2011 Expectations: Nicolas Batum

I'm a little scared about this post because the 2010 expectations for Nicolas Batum basically boiled down to:  improve your outside shot enough to draw opponents to you, then use that threat of success to drive by them and work the mid-range game.  Lo and behold, this is almost exactly what Batum did during his nice, albeit shortened, sophomore campaign.  I half suspect that if we asked him to win the dunk contest while signing autographs at the hospital and massaging Coach McMillan's toes Batum would have a shot at it.

Fortunately the requirements are not that complex.  There's a lot of "continue" in them.  Continue hitting the open shot on offense.  Continue defending whichever small the coaching staff puts you on and make your mark on that end.  Continue developing confidence and blooming into one of the more exciting, less-heralded players of your generation.  If there's anything to work on it would be more of an authoritative dribble drive, completing the tri-fold shoot-pull up-dunk threat.  If Batum ever gets to the point of finishing at the cup in non-break situations, watch out.

Aside from that Nicolas has to realize the opportunity he's going to get this year.  Trading away Martell Webster was a clear sign that the team is banking on him and making all the room necessary for him to flourish.  He's going to get extra bonus minutes because of his versatility.  Almost every other Blazer player has to be compensated for on the court.  A given Player X will have weaknesses that make pairing him with Player Y risky.  Batum can play in any lineup at any time.

As the full-time starting small forward, first-choice defensive stopper, and ubiquitous utility man Batum will have more than enough opportunity to make an impact.  He needs to bring it every night, getting more aggressive, carving out enough shots and key defensive plays to justify his position.  He won't be able to impress by simply playing decently.  He won't be rewarded for progress alone.  The baby steps are done.  He has to produce.  This will be his greatest challenge, as his focus tends to drift at times.

Any kind of world-beating expectations for Batum are still a season or two away.  Solid and important play are not.  If he can manage that, he'll earn his keep.

What do you expect from Nicolas Batum this year?  Share your thoughts below if you wish.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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