, other than Roy, you would be wise to select Nicolas Batum.
Yes, Nicolas Batum. I know, I know, he’s barely 21, he’s skinny as a supermodel, and he has averaged 5.6 points in a grand total of 82 NBA games.
But in that short span, Batum has hinted at the kind of skills that win championships. He’s like a 5-year-old Mozart — there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. He might not be LaMarcus Aldridge quite yet, but Batum certainly could surpass Aldridge in the future.
You know how Haley Joel Osment saw dead people in The Sixth Sense? I look at Batum and I see Scottie Pippen.
I see the attributes that will make him a defensive force like Pippen was. I see the long arms and the height and the anticipation and the quickness that will disrupt opposing offenses for years to come. I see somebody who is the prototypical defender, like mad Dr. Frankenpritchard designed him in a lab.
In Batum, I see somebody who could become the ideal second banana to a superstar on a championship team. And that’s kind of the point of this exercise.
Look at it this way: Batum entered the league with scant experience and a limited offensive game, yet was a good enough defender at the age of 20 to start for a playoff team.
Add in the fact that the Blazers picked him up in a draft-day trade for Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey, and the Pippen analogy grows even stronger. Anybody remember Olden Polynice?
All of which leads to a surprising fact: Batum should be the one Blazer who is absolutely untouchable in a trade. Roy and Aldridge are making huge money; they could bring a lot in return.
But Batum, provided he has fully recovered from an injury that sidelined him for most of this season, has a bargain-basement salary. There’s no way the Blazers could get anything close to fair compensation for him at this point.
Eventually, Batum’s offensive skills will develop. Eventually, he’ll learn the nuances of the game. Eventually, his body will mature. And someday, we’re guessing, Nicolas Batum will be the perfect No. 2 star on a team that competes for a title.