David Aldridge of NBA.com reports that Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum wonders whether he's the second best small forward in the Western Conference behind the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant.
Is Nicolas Batum the second-best small forward in the Western Conference? I didn't come up with the question this week. It was posed to me recently by one Nicolas Batum, of Portland, Ore. It's a fair question.
"That [contract] gave me more freedom," Batum said. "I mean, they pay me. They trust me. They show me they love me. So now I can go out there and play. Like I say, why should I get pressure? I play in the NBA. I'm not hurt right now. I've got a good contract and I can put my family in a good situation for the next 50 years. I play basketball. So why should I get pressure?"
Batum's goals for the season were to average 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal. "I started low," he said. But he's come on stronger the last month. He had at least eight assists six times in an eight-game stretch around Christmas, and in January, he's already had six games of 21 or more points.
"It's easier," he said. "Now, I have a free hand; I can do what I want to do. Terry [Stotts] is like, 'Hey, man, you can do so many things on the court. Don't just stand in the corner and shoot. You can create, you can score, you can pass, you can rebound. You can play defense.' That's what I try to do. I have freedom this year. I have a lot of fun. I've got it this year."
Aldridge goes through a quick breakdown of the candidates for West's second best small forward in there. He also selects Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge as a reserve on his Western Conference All-Star team.
Last week, Batum also told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com that he deserves some All-Star buzz.
"I should be in consideration for the All-Star team," Batum told CSNNW.com. "I have improved a lot from last year. I'm not the same player I once was. And with all the small forwards in the Western Conference, I think I deserve to be mentioned. Maybe I make it this year, but in the next four years, I have to be in the All-Star game."
Batum realizes he's fighting an uphill battle in regards to making the team this season. Thankfully his best friend in San Antonio has been giving him some words of encouragement on how to handle his first breakout year.
"Tony [Parker] told me the first year when you start playing good and people start looking at you and saying, 'Why not?,' that means next year you have a better chance of making it," Batum said. "That's kind of what's going on now, but it's still a goal of mine to make the team this year."
Batum made my list of potential first-time All-Star candidates but he is a super duper longshot at best. All-Star reserves will be announced on Thursday.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter