Nicolas Batum, what is your opinion of your start to the season, that seems to be the best of your short career in the NBA?
Everything is going really well. I’m finally finding my place in Portland’s attack. I’ve found a routine in my game and that is very important in the NBA. There wasn’t any particular trigger, just signs of confidence from the team. I’ve had numerous discussions with the coach and I’ve found that he thinks very highly of me. That touched me because he insists that I have to be strong at both ends of the court and not just on defense. My teammates also give me the advantage of confidence. I have the support of the whole team, and that gives me wings to fly. I am free (laughs). But it is also pressure in a way. Having seen the team this summer trade all the players I was competing with, that gave me a boost. I worked a lot for two years and now I’m gathering the rewards. But something that is good in my game is that even though I am scoring more points than last year, I’m still performing on defense. I have also changed my status on the team. I am talking more in the locker room, I am more respected. There are a lot of small details that are changing for me. The coach has clearly told me that I need to be the person who talks most with Camby during defensive sequences. I try to become the boss, to be the No. 1 stopper on the team, but also to back up my teammates.
The respect of your opponents, has it also changed?
Clearly yes. Sometimes I hear "Watch out for Batum!", "he is dangerous". The opposing coaches focus on me a little more. I see it, I feel it. Tayshaun Prince, of the Detroit Pistons, told me that he is following me, that I should continue on this path, and that I am his favourite player. I know that I can do something in this league. I have the feeling of having really established myself in the NBA. I don’t want to be in the NBA, go there, take the money, and come home. I want to play, to win, to be remembered. When I first went to Portland, Vincent Collet demanded of me that I not go to the NBA just to play, but to dominate. That is exactly what I want. It’s cool to be here, but me, I want more! I do what I can every night. That seems logical to me. In France, this may seem arrogant when I say that, but Tony Parker was saying the same things ten years ago. And afterwards, if I have done just half of what he has, then I will be NBA champion and an All-Star at least one (laughs).
Have you set yourself personal goals?
I haven’t quantified my goals. I just want to be more present, and become a supplementary weapon for the team. If they pay more attention to me, that creates openings for my teammates. I know that I am on the way to crossing a line. But to say already that I will be the next MIP, it’s too soon. That would please me. It isn’t really a goal of mine, but if they give it to me, I will take it. My first goal this year is to advance the team. I work for that. The All-Star game, that comes a little early. It would be hard for me, but with work, everything is possible. In life, you have to set goals and that is part of my ambitions, to go there one day. I work to become one of the best. But I do not lose my head over it! One day, it will pay off. With my injury, my shoulder problems last year, I played 40 games in total. Today, I am hungry! I do not know if I am lucky. But after I came to the Blazers, if Martell Webster did not get hurt, where would I be today? I have a feeling that my lucky star never left me. Wherever I go, it works! If someone told me a month ago that I would have the results I have now, I would have laughed…