Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum is in the early discussion for the 2013 NBA Most Improved Player award.
Through 10 games, Batum is averaging career highs in virtually every statistical category. His 20.8 points per game is the tenth-best scoring average in the league. He's fifth in the league in steals and second in threes made. He trails only LeBron James and Kevin Durant in PER for small forwards averaging at least 15 minutes a game. He became the first player in NBA history to score 35 points with five threes made and five blocks in one game when he destroyed the Rockets last week.
This year, Stotts has Batum operating all over the court. Batum's been successful drilling jumpers off the curl, hitting step back threes, and even backing down smaller opponents - something he rarely did the last few years under McMillan. While this can certainly be attributed to Stotts' offensive sets, it would be a mistake to overlook the obvious boost in Batum's confidence this season. Instead of disappearing during a bad shooting night, Batum will attack and get to the rim, showing that he has the tools and confidence to be a great scorer for this Blazers squad. Batum has continuously asked for more responsibility, and now that he has it, there is no question it's well deserved.
It's far too early in the season to start discussing whether or not Batum has reached his lofty potential. Maybe it's too early to even start contemplating Batum's chances of making his first All-Star Game. But, so far, Batum's stellar play is making the Blazers' decision to match the Timberwolves' offer sheet look like the no-brainer decision of the offseason.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter